Eating Seasonally

“We are a replica of the universe passing from season to season in a natural unending cycle of life”…Dianne M. Connelly, Ph. D.


Seasonal Profile of Foods
Have you ever stopped to think how seasonal foods are perfectly matched to our own seasonal needs? Today, with giant supermarkets that offer fresh foods from around the globe, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that foods grown locally and in season help synchronize us with own local weather conditions: Tropical foods grown at the equator are consistently cooling; but, in northern climates when temperatures vary, produce changes in character from growing season to growing season:


Spring, a time of growth and renewal. Chlorophyll-rich green is the color of spring. Most spring greens are bitter, drying, cooling, and cleansing to help the body lighten up and detoxify from the heavy fats and proteins of winter meals.


Summer, a season of hydrating, cooling, fast-growing foods. Their moisture and expansive nature provide energy and relief from the hot summer sun. Summer produce comes in an array of colors, loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients to alleviate oxidative stress inherent in summer activity and solar radiation.


Fall, when the slower-growing, warming vegetables are harvested and stored away for winter. Onions, cabbage, carrots, turnips, rutabaga, winter squash, and pumpkins are the perfect ingredients for warming winter soups, hearty stews, and baked treats.


Winter, the most contractive time of the year and the dormant growth season. Without fresh vegetables, traditional cultures relied upon animal products and natural fats to provide heat and warmth, complemented by preserved (fermented, dried, salted, smoked) foods.


The harmony and attunement brought by seasonal foods is but one positive aspect. Eating seasonally also means foods are fresher, more economical, and deliver more vital force energy. Eating by the season also implies a natural rotation of foods to help prevent allergies (the Ig-G type) caused by repetitively consuming the same foods. Put simply, eating in season supports health, economy, and efficiency.


Moderating Considerations
Eating seasonal foods for harmony and attunement is just one part of the picture, of course. It is not the only consideration when it comes to choosing foods. Tempering factors include:


Personal makeup. Personal health profiles and specific conditions take precedent when shopping for foods. Every food has its own unique set of characteristics, which include taste and direction of energy, temperature, and specific actions and effects upon key organ systems. Understanding foods in this way underlies the concept of foods used as medicines, long incorporated and practiced by Chinese, Ayurvedic, Native American, and other traditional cultures.


For example, Chinese medicine suggests that a person who is energy (Qi) deficient is best de-emphasizing cooling, cleansing bitter greens as well as cooling, watery summer fare. More appropriate to support Qi through digestion and assimilation of nutrients are fall-harvest foods—well-cooked sweet round and root vegetables. In contrast, an individual who shows heat signs and is fluid (yin) deficient might need to avoid too many sweet, warming foods; instead, cooling, hydrating summer foods—some eaten raw—would be ideal.


And, there are other things to consider, particularly for those who suffer from joint pain (avoid nightshades), hypothyroid conditions( goitrogens ), or osteoporosis (oxalic acid ). My own joint pain some years ago forced me to give up my garden tomatoes—these favorites were simply too difficult to resist!—and once I did this, and began to limit potatoes as well, my joint pain disappeared.


Nightshades. Nightshades—tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers (and tobacco)—contain solanine, which is an alkaloid that can upset digestion and cause headache. Nightshades also move calcium from the bones to joints, organs, and soft tissues, which can create joint pain and arthritis, kidney stones, and arteriosclerosis. Many people who suffer from joint pain vastly improve by eliminating (allow several months) nightshades from the diet.


Goitrogens. Goitrogens—broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips, rutabaga—are part of the brassica family of vegetables. In their raw or lightly-cooked form, they support health through their anti-cancer compounds dithiolthiones and indoles. However, these same vegetables, unless fully-cooked, depress thyroid function and should be eaten sparingly by anyone with a hypothyroid condition. (It is estimated that half of all Americans are hypothyroid, including those whose blood tests suggest otherwise.)


Oxalic Acid. Spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, rhubarb, cranberries, and plums have oxalic acid which (like nightshades) interferes with the absorption of calcium. Cooking these foods (as in the case of goitrogens) helps to mollify oxalic acid and makes their nutrients easier to assimilate.


Living environment. Many of us spend much of the day indoors and are little exposed to the seasons. Often, offices and apartment buildings are over-heated in winter and over-cooled in summer. The average temperature in office buildings is characteristically 10 degrees cooler in summer than winter! If, in summer, you are dressed in lighter attire and working all day in a super-cooled office, warming, hearty soups may feel better than a cool, crisp luncheon salad. Also, if you live as I do in an over-heated apartment building in winter, salads and tropical fruits that cool and hydrate, such as bananas and pineapples, may be more welcome than the heavy meals we usually associate with winter.


What’s in Season?
The Recipe tab of my website (click here:) now includes a tabular listing of fresh produce when it first appears in the Northeast region of the country. This website page also includes seasonal recipes (to be built upon in the future) to correspond by month with what is in season. Also included are cautionary asterisks on fruits and vegetables, such as apples and celery, that have an unusually high pesticide load and are particularly worth buying “organic”…or purchasing from a local sustainable farmer whom you know and trust. If you live in a different area of the United States, or want to search seasonal produce by specific state or specific food, try Eat Local by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) or Epicurious websites:


Copyright 2010

Foods Have Signatures


Signatures…the Signatures of Food

Like people, foods have their own signatures that reveal much about their character.    Foods give us valuable clues through their taste, color, shape, and their general character and appearance.  Understanding how to read a food’s “signature” means we can use everyday foods to achieve better balance and vitality and to assist in a variety of health conditions.

The “Doctrine of Signatures”

Reading a plant’s signature seems today to be a long-lost art.  But, for centuries, folk-medicine relied on the “doctrine of signatures”—the idea that the taste, shape, color, and appearance of plant foods suggest how they can be used as medicine.   With little else to guide them, early folk-healers and wild-crafting herbalists looked at plants for clues, and they “read” their signatures to infer affinities with specific organ systems and potential medicinal actions.


The doctrine of signatures grew from a broader concept, the “doctrine of correspondence,” which saw all of life guided by an archetypal model.   Emotions, organ systems, colors, and seasons were viewed to have a shared essence and correspondence in plant and animal life.1  It is interesting that the doctrine of correspondence and the doctrine of signatures guided Paracelsus (1493-1542) in the West to construct a materia medica that shared similar threads with ancient Indian ayurveda and Chinese Five-Phase theory developed in earlier times, half a world away.  (See:


Reading Signatures—

The Five Flavors:2

Sweet…Sweet is the predominant flavor of foods—and the majority of our taste buds are primed to “sweet.”  The preference for sweet appears to have been nature’s way in early times to assist survival, since plant foods in the wild that taste sweet are generally not poisonous.  Most sweet foods —like grains, beans, autumn vegetables, nuts and seeds—are also strengthening and are thought by many to be the mainstay of a health-supportive diet.  The other four flavors—bitter, pungent, sour, and salty—play important, but complementary roles to sweet-fortifying foods.  Their subtle actions, when consumed modestly, help to harmonize and balance the strengthening nature of sweet foods.  Most sweet foods build and fortify.  Fruits, the exception, are more cleansing than they are strengthening.  A food that is sweet…


  • Warms
  • Works in the body with rising, outward energy
  • Harmonizes, relaxes, strengthens; Promotes digestion and assimilation
  • Soothes the pancreas/stomach, and liver
  • Examples:  grains, round and root vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds (strengthening); Fruits (cleansing)




  • Cools
  • Contracts and gathers energy
  • Aids the digestion of heavy fats and proteins
  • Benefits the liver and lungs
  • Examples:  quinoa, aduki beans, apricot, berries, citrus, pineapple, plum, fermented foods




  • Cools
  • Acts with downward, inward energy
  • Dries dampness, mucus, fats
  • Benefits the liver, pancreas, heart and arteries
  • Examples:  amaranth, rye, celery, chicory, watercress, scallion, basil, fenugreek, thyme, vinegar



  • Warms
  • Energizes, stimulates, elevates energy
  • Moves acute/onset ills “up and out” (e.g., cayenne pepper tea at the early stage of a cold)
  • Benefits the lungs and upper respiratory
  • Examples:  broccoli, cabbage, leek, onion, parsnip, radish, scallion, turnip, watercress, most herbs and spices (especially cayenne pepper, ginger, garlic)



  • Cools
  • Moves with downward, inward, contractive energy
  • Calms, centers, improves mental focus and digestion
  • Benefits the kidneys and pancreas/stomach
  • Examples:  barley, millet, parsley, sea vegetables, most fish, salty/fermented foods such as miso and soy sauce, salt



Shape The shape of a food and where and how it grows tells us much about its character.  Root vegetables, for example, must forge deep into the ground and with tenacity to fend off creatures of the subterranean world.  Root vegetables grow boldly yet patiently; they have less water content and offer more enduring energy and lasting power than a fast-growing, “flabby”/water-laden and more-perishable summer squash or melon that passively matures upon the flat, open ground.


Long roots like carrots and parsnips that are linear and grow downward have a “downward, inward” energy that is contractive compared to more expansive round roots like beets, onions, turnips, and rutabaga, which grow “downward and outward.”  Linear root vegetables have their fresh-air counterparts in the form of “upward, inward” energy foods such as asparagus, kale, and chicory.  Meanwhile, Swiss chard, escarole, and leaf lettuces, with their “upward, outward” energy have the same expansive character as round roots of the underground world, but their energy is directed more toward the upper rather than the lower part of the body.3


General Appearance As noted above, the appearance and function of a food tells much about its actions in the body.  For example, kale and other leafy greens grow upward with an intricate, visible circulatory infrastructure.  Leafy greens perform a respiratory function, taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen.  They are considered good for the lungs and heart, the circulatory systems for air and blood in the body.   In a similar fashion, root vegetables that absorb and assimilate nutrients from the soil share an affinity with the digestive system, which performs this same function in the body.   Delving deep into the ground to secure the entire plant, root vegetables also impart a grounding-centering energy to those who eat them.


Sometimes foods also look like the organ systems that they especially benefit:  Walnuts, for example, are thought of as “brain food” and their omega-3 content lends credibility to this idea.  Kidney beans, a member of the Water element in Chinese 5-Phase theory, can be used to help strengthen the kidneys.  Mineral-rich bone stocks help to strengthen bones.


Color can also have meaning.  Dark green and deep-blue foods are generally cooling; yellow-orange foods soothe the digestion; many white vegetables perform a cleansing function in the body; and red foods such as beets, red muscle meats, and marrow bones and are used as blood tonics


Today, while herbal medicine and the wisdom of these models appear to be overshadowed by the modern miracles of Western medicine, we can still benefit by what foods tell us through their signatures.   May this simple guide to food signatures enable  you shop, cook, taste and enjoy foods in perhaps new and perhaps fascinating ways.




Copyright 2010


  1. See Matthew Wood’s Vitalism: The History of Herbalism, Homeopathy, and Flower Essences for further discussion. []
  2. For further reading, see John W. Gravy, The Five Phases of Food; Daverick Leggett, Helping Ourselves—A Guide to Chinese Food Energetics and Recipes for Self-Healing; Annemarie Colbin, The Natural Gourmet; and Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods. []
  3. For a fascinating 500+ page journey into the energetics of foods across the complete spectrum of nutrition, I highly recommend Steve Gagne’s The Energetics of Food, a wonderful resource of research and wisdom. []

Honoring Our Energy Clock

Qi…“matter on the verge of becoming energy, or energy at the point of materializing.”
…Ted Kaptchuk, The Web that Has No Weaver

In ancient times, centuries before the days of modern biochemistry, healers in the East used sensitive observation to develop highly sophisticated systems for promoting health, longevity, and healing. They saw the world through a holistic lens in which mind, body, and spirit participated in the same vital force energy (“Qi,” pronounced “chee”) and in which everything interrelates—working as interdependent parts to create balance and harmony within the larger universal system. Qi was the prime mover, the vital energy that pervaded all things. In contrast to the focus on physical matter in the West, Chinese healers adopted an energy-based medicine that defined health states and healing strategies in terms of energy/Qi.


It is fascinating, with their focus on Qi more than two thousand years ago, that Chinese healers implicitly recognized the modern quantum physics concept of complementarity—the ability of an entity to be simultaneously two opposite things. Through quantum physics and particle/wave theory, we in the West are beginning to appreciate and incorporate into our thinking the duality-dance of matter and energy, and, with it, the important role that energy medicine can play in supporting and prolonging physical health.


The Chinese Body-Energy Clock


For some time, I have been fascinated by Chinese Five Phase theory and the Body Clock. Both models present with economy and simplicity wisdom distilled over centuries. Now that these models are familiar to me, I find myself turning to them time and again. Five-Phase Theory (see earlier newsletters) incorporates extensive wisdom about mind-body states and how these correspond to organ systems, seasons of the year, elements, and foods.


The Body-Energy Clock, our subject here, is built upon the concept of the cyclical ebb and flow of energy throughout the body. During a 24-hour period (see diagram that follows) Qi moves in two-hour intervals through the organ systems. During sleep, Qi draws inward to restore the body. This phase is completed between 1 and 3 a.m., when the liver cleanses the blood and performs a myriad of functions that set the stage for Qi moving outward again.


In the 12-hour period following the peak functioning of the liver—from 3 a.m. onward—energy cycles to the organs associated with daily activity, digestion and elimination: the lungs, large intestine, stomach/pancreas, heart, small intestine. By mid-afternoon, energy again moves inward to support internal organs associated with restoring and maintaining the system. The purpose is to move fluids and heat, as well as to filter and cleanse—by the pericardium, triple burner (coordinates water functions and temperature), bladder/kidneys and the liver.


Lessons Based on the Body Clock


When one organ is at its peak energy, the organ at the opposite side of the clock, 12 hours away, is at its lowest ebb. For example, between 1-3 a.m., the liver reaches its peak, doing its work to cleanse the blood, while the small intestine, the organ responsible for the absorption and assimilation of many key nutrients, is at its ebb. What does this tell us? Principally, that it must be taxing to the system to deal with late night meals and snacking. The body is not programmed to accommodate the modern habit of late-night screen-based stimulation and the eating habits that go with it. When we eat late at night, food is not well absorbed by the small intestine and the liver has little opportunity to do its job of housekeeping.


The idea, then, is to try when you can to plan daily activity around an organ system’s peak energy, while avoiding actions that can tax a system when its energy is at its lowest ebb. Think of lifestyle habits you might modify in order to better synchronize your system’s energy ebbs and flows:


  • Lungs: With the lungs at their peak energy in the early morning, you might want to schedule aerobic exercise at this time rather than later in the day. And, if you must speak through the long work day, presentations given earlier in the day benefit from greater lung energy. Laryngitis can set in late afternoon when lung energy is depleted .
  • Large Intestine: To get the day off to a good start, give yourself enough time early in the morning to honor the normal elimination function of the large intestine.
  • Stomach/Pancreas/Small Intestine: Try to eat heavier meals early in the day—at breakfast when the stomach is at its peak, and at lunch, to catch Qi’s expanding/warming energy as it crests at midday. Eating larger meals of the day early delivers nourishment to the small intestine when it is strongest, which aids absorption and assimilation.
  • Kidneys: The kidneys are aligned with the adrenals, the glands that produce cortisol to help us spring out of bed in the morning. Early morning, from 5 a.m.-7 a.m., is when kidney energy is weakest—a reason that people with depleted kidney energy often have trouble waking up to a new day.
  • Liver: The liver stores and cleanses the blood, a fact that becomes more interesting as we consider personal experience. Have you ever partied too much in the evening, and awakened in the wee hours of the morning feeling “off” and unable to fall back to sleep? Chances are good that you were tossing and turning between the hours of 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. when your alcohol over-loaded liver was struggling to do its work. The timing of the liver’s peak activity also speaks to consuming the last meal of the day as early as possible. The liver’s daily programming assumes an early dinner and bedtime. Before electricity and the light bulb, people ate super and retired early, allowing time for the last meal of the day to digest so that the liver could be most effective in its peak hours of activity. The “work shift” of the liver, then, reinforces the concept of making the last meal of the day a light one that is consumed on the early side. The more time that passes after food is eaten before peak activity of the liver, the better the liver will be able to carry out its myriad of functions.


I hope this brief overview of the Chinese energy model—something not common in our Western vocabulary—might help you think in new ways. When we honor the body’s inherent flow of energy, we work in harmony with its natural rhythms and avoid taxing it unnecessarily.


Reading Resources:

  • Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold, Between Heaven and Earth
  • Ted Kaptchuk, The Web That Has No Weaver
  • Paul Pitchford, Healing With Whole Foods


The Life Force of Foods

“If disease has causes, so does health…

Successful doctors in the future will do more teaching than prescribing.” …Henry Lindlahr



Of the many images that come to mind when we think of food and health, least likely perhaps is the idea of “life force.”  We often judge foods by the calories and macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) outlined on today’s standardized food labels but pay little attention to a food’s underlying energy and vitality.   Meanwhile, when we think of health what often comes to mind are fitness, longevity, allopathic medicine, and the prevention of pain and disease, without considering ways to support and strengthen the body’s natural healing powers and inherent life-force energy.

Before the days of modern medicine, naturopathic doctors viewed all disease as one disease, a product of weakened vitality.  By unburdening the system and supporting the underlying life force of an individual, nature doctors believed that good health and wellness would in due course be restored.  Rausse, Kneipp, Khune, Felke,Lust, Lindlahr and other naturopathic pioneers  employed a variety of therapies including fresh air, sunshine, water therapies, and herbs to restore good health.  Of course, they also relied upon the life force of whole foods to support the healing process.

Of the short topics covered in this summer issue, the first two concern the life force of foods.  If you do not already, consider life force when shopping for food and think of foods in terms of how many steps are involved from garden to table.  I also want to comment on coconut oil and soft drinks.  Unrefined organic coconut oil is one of my favorite oils for cooking because it is highly saturated to hold up to heat, yet has no cholesterol.  Unrefined coconut oil retains its natural antioxidants and, along with first-cold-pressed olive oil, is one of the least processed of all oils.  The subject of soft drinks is also a short subject mentioned here because it is the summer season when reaching for a cold drink to restore energy is often a temptation.  Caffeine and soft drinks are topics I plan to cover at greater length in newsletters this coming fall.


Attuning to the Life Force of Foods

A good friend and reader recently asked me about the health benefits of canned chickpeas.  My immediate thought was to explain to her what I believe canning does to the life force of foods.   If the consideration is just calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrates, a canned chickpea will be essentially equivalent to a dried chickpea that has been soaked and cooked.  But the energy of a canned chickpea, which has been processed at high heat and then vacuum-sealed in an oxygen-sterile environment to withstand months or even years on the shelf, is lifeless compared to a dried chickpea that has been freshly cooked.  Think of it this way, if both were planted in the ground, the dried chickpea with an intact life force would be the only one able to germinate into new life.  It is the phytic acid concentrated in the outside husk of a dried chickpea that preserves the life force nestled away in its endosperm (see phytic acid discussion, below).


Across a broad spectrum, we can witness firsthand the life force of foods by simply strolling down the produce isle of any grocery store.  Beets and carrots with their fresh green tops feel alive and firm to the touch.  Compare these to loose beets, turnips, and carrots.  These usually look dull and “give” when squeezed, a sign of dissipating life energy.   I hope you are as fortunate as I—my neighborhood grocery sells not only produce shipped from around the world but also fresh-picked-daily produce, especially local greens.  If you have such an opportunity, next time compare the wilted kale shipped from California with produce picked fresh from a local garden.


Thinking of foods in terms of their life force adds a new dimension to shopping.  Of course, we will continue to buy and use canned foods for their convenience and ready availability, but when the time and opportunity offer, consider buying foods that are fresh.  Think of how many stages of processing and storage are involved from garden to table—the fewer will usually mean the greater vitality of a food.  Also think of using dried foods such as grains, beans, and legumes, with their dormant life force intact, by preparing them from scratch.


[Interestingly, due to something called “biological transmutation,” many dried foods are more nutritious than those that are fresh-picked because the drying process removes hydrogen and oxygen to increase nutrients.  For example, raisins are high in iron, but this is not true of grapes; dried peas have three times the phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium of fresh peas; and dried figs, with three times the phosphorus and magnesium, have more than five times the calcium of fresh ones.1  Perhaps biological transmutation was part of nature’s design to support our survival during the dormant winter food season.]


Copyright 2011


  1. Louis Kervran, Biological Transmutations, 104. []

Natural Sweeteners to Replace Sugar

What are “natural sweeteners” and why they are preferred over refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup? Meredith McCarty defines natural sweeteners by the four advantages she believes they have over sugar:


1. They are derived from a natural source that may be organically grown.
2. They use relatively simple, chemical-free processing techniques.
3. They may contain maltose and complex carbohydrates that break down more slowly in the body than the simple sugars sucrose, glucose, and fructose.
4. They may contain vitamins and minerals necessary for their metabolism.1


Every natural sweetener has its unique character. Sweeteners vary in taste. Some that are bold in flavor can add special interest or flare to your favorite dessert recipe. Or, maybe the unique flavor of certain ones will not suit at all. Some are particularly low in sugar and may be especially helpful for anyone trying to control blood sugar.


Besides nutrition, another reason to substitute natural sweeteners for sugar is to preserve the sense of taste. Sugar, when eaten in large amounts over time, depletes the body’s reserves of zinc, and zinc is necessary for normal taste perception.2 The more sugar we eat, the more we need: Excessive sugar can dull our taste, creating the cravings for more and more sugar in an effort to satisfy.
* * * *

Alternative Sweeteners and How to Substitute for Sugar in Your Favorite Recipes
Just as every natural sweetener has it own unique character, perhaps each has its own experienced expert-advocate. In my own research, I have turned to some of my favorite authors, including Paul Pitchford, Sally Fallon, Evelyn Roehl, Ann Louise Gittleman, and Meredith McCarty, all of whom have written about natural sweeteners. Each seems to have a unique “flavor” of ideas and recommendations.


Of all the natural sweeteners, both Paul Pitchford and Meredith McCarty prefer malted grain sweeteners (barley malt and brown rice syrup) because they are “the least concentrated, least sweet, and most nearly whole-food sweeteners.”3 Not highly processed, they are made in a natural and safe way that mimics the conversion of grain into sugar when we chew: Malting grains involves the amylase enzyme, similar to the way saliva in the mouth digests starches into simple sugars when we take the time to chew our food. Malted grains, which are only a third as sweet as refined sugar, also come with the major advantage that they metabolize very slowly and uniformly and do not create the spike in blood sugar that is associated with the simple sugars sucrose, fructose, and glucose. Meredith McCarty believes malted grains are “the most healthful of all” because they are processed naturally and “provide a slow but prolonged source of energy that is calming and soothing in comparison to other sweeteners.”4


Malted grains are also available as granules, an advantage in recipe conversions. But their distinctive taste may not always be appropriate for the flavor and texture that you are trying to achieve. This is where experimentation comes in. Play around using your favorite recipes. See what happens. Have fun!


A baked product made by substituting a malted-grain sweetener may even help to calm and soothe young family members. It is all interesting information. Just pay attention to how you feel.


The list below reflects my best effort to meld the information from the sources cited above, but please know that you may find some differences in advice and information depending upon whom you choose to read. Also, to provide you with better tips for baking, I have asked for advice and help from Ellen Arian, a wonderful friend who is a professional whole foods chef, and who bakes often for her clients, workshops and lectures, in addition to her husband and three children ( I am indebted to her for many of the baking tips that follow.


Agave: Rather new to the market, agave is already creating controversy. Critics point out that agave “nectar” is not truly derived from cactus, but rather from the starchy agave root bulb, which is converted to “nectar” by a method that is similar to the process used to transform corn to high fructose corn syrup.5 Because agave has a neutral effect on blood sugar levels and is used in small amounts (it is 50% sweeter than sugar), it may serve a role for some people, particularly diabetics who are trying to control blood sugar levels. It is more neutral (tasteless) than maple syrup or honey, and it works beautifully in homemade sorbet recipes in place of refined sugar. Agave is better as a supplementary sweetener for occasional use rather than as a mainstay.


Amasake: Derived from fermented rice, amasake is less than 40% maltose sugar (compared to white sugar at 99% sucrose). Maltose is a complex form of sugar so it is metabolized more slowly than sugar/sucrose. Amasake is one of the least potent sweeteners because of its low sugar content (it contains the least sugar of popular natural sweeteners) and because, as discussed above, maltose is slowly absorbed by the blood stream.


Barley Malt: The fermented extract of roasted barley sprouts, barley malt is only 50% maltose sugar so it, like amasake, is relatively easy on blood sugar levels. It is very strongly flavored so it is not always suitable. It can work in spice cakes and with root vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots (e.g., sweet potato pie or carrot cake). It also browns beautifully and sweetens home-baked bread. Barley malt is not as sweet as honey and it offers slight amounts of vitamins and minerals. Because it is thick, it should be warmed or brought to room temperature before measuring. Helpful tip: Lightly oil measuring spoons or cups that you plan to use so it slides out easily. When baking, you might develop the habit of measuring fats and oils before sweeteners. This will make it easier to clean measuring utensils.


Brown Rice Syrup: Like barley malt, brown rice syrup is made from fermented brown rice, and is just 50% maltose sugar. It is the mildest flavored of the liquid sweeteners and is less destructive to the body’s mineral balance, providing some of its own trace minerals. Brown rice syrup is about half as strong as honey and can work well when paired with maple syrup in baking. It is best suited to recipes where a crisp topping is desired and less suited to cakes and muffins. This is because it tends to become hard and sticky with baking, an effect that works well in a crisp or crumble.


Date Sugar: Made from finely-ground, dehydrated dates, it tastes similar to brown sugar and is rich in nutrients, with most still intact. Date sugar, which is more than 70% sucrose, is very sweet, and it provides fiber and a host of vitamins and minerals. It is high in tryptophan, so it can help calm hyperactive children. Unfortunately, because it does not readily dissolve, has a tendency to burn, and does not result in a pleasing texture, it may not substitute easily in your favorite baked goods or in hot beverages. For baking, maple crystals are a better choice. Date sugar is better used as part of a sweet crisp topping, or as a solo topping for hot grain cereals. (Date sugar may be hard to find on store shelves.)


Fruit Juices: Fruit juices are about 10% sucrose. Try to make your own since high heat used in commercially processed juices can destroy nutrients. Fruit juice is versatile and can work in all types of desserts, and pairs well with maple syrup in baked goods. Like all ingredients, it should be brought to room temperature before using. Fruit juice requires a lower baking temperature, which means you will also have to experiment with baking times. Try reducing the oven temperature 25 F degrees from what is called for and begin checking about 10 minutes in advance, and in 5 minute intervals, from what is outlined in your recipe directions.




Honey: Made from flower nectar, it is highly refined and processed, in this case in the stomachs of bees. It is important to buy organic honey whenever possible, since honey is not the pure product we might imagine it to be. Sugar waters, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides are used in the rearing of bees. Also , in fighting mites, many beekeepers use highly toxic coumaphos strips. Traces of all these pesticides can be found in commercial brands of honey. Honey is 85% sugar, three-quarters glucose and one-quarter fructose, and is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. Honey has a strong taste, which is much sweeter than sugar. In minute doses, honey has some medicinal benefits, both for inflammation and as an anti-microbial.


Maple Syrup: Maple syrup is boiled-down sugar-maple tree sap and provides a host of trace minerals incorporated from the tree roots growing deep in the ground. It deserves a central place in baking since it is local to the Northeast, has a long-standing history, keeps well in the refrigerator, and provides a gentle sweetness that works well in all sorts of baked goods. For people trying to control blood sugar levels it may have to be used conservatively since it is concentrated; it is 85% sucrose. Maple syrup has a strong flavor all its own, which imparts a wonderful taste to many baked goods and especially dairy-based desserts. (Avoid commercially-processed brands that often employ formaldehyde. Buy organic maple syrup and try to purchase it in glass bottles to reduce the risk of lead contamination.) You might want to use Grade B syrup in baking because it often costs less and has a fuller flavor, while Grade A is an option for anyone who wants a lighter flavor and does not mind paying a little extra. Maple syrup can be mixed half and half with brown rice syrup or apple juice, so enjoy experimenting.


Maple Crystals (Maple Sugar): Maple crystals are a wonderful, all-purpose sweetener that substitutes easily for refined sugar in nearly all recipes. It is especially good for children transitioning away from refined sugar. It is very versatile, though it may disappoint when baking cookies since it does not always produce the same crisp product achieved with sugar. Made from what is left after evaporating all the liquid from maple syrup, it is rich in trace minerals with a unique maple flavor that adds depth to foods. It has a tendency to clump, but a quick trip through a spice grinder can quickly rectify this. Since maple crystals can be costly, it is worth buying them in bulk. A good source is


Molasses: The byproduct of the sugar refining process, unsulfured molasses is made from the juice of natural cane and is very sweet. Medium/dark molasses, from the second extraction, is moderately sweet. Blackstrap molasses, which is 65% sucrose, is made from the last extraction, so it is the most concentrated in minerals, especially iron, calcium, zinc, copper, and chromium; but it is also the most concentrated in toxins such as lead and pesticides.


Rapadura: Unrefined evaporated cane juice, it contains minerals, especially silica. It resembles sugar and so is a direct and easy substitute for sugar in baking. Like sugar, it is pure sucrose.


Sorghum Syrup: Sorghum, 65% sucrose, is made by boiling down cane juice. Because sorghum cane attracts few insects, it is rather free of pesticides so it is a good sweetener for those seeking chemical-free sweeteners.


Stevia: A sweetener derived from an herb native to Latin America, it does not affect blood sugar levels and can be used successfully by those unable to use other natural sweeteners. Choose only the green or brown extracts or powders; the white and clear extracts can create imbalance because they are very refined and are devoid of nutrients.7 A powerful sweetener, stevia must be used sparingly; and because it has no bulk, it is not appropriate for baking. Stevia was only recently approved to be sold as food, rather than as a supplement. Because it is a plant, it cannot be patented, so it does not have a strong marketing force to foster its use.


Sucanat: The abbreviation/trade name for Sugar Cane Natural. It is pure, naturally dried sugar cane juice with its molasses content remaining. The molasses content leaves brown flecks in baked products. It also clumps, so you may need to sift or grind it in a spice grinder before using. It is 88% sucrose, but with most phyto-nutrients of the cane still intact. It has a mild flavor with a molasses accent and can be substituted 1:1 for sugar.


Note concerning turbinado (raw) sugar and brown sugar:
Turbinado, which is often advertised as a nutritious natural sweetener, is best avoided. As the first extraction from molasses, it can contain insects, molds, and bacteria, unless heated and sanitized. It is actually highly processed.
Brown sugar is simply refined white sugar with a bit of molasses added to add color and taste.


The Chart below can be used flexibly. Sweetening foods is a matter of taste and also depends upon where you are on your own personal journey transitioning away from sugar. You can use this guide as a starting point and then adapt it to your own tastes and preferences. Experiment, but you cannot go wrong following these suggestions.



Amount in Cups
Reduce Liquid/Cup Sugar
Add Baking Soda:
Barley Malt1 1/31/4 cup1/4 t.
Date Sugar
(not for baking)
1 1/2------
Fruit Juice2/31/3 cup1/4 t.
Honey2/31/4 cup1/4 t.
Maltose1 1/2slightly---
Maple Syrup2/33 T.1/4 t.
Maple Crystals3/4-1 ------
Brown Rice Syrup1 1/31/4 cup1/4 t.
Sorghum Syrup2.3slightly---
SucantEqual---1/4 t.


Copyright 2009


  1. Mary McCarty, Sweet and Natural, 17. []
  2. Biochemist Paul A. Stitt, quoted in Beyond Antibiotics, p. 84. []
  3. Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, 193. []
  4. McCarty, 18. []
  5. The Weston Price Foundation, Wise Traditions, Spring, 2009. []
  6. I do not believe that fructose belongs on the list of natural sweeteners since it is often made from refined corn and can deplete the body of chromium and copper stores. Although metabolized more slowly than sucrose, like sugar, it has no nutritional value. []
  7. Paul Pitchford. []

The Paleo Diet


The Paleo Diet.  There is nothing romantic about pre-agricultural times of some 10,000 years ago when hunter/gatherers had to scavenge for food.  The Paleo Diet of today is a version far removed from the caveman when life was sustained haphazardly and at risk by hunting wild game and foraging plant foods prior to the domestication of animals and the cultivation of grains.  Stressful as it had to be, it holds no resemblance to modern day food gathering—pushing shopping carts through wide, well-lit supermarket aisles that are piled high with convenience foods bearing colorful, catchy labels.  The modern Paleo menu is really a “faux” copy of the original.  Wild game do not roam and wild berries, nuts, seeds, roots, and rhizomes do not grow out our back door; rarely are these products sourced by supermarkets or by mail-order suppliers.


To its credit, the modern Paleo Diet does emphasize grass-fed animal products, fish, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits, while it forbids refined vegetable oils, refined sugar, industrial salt, refined grains, and commercial dairy products.   One of the best features of Paleo is its implicit outlawing of most prepared convenience/snack/junk foods, as well as fast foods.  An adherent of Paleo is forced to read food labels.  And, a disciple soon recognizes the need to shop the periphery of the grocery store for whole, “real” food, as well as to spend more time in the kitchen preparing home cooked meals.  If Paleo could become popular enough, it might encourage more local farming and farmers’ markets—perhaps we would fail to have enough “real” food to go around!


Realistically, the time commitment required for food shopping and preparation makes Paleo more attractive on paper than in real life.  Most people are too busy to bother with food gathering and preparation.  Another problem with Paleo is that it is expensive, both for the environment and the pocketbook.   It might work for some affluent few who enjoy food shopping and preparation and can ignore hunger pangs for “feel-good-feeling” grains, but it does not work for global sustainability.  Carbohydrates, mostly as grains, account for more than half the calories consumed in our country and for as much as 80% of the energy requirements of people in less-developed countries of the world.


A diet devoid of energy-dense carbohydrates must implicitly rely more upon animal proteins and fats.  But many animal-based sources of protein are dwindling, because we have over-harvested fish and trimmed beef herds:  Since 2008 global beef production has declined by 7.5 billion pounds while the world population has expanded by 300 million.  And, in view of the 2012 drought, beef supplies will shrink even more as the poor 2012 harvest forces farmers to further liquidate herds.



To sum up:  Any diet that omits wheat and other whole grains cannot be the universal and sustainable answer to feeding the world.  There are other factors to blame beyond wheat for the modern epidemic of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and other chronic disease.   And, there are traditional forms of wheat prepared with care that civilizations have relied upon throughout time to support development, growth, and well-being that do not come with the health price tag of mutant dwarf wheat.



Copyright 2012





Foods as Systems: Physics, Fractals, and Food

A rainbow’s magic defies the scrutiny of the microscope.  Recognizing that particles behave in new and astonishing ways when not under the close lens of the observer,1 we have to suspect that there is a whole lot going on in the world that will always and invariably defy the microscope.  Since “truth” is defined by both the lens of the observer and what is observed, perhaps foods impart nutrition and energy either as particles or waves depending on the lens and expectations of the observer.

There is much that physics, through systems, chaos, and complexity theory, can contribute to the field of food and the theory of nutrition. While bio-chemistry analyzes and fractures in search for the “truth,” physics helps us see the world through the broader lens of the “interconnectedness and continuity” in all things.2
Physics helps us appreciate that the whole functions in a greater way than the sum of the parts.  A whole food is not unlike a “whole” computer…specific parts are assembled in specific ways to perform a specific function.  Regarding foods, fractured foods may provide calories, but the vital force of the plant and its interconnected energy and synergy is missing.


If we take a moment to push back from the microscope and look at the bigger picture, it is not hard to connect with this life force…it leaves its footprint everywhere. Fruits and vegetables share their magic, leaving hints of their greater powers in the intricate fractal patterns of a head of broccoli or cauliflower:  the simple patterns of the entire head are carefully repeated in microcosm in each tiny floweret.   Or slice crosswise a beet, a carrot, a banana, or an orange and marvel at the kaleidoscope array of pattern and color. Fractals patterns exist not only in trees and plants (e.g., ferns and parsley) and plant foods (e.g., pineapples and artichokes), but also in the human body (e.g., the brain, the lungs, and the circulatory system).


Fractals are incredibly complex patterns, yet their complexity originates in simplicity.3
A fractal can be replicated by computer iteration, as results from each successive round of computation are continuously fed back into a set of a few simple nonlinear equations. Through fractals, we begin to comprehend the deep relationship of chaos and order….that through chaos, systems are able to re-organize in completely new, adaptive ordered ways.


A fractal, then, is a “pattern within pattern within pattern.”4 “Shapes are not discerned from close range. They require distance and time to show themselves. Pattern recognition requires that we sit reflectively and patiently…because we are trying to see the world differently.”5


“In a fractal world, if we ignore qualitative factors and focus on quantitative measures, we  accumulate more and more but understand less and less. When we study the individual parts or try to understand the system through discrete quantities, we get lost. Deep inside the details, we cannot see the whole.”6

Fractals can teach us how foods as systems relate to the body as a system. It seems logical, since many foods are fractals, that: Food = Simplicity = Complexity. In addition, it appears that foods have their own unique life force energy packaged by nature that our bodies are uniquely programmed to accept:   Thus, it seems logical, too, that “Food as a system influences the human system.”7 This is a sound model for nutritional theory.


The Power of Traditional, Whole Foods:

Through physics, we can recognize that plants, animals, and people are all living systems…systems of systems… really, parts and components that are unified by an energy force field that governs and organizes the whole living system.8  Ironically, physics may bring us to the “cutting-edge of dietary and nutritional thinking as we are led back to healthy food choices that took root long ago in the traditions and wisdom of our ancestors.  As we realize more and more that the popular emphasis on reductionism-type scientific research misses the complex interaction of the human system with whole foods, they take on new and greater meaning.9 Just as a rainbow defies microscopic examination, we realize that we may never fully understand and appreciate the true power of whole foods.


Copyright 2008 Pathways4Health

  1. See Particle and Wave Theory from physics []
  2. Annemarie Colbin, Food and Healing, 34. []
  3. Wheatley, p. 126. []
  4. Wheatley, p. 123. []
  5. Margaret J. Wheatley, p. 126. []
  6. Wheatley, p. 125. []
  7. Colbin, p. 36. []
  8. Colbin, p. 35. []
  9. “Biologically active plant constituents likely go beyond macronutrients and well-accepted micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytoestrogens, and may also include plant enzymes, hormones, and other substances that help to regulate plant metabolism as well as natural phytochemicals” (See Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 101, Issue 12, Dec. 2001, pps. 1416-1419. []

Discourse On Food

“Eat Food; Not Too Much; Mostly Plants”
• What is “Food”?
• Not Too Much?
• Mostly Plants?

When it was released in early 2008, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food immediately climbed to the top of the New York Times’ Book Best Seller List.   Amazing—a book about foods as “systems” reaching such heights.   Michael Pollan is funny and certainly his humor is a draw. But, I suspect his success goes beyond this.


“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Sometimes simple words work best to convey the most profound and most complex of ideas. Timing is everything, they say, and today these words seem to touch a common chord.


Some 30 years ago, Annemarie Colbin,PhD described foods as systems and our body as a system uniquely designed to assimilate foods in their whole, not- fractured, form.1 This is the holistic lens: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; the whole, as a system, works in mysterious and powerful ways, never to be fully understood by science through the “reductionist” lens of the microscope. How can we appreciate the flavor, aroma, and life-force energy and essence of a plump, juicy vine-ripen tomato by the listing of its vitamins, minerals, and calories? And, a tomato is not like a television…we cannot strip it down to all its minute parts and then reassemble it in all its complexity. Nature hides this magic and gives us no instruction book.


Annemarie Colbin’s Food and Healing (1986) long ago carried this holistic message. It was a message before its time. After all, back then the food and advertising industries were just clicking into high gear to spread before us a myriad of freshly-invented products, drawing us in with convenience, novelty, price, and long shelf-lives. With each year, cheap, fractured convenience foods allowed us to spend less and less of our income at the supermarket and less and less of our time in the kitchen.2


In recent decades, we have grown to expect “new” products to be interesting, fun, and innovative. Today, food advertising budgets of $32 billion annually help support the introduction of some 17,0003 new fractured, processed, fortified “foods.” In reality, these are just “retreads” made to look new. They are largely blends reconfigured from our three main agricultural surplus crops…wheat, corn, and soy. Hidden in a variety of forms in these packaged, convenience foods, corn, wheat, and soy contribute 1580 calories per person to our daily food supply.4 There is little room for much else.


But the pendulum can swing only so far before it reverses direction. How exciting this year to see Michael Pollan bring the concept of foods as systems to mainstream thinking. Perhaps we are using a new lens to cut through the hype surrounding fast foods and convenience products to recognize that something is missing at the supermarket in terms of quality and lifestyle. As we see our nation, and increasingly the world, suffering more and more from allergies, obesity, diabetes, and a variety of other chronic diseases, we consumers seem more and more ready and open to start to look for causes. They are not hard to find.


To name just two: Wheat, corn, and soy, of course, are major allergens. Corn and soy are also two of the key crops that are genetically manipulated: 60% of all corn and 85% of all soybeans grown today in the United States are genetically engineered.5


In Defense of Food is a fun read. I would like to add a bit of commentary to Michael Pollan’s wit:

“Eat Food:” Which implies:


Whole… A food with all its edible part—A food that is just itself, nothing more or less. And, in its whole form as a system, with all its life energy and with its millions of phytochemicals…vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants, polyphenols… synergistically packaged for our assimilation, as nature provides.


Real…not artificial…not synthetic, hydrogenated, or genetically engineered. Synthetic products like artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, oils, and drugs have no life force. They are from the underground world of coal tars and decayed matter. They are manipulated by science and reconfigured, but do not support the inherent life force energy of the body.


They also fool the body. An artificial sweetener, for example, meeting sweet taste buds in mouth will signal the body to release insulin, but when insulin meets zero calories, blood sugar plummets. Feeling confused and betrayed, the body sends us in search of a cookie or other sweet treats to restore blood sugar levels. So artificial sweeteners actually make us hungrier and can contribute to weight gain.6 It is easy to see why their popularity and obesity rise in tandem.


Michael Pollan’s plea “Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does,” is meant to dissuade us from purchasing gas station snack foods. It also fits quite aptly this broader interpretation of avoiding petroleum-based, synthetic products.


Grass-fed, pastured animal meat, butter, and eggs…When you think about it, meat from grass-fed animals really represents “pre-digested” grass, with many of the omega-3 fats and other rich nutrients incorporated in the flesh in a form that is easy for us to assimilate. Animals can more easily and efficiently transform the beta-carotene in grass, for example. Cattle can do this without needing, as we do, bile salts, vitamin E and fats in just the right portions. Grass-fed animal products are a wonderful source of vitamin A, vitamin E, and omega 3 fats, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) for cancer prevention, and lipoic acid for metabolism and insulin regulation.7


Eggs laid by grass-fed pastured hens provide 10 times more omega-3 fats than eggs in commercial hen houses. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats in the yolks of grass-fed hens is at the recommended 1:1 ratio, compared to an unbalanced, pro-inflammatory ratio of 19:1 for commercial eggs.8


Pasture grazing is in keeping with tradition and the nutrient requirements of healthy farm animals. But, by feeding an unnatural grain-based diet to animals, commercial farmers actually alter the fatty acid structure of meat. We might even think of this as a temporary form of “genetic engineering”…temporary because it only lasts one generation if cattle are then returned to a natural diet.


(Interestingly, this same principle of genetic renewal applies to people, as well: Efforts to expand on Weston Price’s original research in the 1930’s regarding the diets and health of traditional cultures indicates that a return to traditional foods can quickly restore in the next generation “robust good health, the absence of disease, and the production of perfect babies [with broad facial construction and beautifully formed teeth] generation after generation”.9)


Grain, which raises acidity in the digestive system and encourages disease, requires that antibiotics be given to sustain cattle through this accelerated, denatured fattening process. Antibiotics not only hold disease at bay, but also are used to encourage weight gain. It is easy to see why the use of antibiotics is so popular, with their use expanding between 10 and 20-fold since 1950.10) Antibiotics consumed through meat, poultry, dairy, butter, and eggs are a contributing factor to our population growing more and more antibiotic-resistant.


Animal products from commercial farming also raise other health risks. To promote growth, commercial cattle are treated with steroids, a factor that can disturb our own hormone balance and is suspected in the soaring rates of breast, testicular, and prostate cancers. Might we wonder also about the stress hormones we ingest when we eat meat from animals that spend their life crammed into feeding pens and cages during the fattening process and are shipped to slaughter in the same inhumane conditions?


In contrast, organic animals are fed only certified organic feed, must have access to outdoor pasture with sunlight and the opportunity to exercise and to walk around, and must be cared for in ways that reduce stress. They cannot be fed by-products of other animals, be chronically confined, or treated with antibiotics or hormones of any kind.11


“Not Too Much” For a good barometer of what is “too much,” we can:


Chew… every bite 25-30 times, at every meal. Chewing helps us register the full experience of eating, through tasting and crunching, so that we are satisfied on many levels, and sooner. This is easier said than done. To attempt change requires intention, attention, practice…and more intention, attention, and practice.


I have tried it sporadically and quickly slipped back to my old ways of maybe 5-7 chews, a swallow, and then on to the next bite. To succeed in acquiring the habit, I am told it takes a whole week of concerted chewing just to get used to the way that thoroughly-chewed food feels in the mouth. But, I bet it’s worth it. For, when we truly experience and appreciate food, we eat less and allow ourselves more time to register satiety.


Chewing is especially important for the digestion of carbohydrates. It is easy to forget that the body is set up for a huge piece of normal carbohydrate digestion to take place in the mouth. When we chew, carbohydrates are supposed to be totally broken down and pulverized and mixed with salivary amylase to begin the digestion process. This is the only chance for salivary amylase to do its intended work. This important stage of digestion cannot be recaptured later: It is gone once you swallow.


Carbohydrate digestion is then put “on hold.” until later. (Pepsin and hydrochloric acid in the stomach digest proteins, but not carbohydrates.) Finally, when starches reach the upper part of the small intestine, the whole burden of completing digestion falls to pancreatic amylase, a digestive enzyme not really designed to perform the entire task. When we forget to chew and leave too much to this latter phase of carbohydrate digestion, we often feel bloated and uncomfortable. Chewing improves not only digestion, but also the absorption of nutrients. In addition, it helps stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.


Buy organic12 crops for the satisfaction provided by the complex matrix of nutrients. Each plant food has its own unique mix of phytochemistry, so eating across a broad spectrum of foods provides a myriad of tonic qualities and protections.


Organic crops provide far more nutrients than foods raised on industrial farms where crops are tweaked to grow with the magic three growth fertilizers, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK). Depleted soil spells fewer nutrients in harvested foods, and so does the refining process.13 Processed foods from commercial farming means, therefore, that we loose nutrients twice, in both, cultivation14 and refining.


Denatured, depleted foods raised on industrial farms, can make us feel depleted and unsatisfied. It is easy to crave more volume in search of missing nutrients. Little wonder how this can lead to being overweight and undernourished.


Organic foods cost more, but they are more nutrient-dense and satisfying. They allow us to eat less, move to and then sustain an ideal weight, while also supporting our health.


Express gratitude for our food and life blessings. Slowing down, giving thanks, eating with others, and staying connected are satisfying. Gratitude can change for the better the neurotransmitter communication and chemistry in our digestive system.


“Mostly Plants”…For the complexity found nowhere else in nature.


Plants…From the beginning of time, all higher forms of life have depended on plants. Only plants, as complex systems with the unique, magical power to unite the yang, heat energy of the sun and the yin, kinetic energy of earth, can convert these two forces into phytonutrients, calories, and life-force energy for animals and man.


Plants are also powerful adaptogens. They accommodate quickly to changing environmental conditions. In so doing, they have always been our reliable mainstay, helping us to adapt to new environments and climatic conditions. Plants in any given environment support life in that setting. Nature provides for life, and this is a good reason to eat local and to eat seasonal. As Marion Nestle says, “The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient [reductionist] nutrition science is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of the food, the food out of the context of the diet, and the diet out of the context of the lifestyle.”15


Reductionist science, examining specific plant compounds, will never be able to fully capture the true essence of plant chemistry and synergy:


“…even the simplest food is a hopelessly complicated thing to analyze, a virtual wilderness of chemical compounds, many of which exist in intricate and dynamic relation to one another, and all of which together are in the process of changing from one state to another. So if you’re a nutrition scientist you do the only thing you can do…Break the thing down into its component parts and study those one by one, even if that means ignoring subtle interactions and contexts and the fact that the whole may well be more than, or maybe just different from, the sum of its parts.”16


Joan Gussow agrees. She argues against scientific conclusions about such things as vitamin C or beta-carotene: “…how do you know it’s not one of the other things in the carrots or the broccoli?” There are hundreds of carotenes…maybe we are looking at the wrong thing.17 Also, scientists like to think they understand a carrot by analyzing it in terms of carotenoids and polyphenols, “but who knows what is really going on deep in the soul of a carrot.”18  Of course, the great thing for us is that we do not have to understand a carrot, tomato, and broccoli to reap their total benefits.


Organic…Plants that are grown organically provide a rich array of phytochemicals, substances that they produce to ward off pests and predators. Plants also produce antioxidants to protect themselves against reactive oxygen byproducts from photosynthesis.19 These act to provide us with powerful antioxidant protection against free radicals. Eating a variety of plant foods, each with its own personal set, provides us with a broad array of antioxidants to deal with a myriad of environmental toxins. Commercially-grown plants that are sprayed with pesticides do not manufacture this same bounty of protective phytochemicals.


At the same time, pesticides sprayed on commercially-grown produce can, with prolonged or excessive exposure, create for us a variety of health issues,20 from headache and fatigue to even convulsions, coma, and death. Ingesting pesticide-laden produce over time can promote cancer and disrupt proper hormone function, affecting fertility.


Meat from plants…One way to acquire nutrients from plants is to eat meat from grass-fed animals. Grass-fed meat is a rich source of nutrients (see above) and a concentrated form of sustained energy. If something like 20 pounds of grain are required to create one pound of meat, then when we eat a pound of meat, we ingest the energy equivalent of 20 pounds of grain. To be able to move energy “far and wide” to touch many people, we may need the energy that meat can provide.21


So, eating grass-fed animals can boost our vitality and efficiency: Omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients from grass, as discussed above, are easy to assimilate and the calories in the meat can help sustain us over long periods:22 Meat provides the endurance for prolonged mental concentration and “cushioning” for the central nervous system to endure the stress of modern life, including urban noise and over-stimulation from the bombardment of technology.


By eating meat, poultry, butter, and eggs from grass-fed animals, we also avoid the risks of heavy toxin residues that normally accumulate over time in the fatty tissue of large animals. So, when buying products from bigger animals high up the food chain, it is wise to spend the extra money and choose organic. The same reasoning applies to fish: Eating sardines and anchovies is a far better idea than tuna and swordfish, where mercury and other toxins have much longer to accumulate in animal flesh.


Proteins from plants….But, how can this work? Where’s the protein? Where’s the beef? Some people are able to thrive on a vegetarian diet that incorporates beans, grains, nuts and seeds. Often these are people from cultures who are used to low-protein diets, have type-A blood, or a lifestyle that can accommodate this style of eating. Traditional cultures naturally gravitated toward diets of complementary proteins: cornbread and black-eyed peas in America; aduki and soy beans with brown rice and millet in China and Japan; kidney beans and split peas and lentils with wheat, barley, and rye in Europe; and garbanzos and fava beans with millet and couscous in Africa and the Middle East.23


Vegetarian eating is also easier when we are young and can coast for a few early years on “strong kidney essence,” than in later years as we move toward middle-age and beyond. But no matter the age, life style, blood type or ethnic origin, vegetarian eating requires for anyone in our modern world of abundant animal protein, both knowledge and a good deal of paying attention when it comes to meal planning.24 This is true because people who have been raised on complete animal proteins are not as efficient at extracting protein from plants as people in traditional-type cultures conditioned to low-protein diets.25 So, for the seasoned meat eater, balancing amino acids from plant-based diet takes some getting used to.


Complete proteins are made up of 20 main amino acids, eight of which are called “essential” because the body is not capable of making them. The body is able to make proteins only when it has access to all necessary amino acids that it has obtained from recent meals. (Because the body is able to store amino acids for a short period, it is not essential to combine vegetable proteins correctly at every meal.)


A plant-based diet can quickly become deficient in certain types of proteins needed for cell maintenance and repair if care is not taken to combine grains, beans, nuts, and seeds to adequately provide these needs. To attain an amino acid complex closely resembling meat, grains and beans are best eaten in a 2:1 ratio. Protein deficiency is a problem in some cultures, for example, that rely heavily on one mainstay such as corn or rice, without adequate complements from beans and seeds. If amino acids are deficient and prevent protein production, the body may be forced to catabolize existing muscle in order to meet protein needs.26


Beans have a different amino acid structure that complements that of grains: Beans are high in some amino acids, while grains are high in others, so in an ideal setting they are able to work in tandem to build complete proteins. But balance may be needed: The theory of limiting amino acids (LLA) suggests that the level of protein derived from plant foods is limited to the contribution of the lowest essential amino acid in the mix. For example, “if methionine-cystine in a certain food measures up to only 30% of the standard amino-acid profile, then just 30% of the profile amounts of the other amino acids in that food are considered usable by the body.27


Interestingly, the theory of LLA and complementary proteins is supported by the eating habits of traditional cultures. Eating a proper ratio of beans and grains and adding in some nuts and seeds, we can obtain a full spectrum of amino acids. In contrast, a mismatch of amino acids can force the body to waste abundantly-supplied amino acids that are not matched by a complement. It can also set up cravings for sweets and fats like nut butters when a person does not have an adequate supply of complete proteins.28


A mismatch implies something else as well: Veering from the 2:1 ratio of grains to beans over a prolonged time period can tax the body because excess amino acids beyond LLA levels that are not “matched” by a complement need to be sloughed off and discharged.29 This can lead to mucus conditions, stagnation, and chronic disease. In a somewhat parallel way the over-consumption of meat can become a “toxic mucoid substance” leading to “obesity, heart disease, bone loss, and many degenerative diseases.”30


* * *
Weston Price, a Canadian dentist who traveled in the 1930s to examine the links between traditional cultures and their diet and health, realized early the link between the quality of the soil, the quality of foods, and the health of local peoples. He saw that eating connected us to the nutrients of the soil and the energy of the sun. As he stated at an evening event in 1928, “The dinner we have eaten tonight was part of the sun but a few months ago”31 Price came to realize that the problem of diet and health as represented by industrial and commercial farming was one of “ecological dysfunction”…of breaking the connections between local soils, local foods, and local people, thereby upsetting the traditional links and cyclical movement of nutrients through the food chain.32


But, the pendulum can swing just so far before it reverses direction. The recent groundswell of support for the Weston Price Foundation, for the local and organic farming movements, and for Michael Pollen’s best-selling book match the hopeful signs of blossoming trees and fresh shoots breaking through the April ground. As the Sun fulfills its annual promise, rising in the sky to higher and higher arcs as it spreads a larger and larger footprint of warm energy across Earth to awaken the ground, may we join in this spirit of hope, renewal, and connection, for all the health-giving qualities it can provide.


Eat food; Not too much; Mostly Plants…
Cook, Garden; Dine; Chew; Enjoy…
Happy Spring!

Copyright 2008, Pathways4Health

  1. See Food and Healing, 1986, by Annemarie Colbin,Ph.D, founder of the 30-year-old Natural Gourmet Institute. []
  2. As a nation, we spend less than 10% of income on food, down from 17.5% in 1960 (Pollan, p. 188 ); less than one-half hour preparing food; and justly slightly more than an hour a day consuming it. (Pollan, p.145) []
  3. Michael Pollan, pps. 4 and 147 []
  4. Pollan, p. 117. []
  5. Nina Planck, Real Food, p. 227. []
  6. Annemarie Colbin, 2007-08 Food Therapy Class. []
  7. Nina Planck, p. 104. []
  8. Derived from Artemis Simopoulos, “Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Health and Disease and in Growth and Development,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 54: p. 445. []
  9. Weston Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, 1939 and Ronald F. Schmid, Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine: “Price’s evidence indicates the occurrence of such genetic conditions [as Down’s syndrome, etc.,] is profoundly influenced by the parents’ nutrition and could be almost entirely prevented if their nutrition prior to pregnancy, and the woman’s during pregnancy, was optimal.” P. 126. []
  10. G. G. Khachatourians, Canadian Medical Association Journal, 159, #9 (1998 []
  11. Marion Nestel, What to Eat, p. 172. []
  12. Organic means an entity is grown without pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers, growth hormones, irradiation, and genetic engineering. It does not have to mean grass-fed; and grass-fed usually, but does not necessarily, mean organic. Natural means nothing else was added to the meat in processing…it says nothing about what the animal eat or how it was raised. []
  13. See November 2007 Newsletter for discussion. []
  14. Preliminary studies suggest organic foods have as such as 90% more minerals. Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, p. 19. []
  15. Pollan, p. 62. []
  16. Pollan, p. 62. []
  17. Pollan, p. 16. []
  18. Pollan, 66 []
  19. Pollan, 64 []
  20. Peaches, apples, strawberries, and celery have some of the heaviest pesticide concentrations. See Article, Health and Safety, Resources. []
  21. Annemarie Colbin, Free Spirit, July-September, 1990. []
  22. Vegetarians need to eat every hour and a half to two hours to avoid hunger. []
  23. Colbin, Food and Healing, p. 169. []
  24. “Most people who try to be vegetarian on commercial and processed food don’t get enough protein.”…Annemarie Colbin, Free Spirit. []
  25. Colbin, Food and Healing, p. 170. []
  26. Elson Haas, Staying Health With Nutrition, p. 55. []
  27. Pitchford, p. 131. []
  28. Colbin, Free Spirit, July-September, 1990. []
  29. Annemarie Colbin, Principles of Balance Class. []
  30. Pitchford, p. 132. []
  31. Pollan, p. 99. []
  32. Pollan, p. 100. []

Plants as Adaptogens

Plants as Adaptogens:  First Plants…Then People.

“Phytonutrients are found in the cells of plants and provide protection from the damaging rays of the sun.1


“A phytochemical is a natural bioactive compound found in plant foods that works with nutrients and dietary fiber to protect against disease.  Phytochemicals fight to protect your health.  They can have complementary and overlapping mechanisms of action in the body, including antioxidant effect, modulation of detoxification enzymes, stimulation of the immune system, modulation of hormone metabolism, and antibacterial and antiviral effect.”2

“Plants have evolved many protective defenses against pests and infection in the form of phytonutrients.  These defenses are better developed in organic foods because of selective adaptive pressures necessary to resist pests, infections, and variable climate conditions.  Organic foods provides higher concentrations of protective detoxifying, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.”3


Plants have always stood at the frontier, adapting and changing to assure our own survival.  At the beginning of life on the planet, the earliest plants entered the scene with little free oxygen in the atmosphere.  In these early times, as plants took in carbon dioxide and gave off oxygen as a by-product of their own metabolic processes, they brought greater and greater levels of “pollution” to their environment.4


Today, plants continue at the frontier of change, able to transform themselves to assure our own well-being.  They adapt to environmental conditions and to shifts in climate far faster than we can.  As Ruth Grene suggests:


“One of the most crucial functions of plant cells is their ability to respond to fluctuations in their environment.  Understanding the connections between a plant’s initial responses and the downstream events that constitute successful adjustment to its altered environment is one of the next grand challenges of plant biology.”5


Plants also adapt to local conditions:  Plant foods in one local area of the world are uniquely suited to sustain human life in that same area.  Tropical fruits give us a wonderful example of this:  Cantaloupes, dates, figs, and bananas are loaded with sugar and potassium, a product of their intense exposure to the sun.  In a theory offered by John Matsen, N.D., high levels of potassium and sugar send a message to the kidneys that the body is experiencing intense sun exposure (since tropical fruits grow in sun-drenched settings) and that the skin is making a lot of vitamin D.  The kidneys then curtail their effort to activate vitamin D.  This is one reason that eating tropical fruits in northern climates in the dead of winter can confuse the body and exacerbate vitamin D deficiency … something experienced by so many people, particularly in the winter months.6


Many herbs are powerful adaptogens.7  Throughout time, they have provided traditional cultures with healing and restorative tonics needed to survive harsh, threatening conditions associated with specific locations.  Plants and herbs that grow in the wild and under rugged conditions are nutrient dense and generally more tonifying than plants grown in the controlled setting of commercial farms.


Rainbow Colors:  Pigments Give Clues for Health and Vitality.

Phytonutrients are generally associated with a variety of plant pigments which give color…deep yellow, orange, red, green, blue, and purple… to fruits and vegetables.  These colors signal the presence of rich phytonutrients.  A variety of pigments are required to capture the sun’s full spectrum of light in all its rainbow colors.  We might imagine these pigments as mini specialized factories, providing their own vast array of phytochemicals in a mystery that science may never unravel.


But let’s back up a minute.  You probably recall from biology how pigment affects the color of plants:  A leaf appears to us to be green in color because it reflects the green rays of UV sunlight, while absorbing the other colors (reds, oranges, yellows, blues and purples) of the spectrum.


Chlorophylls are the pigments involved in the process of photosynthesis.8  There are different types and each absorbs different colors of light along the red and blue part of the spectrum.  Other compounds, like the brown, red/orange, and yellow carotenoids also play an important role.  They work as complementary pigments that absorb colors that cannot be taken up by the chlorophylls, thus assuring that the full spectrum of sun energy can be utilized in the process of photosynthesis.  How remarkable!…  each pigment making its own unique sets of nutrients to benefit our health.  As fall approaches and chlorophyll fades, we can truly appreciate in the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn foliage, the unveiling of these complementary and essential pigments.9


Plant Sunscreens:  Phytonutrients Protect Chlorophyll from the Sun’s Radiation.

Chlorophyll, along with its supplementary pigments, converts the sun’s energy into glucose, which becomes the building block of phytonutrients.  But, as Lisa Ganor comments,


“Chlorophyll can’t work alone.  Being a complicated molecule, it’s also quite delicate.  It needs protection from the harsh UV rays in the sun’s energy spectrum.  Too much ultraviolet, and photosynthesis begins to release an excess of damaging free radicals…


“The free radicals generated by strong UV light could destroy the sensitive chlorophyll, but they don’t; the plant has its own built-in antioxidants.”10


Carotenoids and perhaps other contributing pigments that we do not fully understand go to work to protect chlorophyll from free-radical damage, just as they perform this same function in our body, protecting our cell membranes and blood lipids from oxidation.


The Mystery of a Tomato

When we think of a tomato, we think of lycopene.  But a simple tomato is estimated to contain over 10,00011 phytonutrients.  While we may never understand everything about a tomato, we do know phytonutrients work in mysterious synergy with other nutrients and fiber.  So far, a complete biochemical profile has been attempted on only very few fruits and vegetables.


Fortunately, of course, we do not have to understand to be in awe of the fractal patterns of a head of broccoli or the deep marbling art displayed by a sliced section of carrot or beet.  We can just marvel at the pigments that capture the full spectrum of light and convert this light energy into an equally broad spectrum of life-giving protections and medicines that we can use for our own health and vitality.


Copyright 2010



Phytochemicals in Fruits and Vegetables12


Carotenoids are the pigments responsible for the colors of many red, green, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are a large family of phytochemicals which include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, cryptoxanthin, canthaxanthin, zeaxanthin, and others.

Carotenoids protect the body by decreasing risk of heart disease, stroke, blindness, and certain types of cancer. They may also help to slow the aging process, reduce complications associated with diabetes, and improve lung function. Fruits and vegetables that are dark green, yellow, orange or red contain carotenoids.The following information describes four of the carotenoids.

Beta-Carotene may help to slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes. Beta-carotene is found in yellow-orange fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, cantaloupe, apricots, papaya, kiwifruit, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and winter squash, and green vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, and kale.

Lutein is essential for maintaining proper vision as we age. It has been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading causes of blindness in older people and may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Kale, spinach and collard greens contain the most lutein of any fruit or vegetable. Other sources of lutein include kiwifruit, broccoli, collard greens, brussels sprouts, swiss chard, and romaine lettuce.

Diets rich in lycopene have been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. Lycopene is found in red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and cooked tomato products, red peppers, pink grapefruit, watermelon.

Zeaxanthin may help to prevent macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of visual impairment in people over 50. It may also help to prevent certain types of cancer. Corn, spinach, winter squash, and egg yolks contain zeaxanthin.

Flavonoids are another large family of protective phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids, also called bioflavonoids, act as antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize or inactivate highly unstable and extremely reactive molecules, called free radicals, that attack the cells of our body every day. Free radical damage is believed to contribute to a variety of health problems, including cancer, heart disease and aging. There are many different types of flavonoids and each appears to have protective health effects. Some of the better known flavonoids include resveratrol, anthocyanins, quercetin, hesperidin, tangeritin, kaempferol, myricetin, and apigenin. Flavonoids are found in a variety of foods, such as oranges, kiwifruit, grapefruit, tangerines, berries, apples, red grapes, red wine, broccoli, onions, and green tea. The five primary flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables are:

Resveratrol may reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, blood clots and stroke. Red grapes, red grape juice, and red wine contain resveratrol.

Anthocyanins, which are particularly high in blueberries, have been shown to protect against the signs of aging. In one study, elderly rats that ate the equivalent of a half-cup of blueberries daily for eight weeks improved balance, coordination, and short-term memory. Scientists think these results may apply to humans as well.

Anthocyanins in blueberries and cranberries have also been shown to help prevent urinary tract infections. Blueberries, cherries, strawberries, kiwifruit, and plums contain anthocyanins.

Quercetins may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck cancers, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke. Apples, pears, cherries, grapes, onions, kale, broccoli, leaf lettuce, garlic, green tea, and red wine contain quercetins.

Hesperidin is a flavonoid that may protect against heart disease. Hesperidin is found in citrus fruits and fruit juices, such as oranges and orange juice, grapefruit and grapefruit juice, tangerines, lemons, limes, mandarins, and tangelos.

Tangeritin may help prevent cancers of the head and neck. Tangeritin is found in citrus fruits and their juices.

Phenolic Compounds
Phenolic compounds may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Phenolic compounds may be found in berries, prunes, red grapes and red grape juice, kiwifruit, currants, apples and apple juice, and tomatoes.

Ellagic Acid
Ellagic acid is a phenolic compound that may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels. Ellagic acid is found in red grapes, kiwifruit, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and currants.

Sulphoraphane is in a class of phytochemicals called isothiocyanates. Sulphoraphane may reduce the risk of colon cancer. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, collard greens, turnips and turnip greens contain sulphoraphane.

Limonene is in a class of phytochemicals called mono-terpenes. It is found in the rinds and the edible white membranes of citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, lemons and limes. Limonene may help to protect the lungs and reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

This family of phytochemicals may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including breast cancer. Indoles are found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, collard greens, watercress, and turnips and turnip greens.

Allium Compounds
Allium compounds may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Garlic, onions, chives, leeks, and scallions contain allium compounds.


Fruits and Vegetables as a Rich Source of Phytonutrients[1]

Apples and apple juice contain phenolic compounds which may protect against heart disease.

Apricots (fresh and dried) contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Blackberries contain ellagic acid which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels.

Blueberries contain anthocyanins which may protect against the effects of aging. Blueberries also contain ellagic acid which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels.

Bok Choy contains a variety of phytochemicals including sulphoraphane and indoles.

Broccoli contains many different phytochemicals including sulphoraphane, indoles, beta-carotene, lutein, and quercetins. These phytochemicals may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, protect against macular degeneration and cataracts, reduce inflammation associated with allergies, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Broccoli sprouts contain sulphoraphane which may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

Brussel sprouts contain a variety of phytochemicals including sulphoraphane and indoles. These phytochemicals may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

Cabbage contains a variety of phytochemicals including sulphoraphane and indoles. These phytochemicals may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

Cantaloupe contains beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Carrots contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Cauliflower contains a variety of phytochemicals including sulphoraphane and indoles. These phytochemicals may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

Cherries contain anthocyanins which may protect against the signs of aging. Cherries also contain quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Chives contain allium compounds that may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines contain hesperidin and tangeritin which act as antioxidants to reduce the risk of heart disease and various types of cancer. Citrus fruits also contain limonene which may protect the lungs.

Collard greens contain lutein which may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Collard greens also contain indoles and sulphoraphane which may help decrease the risk of certain types of cancer.

Corn contains zeaxanthin which may help to prevent macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of visual impairment in people over 50.

Currants contain ellagic acid which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels.

Garlic contains allium compounds which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancers and lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Garlic also contains quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Kale contains a variety of phytochemicals including beta carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes and lutein which may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Kale also contains indoles and sulphoraphane which may help decrease cancer risk and quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Kiwifruit contains a variety of phytochemicals, including beta-carotene, lutein, anthocyanins, and ellagic acid. These phytochemicals may reduce the risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, cataracts, and macular degeneration.

Leaf Lettuce contains quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Leeks contain allium compounds which reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and may lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Mangoes contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Onions contain allium compounds which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Onions also contain quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Papaya contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Pears contain quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Pink grapefruit contains lycopene which may decrease risk for prostate cancer and heart disease. Pink grapefruit also contains hesperidin and tangeritin which act as antioxidants to reduce the risk of heart disease and various types of cancer as well as limonene which may protect the lungs.

Plums contain anthocyanins which may help protect against the signs of aging.

Prunes contain phenolic compounds which act as antioxidants that may prevent the loss of long-term memory and learning ability.

Pumpkins contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Raisins contain phenolic compounds that may act as powerful antioxidants to help slow the aging process.

Raspberries contain ellagic acid which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels.

Red grapes and grape juice contain resveratrol and ellagic acid which may lower the risk of heart disease and certain forms of cancer.. Red grapes also contain quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Red peppers contain lycopene which reduce the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease.

Romaine lettuce contains lutein which may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading causes of visual impairment in people over 50.

Scallions contain allium compounds which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Spinach contains beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes. Spinach also contains lutein and zeaxanthin which may help prevent blindness. People who eat lots of spinach have a decreased risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading causes of visual impairment in people over 50.

Strawberries contain anthocyanins which may protect against the effects of aging. Strawberries also contain ellagic acid which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels.

Sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Swiss chard contains lutein which may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Swiss chard also contains indoles and sulphoraphane which may help decrease the risk of certain types of cancer.

Tomatoes and cooked tomato products contain lycopene which may decrease risk for prostate cancer and heart disease. Tomato products such as ketchup, tomato juice, and spaghetti sauce are some excellent sources of lycopene.

Turnips contain indoles and sulphoraphane which may help decrease the risk of certain types of cancer.

Watercress contains indoles and sulphoraphane which may help decrease the risk of certain types of cancer.

Watermelon contains lycopene which may decrease risk for prostate cancer and heart disease.

Winter squash contains beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes. Winter squash also contains zeaxanthin which may help to prevent macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of visual impairment in people over 50.

[1]Phytochemical; Another Good Reason to Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables., courtesy


  1. Phytonutrients/Phytochemicals:  Live Long and Healthy; []
  2. Phytochemicals; Another Good Reason to Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables, []
  3. Mark Hyman, Alternative Therapies, Mar/Apr, 2010, 57. []
  4. “Ever since the introduction of molecular oxygen (O-2) into our atmosphere, by O-2 evolving photosynthetic organisms, about two billion years ago, reactive oxygen intermediate (ROI) have been the unwelcome companion of aerobic metabolism.  In contrast to O-2, these partially reduced or activated derivatives of oxygen are highly reactive and toxic, and can lead to the oxidative destruction of cells.  Consequently, the evolution of all aerobic organisms has been dependent upon the development of efficient ROI-scavenging mechanisms.  In recent years a new role of ROI was identified:  the control and regulation of biological processes such as programmed cell death, hormonal signaling, stress responses, and development.  These studies extend our understanding or ROI and suggest a dual role for ROI in plant biology:  (a)  Toxic byproducts of aerobic metabolism, and (b) Key regulators of metabolic and defense pathways.”   Oxidative Stress in Plants,  To survive, the heartiest, through evolution, began to produce antioxidants to give protection against reactive oxygen molecules.  Plants that did survive the “toxic,” stultifying oxygen continued to evolve into the plants of today… not only able to cope with oxygen, but also, through their own biochemical defenses, to ward off bacteria, fungi, viruses, and damage to cell structure, and DNA. (( Molecular Expressions:  The Photochemcial Collection, []
  5. Oxidative Stress and Acclimation Mechanisms in Plants, Ruth Grene, []
  6. A theory put forth by John Matsen, ND, and quoted in  The Whole Truth, by Andrea Beaman, 61 []
  7. Adaptogens increase “the body’s resistance and endurance to a wide variety of adverse influences from physical, chemical, and biological stressors, assisting the body’s ability to cope and adapt.” The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook, James Greer, 27. []
  8. Chlorophyll a is primary , with supplementary chlorophylls aiding in the process. []
  9. Modern Biology (1999), Albert Towle, 112-3. []
  10. Lisa Ganor, New Life Journal, June-July, 2004. []
  11. Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, 9. []
  12. Phytochemical; Another Good Reason to Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables., courtesy of []

What Are “Good” Fats and Oils?

To understand fats requires knowing a little bit about their structure.  When we can visualize this, we can appreciate why some fats are more stable and suitable for cooking.  We can also appreciate the importance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids:  they are “essential” to obtain through foods since the body cannot itself make them.


Confusion about oils is partly from the postwar advertising efforts of the edible oil industry aimed to encourage us to shift from butter and other natural fats to their manufactured margarine and vegetable oils, as they tied cholesterol and saturated fats to chronic disease.1   But another source of confusion stems simply from the multiple names that are used for oils.  Flax oil, for example, is called an omega-3, for example, but it is also known as a super-unsaturated polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) and as alpha-linolenic acid(ALA).  Labeling categories for lipids include:


  • Saturated and unsaturated: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, super-unsaturated;
  • omega labels: -3,-6,-9;
  • oleic, linoleic (LA), and alpha-linolenic acids(ALA); and
  • hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated trans fats.


Oils are labeled to correspond to their physical makeup.  The format of the diagrams in the box below is meant as a simplified way to outline a lipid’s structure, showing just the carbon atoms and the placement of the double bonds in each.  (The table omits the hydrogen atoms and the methyl and carboxyl ends).  A saturated fat like butter is a simple 4 carbon molecule, in contrast to fragile omega oils with 18 carbons and double bonds starting as early as the third carbon from the omega (methyl) end.


Let’s clarify some labels….


Saturated versus Unsaturated. Fats with single bonds throughout are called saturated, while those with one or more double bonds are unsaturated.  Saturated fats (fully saturated with hydrogens) are more stable since carbon and hydrogen atoms share electrons in lock-step, with each carbon linked to the next.


When a fatty acid is fully saturated, it interacts the least with other molecules in the body, and it provides the most stable structure.  Saturated fats are helpful structurally because they help stabilize cell membranes, and they are not very susceptible to damage because they are primarily inert and noninteractive.2


Unsaturated oils are provide flexibility for cell membranes and are vital for intercellular communication but they are less stable since at a double bond, one pair of electrons is shared.  Double bonds are vulnerable spots along an oil molecule that are subject to free-radical damage/oxidative stress.  This is because an un-paired electron at a double bond invites free radicals wandering about the body and that are missing an electron to try to steal the single electron to form a new bond.  Thus, unsaturated oils are more chemically active and reactive.


The Carbon Structure of Saturated and Unsaturated Fats and Oils

Butter…saturated.  Butyric Acid (BA)…the easiest to digest saturated fat.


C-C-C-C. (no double bonds)


Omega-9s…monounsaturated.  Oleic acid (OA)….the most stable unsaturated oil.:


C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C==C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C (one  @ 9th carbon)



Omega-6s…polyunsaturated.  Linoleic acid (LA)


C-C-C-C-C-C-C-C==C-C-C==C-C-C-C-C-C (two @ 6th & 9th)




Omega-3s…super-unsaturated.  Alpha linolenic acid (LNA)…the most fragile unsaturated oil.


C-C-C-C-C-C-C==C-C-C==C-C-C==C-C-C         (three, @ 3rd, 6th, 9th)


Oleic acid, linoleic acid (LA), and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Oleic means “from oil.”  The names of oils get longer with the addition of more and more double bonds:  oleic acid (omega-9), linoleic acid (omega-6), and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3).


Why omega-3s and omega-6s are called essential fatty acids (EFAs). Plants and animals can use enzymes to insert double bonds into saturated fatty acid carbon chains in order to create unsaturated fats.  Fats with multiple double bonds beginning at the 3rd omega position are vital to human life, particularly for electrical/cellular/neurological communication.  In a fatty acid carbon molecule, plants are able to create double bonds as close as the 3rd and 6th carbon from the methyl (omega) end.  In contrast, human enzymes can only create double bonds starting at the 7th carbon and beyond. Thus, plants supply us with omega-3 and omega-6 oils that are essential fatty acids (EFAs), vital building blocks for our health, that we cannot make ourselves.  With plant-based omega-3s and -6s as raw materials, we use special enzymes to elongate and to desaturate these further, retooling them to serve a variety of critical sophisticated “electrical” functions…for brain activity, cell regulation, and nerve impulses.  [EPA and DHA, vital for brain function, are not called “essential” because they can be made by the body from ALA—by healthy cells and with the proper co-factors:  vitamins B3, B6, and C, and magnesium and zinc—something that cannot always be counted upon.]


Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and superunsaturated oils. Omega-3 oils are the most unsaturated plant-based EFA with double bonds that begin at the third position from the omega end and repeat after each set of three carbons.  Thus, omega-3 fatty acids, with double bonds after the 3rd, 6th, and 9th carbons in its 18-carbon chain, are super-unsaturated and are the most flexible and the most vulnerable to oxidative damage of any of the unsaturated oils.  Omega-6s have two double bonds after the 6th and 9th carbons and are called polyunsaturated oils.  You may guess that omega-9s, like olive oil, are monounsaturated oils, with just one double bond after the 9th carbon.



The Reactive Nature of EFAs. The positions on omega-3 and -6 molecules at which double-bond occur are highly reactive, so they need to be used and stored with care (food manufactures often add BHA, and antioxidant, to prevent oxidative damage to packaged foods).   With twice as much energy at double bonds than at other locations along the molecule,3 these EFAs are the building blocks for sophisticated neurological/electrical functions in the body.   The table below, which shows the multiple double bonds of fish oil is a clear indication of both its importance of neurological function and also its fragility.


Type of Fatty Acid
Key Fatty Acid
Double Bonds
Best Sources
Monounsaturated Omega-9Oleic acid18 carbons 1 Olive oil
Polyunsaturated Omega-6sLinoleic acid18 carbons 2Safflower, sunflower, Sesame, and Gragpesee Oils
Gamma-linolenic acid18 carbons 3Borage, Evening Primrose Oils
Arachidonic acid20 carbons 4Beef fat, Egg Yolk
Polyunsaturated Omega-3sAlpha-linolenic acid18 carbons 3Flax, Pumpkin, Hemp, Seeds and Walnuts
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)20 carbons 5Fish oil
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)22 carbons 6Fish oil
Source: Adapted, Elson Haas

The Proper Omega-6/Omega-3 Balance.


“…ourbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 affects our health as much as any other aspect of dietary fat…Because the ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s helps determine the flexibility of cell membranes, nearly all chemical communication throughout the body depends at least in part on the correct balance between omega-6s and omega-3s.  Within this context, it is difficult to imagine any health problem that isn’t partly related to the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.”4



Table 1

Dominance of Omega-6s Versus Omega-3s in a Variety of Cooking and Salad Oils

Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 (Ideal is 3:1 to 1:1)
Butter, Grass-fed animals1:1
Butter, commercial9:1
Palm 46:1

Source: Pathways4Health, Derived from Mary Enig’s Know Your Fats


Our forebears consumed a diet that was balanced with respect to omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, something around 1:1 to 3:1.   But for today’s typical American, this ratio stands at 20:1.  Our modern diet of processed, convenience foods is one factor that explains this shift, since food companies rely upon refined, white vegetable oils like corn, soy, and cottonseed—they are cheap and have a long shelf life.  Another factor behind this shift is that many modern households have grown to fear healthy saturated fats like butter and unrefined coconut oil and have switched to inexpensive vegetable oils, often believing that they are a healthier choice, and perhaps, too, because they have a long shelf life.   Looking at the table above, which outlines the omega-6/omega-3 ratios of a variety of oils, it is easy to see how this ratio could soar to 20:1.  Corn, safflower, and cottonseed oils are frequent ingredients in salad dressings and other prepared foods, and their omega-6/-3 ratios range from 72:1 for corn to 234:1 for cottonseed oil.


The Complexity of Fats and Oils

To understand fats also requires an understanding of their complexity:  No fat is totally saturated.  Neither is any natural fat entirely unsaturated.  Fats are blends of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.  For example, most people think of olive oil as a monounsaturated omega-9 oil.  In reality, its fat composition is three-quarters monounsaturated omega-9s, with 8% polyunsaturated omega-6s, and a rather significant 16% share in the form of saturated fats (see Table 2).


The information in Table 2 that follows is important since the makeup of oils has a direct bearing on health.  Not only do omega-3s, -6s, and -9s perform different functions in our body,  but also the mix tells us a lot about how they can be best and most safely used, especially in cooking.



Complexity of Lipids and Implications for Cooking and Health

Saturated fats like butter and unrefined coconut oil are the most stable and the best choices for cooking. Olive oil, with only one double bond, can be used with care at low temperatures and for water sauteing (Table 2).



Omega-3 and omega-6 oils are fragile and should never be used in high-temperature cooking. This is especially true of omega-3 oils, which are five times more fragile than omega-6s.  These oils need to be protected from light, oxygen, and heat, all of which damages them.  They quickly go rancid.


Coconut (and palm kernel) oil is not only stable, but is also extremely rich in lauric acid, a potent antimicrobial.   These two facts make unrefined coconut oil my first choice for cooking. (Chicken fat is also high in lauric acid, a key to why at the first sign of a cold, we reach for the chicken soup.)  Note that butter also offers some anti-bacterial protection, with its modest share of lauric acid.  The Table 2 also shows that nature provided antibacterial protection for young infants, with a generous lauric acid component in mother’s milk.


Table 2:  Composition of Nut and Seed Oils

(A Guide to Choosing Oils to Fight Inflammation)


Nut or Seed:


Lauric Acid
Flax581419 9 0
Olive 0 87616 0
Coconut,unrefined 0 3 69144
Palm Kernel 0 2138547
Sesame 0454213 0
Peanut 0294718 0
Rape (Canola) 73054 7 0
Almond 01778 5 0
Avocado 0107020 0
Safflower 0751312 0
Sunflower 0652312 0
Corn 0592417 0
Soybean 7502615 0
Pumpkin 75034 9 0
Wheat Germ 5502518 0
Pecan 02063 7 0
Cashew 0 67018 0
Butter (grass-fed) 1.52.329632.8

Source:  Udo Eramus and Pathways4Health


Supermarket vegetable oils (corn, safflower, canola) bottled in clear glass are best left on the grocery store shelf.   Refined oils do not promote health and should not be used in cooking. Processed in huge factories, these cheap oils have been damaged by light, oxygen, and heat.  They are exposed to light and oxygen throughout the extraction process, as well as to toxic solvents like benzene.  Heat used in extraction breaks apart the carbon bonds, setting loose free radicals.  Oils are then “deodorized” at temperatures as high as 500 degrees to give them a “pure” appearance.5  The result is “white” oils that are stripped of anti-oxidants and other nutrients…similar to sugar and white flour, but with the added risks associated with free radical oxidative damage.


Frying at high temperatures does create a variety of toxic breakdown products but these are not the same as trans fats. Trans fats are created by a special chemical catalytic process (hydrogenation) that involves high temperature and pressure and the presence of limestone elements for filtration.6


The “Cold-pressed” label on standard vegetable oils has been abused. This label has not been “regulated” since the Federal government has never agreed on a definition for “cold-pressed” oils.  Manufacturers have freely taken advantage of this. It is true that much of the extraction process with modern presses does not require the application of external heat (except to derive the last 10% of yield).  But, extraction itself does involve heat that builds up from the normal friction and pressure of the pressing process (well above 200 degrees in large presses).  Even if manufacturers can try to claim that their oils were pressed without heat, their advertising ignores the extreme heats used in the refining process, both before (the cooking stage prior to pressing, with average temperatures of 250 degrees) and after pressing (during the deodorizing process when oils are heated to close to 500 degrees for a period of six to eight hours.).7  Look for the words “unrefined” on the label of all oils.

Every  good fat and oil has its own strong points for health:


Butter is a short-chain triglyceride (SCT) saturated fatty acid that is very stable.  Since it is digested and absorbed easily, it as a quick source of heat and energy (a good choice for the athlete and people who feel cold).  It helps strengthen the immune system and has anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.  This is especially true of ghee (clarified butter), which is known for its healing powers.   Butter from grass-fed animals is the best readily-available source of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and carries these to the body in a form that is very easy to absorb and assimilate.  These vitamins help with the absorption of a host of minerals that are vital for healthy bones and for the proper functioning of the nervous and reproductive systems.  Buy organic, non-salted (this is how you know it is fresh) butter from grass-fed cows.


Unrefined coconut oil is a stable (it is 92% saturated) cholesterol-free oil—since it is a plant-based (plants have no liver to make cholesterol).  Its high natural saturation, nature’s way of keeping coconut leaves stiff in tropical climates, adds to its value as a cooking oil in our own temperate environment.  Unlike vegetable oils which are long-chain triglycerides (LCT), coconut oil is a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT).  SCTs like butter and MCTs like coconut and palm kernel oil can be absorbed directly into the blood stream through the walls of the small intestine to be used as quick energy.  In contrast, long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) like vegetable oils must first be converted to triglycerides in the intestine and then packaged for transport.  LCTs, conveyed via chylomicrons, stay in the blood stream longer than SCTs and MCTs, to be deposited as fat when not needed.   Because MCTs are utilized quickly much like carbohydrates,  they help to boost metabolism while they also quickly satisfy hunger pangs.  Some believe that coconut oil also contains fewer calories than any other fat.8  Coconut oil’s bad name seems undeserved:  it has antimicrobial powers and is the most cancer-reducing of all the fats.((Enig,81))  Be sure to purchase unrefined coconut oil that is free of hydrogenation.


Olive oil is a monounsaturated, omega-9 oil that can help lower cholesterol. It is liquid at room temperature and becomes cloudy when refrigerated.  Its health benefits make it a good choice, particularly when it is used with foods that have already been cooked.  Be sure to choose oil olive that is labeled “Extra Virgin, First Cold Pressing” (to assure chemical solvents and heat have not been used in the extraction process) and that is bottled in dark glass (to prevent oxidation).  Keep in a cabinet when not in use to prevent free-radical damage.


Omega-6 oils are polyunsaturated oils that are too fragile for cooking, but that are vital to health (an EFA that the body must get through foods).  They are especially important for proper functioning of the heart, liver, kidney, and reproductive organs, for hair and skin, for growth and behavior, and for the proper functioning of the immune system, as well as for wound healing (the inflammatory response).  Omega-6 oils are fragile and are best used at the table, not for cooking.


Omega-3 oils, also EFAs, are super-unsaturated, with an extra double bond that makes them very fragile and reactive, never to be used in cooking, and yet vital to health in its own unique roles. Omega-3s are especially associated with proper brain function, mood and depression, behavior, vision, and motor coordination.  They work on the opposite side of the spectrum when it comes to inflammation:  they perform an anti-inflammatory role to give balance to a diet that includes pro-inflammatory omega-6 oils.  Most experts believe an ideal ratio of omega-6s:omega-3 is somewhere between 3:1 and 1:1.


Three Simple Rules for Using Oils:9


  1. Use only unrefined oils.  Refined oils are stripped of vital nutrients and antioxidants.  All things that could make it taste rancid are removed so it cannot go rancid and you will have no clue as it is age.   These are hidden in many prepared foods, including those that comply with FDA labeling requirements.
  2. Avoid hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils.  These are hidden in many unlabeled prepared foods.
  3. Choose only polyunsaturated oils that are pressed without exposure to light, heat, and oxygen.

Copyright 2010

  1. As Mary Enig points out, this idea was created in the 1950s to protect the margarine and shortening industries who were coming under attack by scientists who linked hydrogenation with heart disease. []
  2. Elson Haas, Staying Healthy With Nutrition, 65 []
  3. Haas,67 []
  4. Haas,68 []
  5. Edo Eramus, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, 96-7 []
  6. Enig, 279,271 []
  7. Eramus, 141-3 []
  8. Bruce Fife, “The Fat that Can Make You Thin,” Well-Being Journal, March/April, 2010,  20 []
  9. Paul Pitchford, speech to IIN, April, 2007 []