Fall 2014: Choices? Myths? A Case for the Affordability of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

To read this newsletter in an easy pdf format, click here to download A Case for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables


We all care about food and nutrition and we probably feel well-versed in many issues that relate to good health.  One “truth” that we hear repeated again and again, so often in fact that we may take it for granted, and without much thought, is that fresh fruits and vegetables are priced out of reach and too expensive to be a mainstay in the diet of the typical American family.


As a former economist and someone familiar with government economic statistics, I have watched food lose share of the consumer dollar year after year as we give a greater priority to other goods and services, especially high-tech and recreation durables and health care services:  In the early postwar period, Americans spent 24% of every dollar on food; today, we spend less than 10% (Chart 1).  In recent decades, we seem to have traded food dollars for dollars spent on health care (Chart 2). 


chart 1 and 2


The apparent shift in our preferences away from food toward other goods and services got me thinking:




What factors explain the dramatic decline in the food/disposable personal income (DPI) ratio in Chart 1?


If we devote so little of our income to food relative to 50 years ago, isn’t there room in the budget to give a little more emphasis to food in general and fresh fruits and vegetables in particular?  [We can use fresh fruits and vegetables, for which there is historic data, as proxies for nutrient-dense, health-supportive foods.]


Does price explain the steep drop in the food/DPI ratio—the food industry presenting us with cheaper food options and savings so we can spend more for other goods and services?


How much of the typical consumer dollar goes to fresh fruits and vegetables?


Have the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables gone up that much more than other foods, as well as all other consumer goods and services, to render fresh produce unaffordable?


What else is the typical American family buying that makes fresh produce feel so unaffordable?


Overview and Conclusions…


The charts and tables that follow represent ideas and concepts derived from raw data available through the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a division of the Department of Commerce.


The data suggest that some of the overarching influences on consumer spending have come not only from the relative prosperity of the postwar years, but also specifically from the growth and influence of the food and drug industries, the development of new high-tech products and medical technologies, and the powerful role of low-cost imports.   Imports, by complementing and competing with domestic products, have had a major impact on consumer behavior and shopping habits, especially in recent decades.


The story of postwar consumer spending, the expanding market basket of goods, and the role of imports is a fascinating one and the conclusions below are perhaps more easily understood in this context.  But in the interest of brevity and not to be sidetracked by too much history and too many statistics, many of which are captured in the tables and charts, let’s focus here on just a few summary thoughts and leave this story to be told in the Appendix of this newsletter, if you would like more background on the topic.


Table 1



Chart 3A


Chart 3B


Chart 3C_Page_1



While you may develop ideas from the charts and tables on your own, these are some specific conclusions that I draw from them:


  • Americans have dramatically cut back on their relative spending for goods across virtually every expenditure category in order to purchase more services.   Since the early 1950s, consumers have diverted 26 cents of every dollar from goods to services; with half, some 13 cents redeployed to health care services (Table 1, last column).
  • As a nation, we spend about three times the amount for alcoholic beverages than for either fresh fruits or fresh vegetables.  We spend twice the amount for non-alcoholic beverages (especially sugary soft drinks) and twice the amount for bakery products than for fresh fruits or vegetables.  And, we spend a roughly equivalent amount for sugary snacks and sweets compared to fresh fruits and vegetables (Chart 3A).
  •  From what we hear about the high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables, we might assume that their prices have outpaced prices of such consumer favorites as beverages, bakery products, and sugary snacks, but Chart 3A suggests that this is not the case.  Prices have inched up in like fashion for all of the food categories depicted in Chart 3A.  The fact that consumers have increased their spending on all these categories at essentially equivalent rates suggests that taste and convenience, not nutrition and health, may be the key priorities when Americans stroll the aisles of grocery and convenience stores (Chart 3A).
  • Amounts spent for physician care and also for prescription drugs each account for 8-10 times the dollars we spend on fresh fruits and vegetables (Chart 3B).  Prescription drug sales have grown at twice the rate of spending for fresh fruits and vegetables (10.2% vs. 5.2% and 4.9%, respectively) and its share of PCE has increased by almost five-fold in the last 60 years to now account for almost 3% of total consumer spending (vs. 0.3% for fresh fruits!).   Americans also spend more for non-prescription drugs than for fresh fruits or fresh vegetables (Chart 3B).
  • Americans spend more on amusement parks, toys and games, air travel, and gambling and lotteries than on fresh fruits or fresh vegetables…the latter by a wide margin.  Spending for gambling and lotteries (presumably a highly-discretionary expenditure and one that entices most economic classes) has grown at twice the rate of fresh fruits and vegetables and absorbs three times the dollars (Chart 3C).
  • Compared to 60+ years ago, consumers are spending less of every dollar on food and more on beverages of all types (Table 2).  Of every dollar spent on food, consumers have shifted 13½ cents away from meat, poultry, milk and eggs, in order to spend 11½ cents more on cereals, bakery products, and “other food” which includes convenience snacks and frozen and canned prepared foods.  Economizing efforts have aimed most at milk and eggs, where consumers have cut back 8½ cents in order to spend 9 cents more of every dollar on snacks and frozen/prepared foods.



  1. Prices for fresh fruits and vegetables have not run wild; instead, they have risen only moderately faster (3.7% and 4.0%, respectively) compared to food overall (3.1%) and consumer goods and services as a whole (3.3%);
  2. Fresh fruits and vegetables account for such a negligible portion (0.3% and 0.4%, respectively) of the consumer dollar that price increases should be relatively easy to absorb;
  3. Fresh produce appears affordable in the context of the many dollars consumers spend on discretionary items like alcoholic beverages and soft drinks, amusement parks, gambling and lotteries.


We know that Americans as consumers are rational beings.  From the data, we might conclude that what many are short on is really not so much money, but time.  With more women working outside the home;  with households having fewer hours to devote to planning, shopping, and cooking; and, with screens, especially the internet soaking up more hours of our day, it is easy to be caught off guard, needing a calorie lift and with no healthy food options in sight.  It is then that consumers reach for quick options like soft drinks and snack foods.


Without adequate time to shop, cook, and prepare healthy meals and with the satisfaction and convenience provided us by the food industry’s array of sugary beverages and snacks, it is easy to see why the myth that fruits and vegetables are unaffordable has gained in popularity and gone unchallenged.


Copyright 2014, Pathways4Health.org



Overview of Consumer Spending in the Postwar:  The Shift Away from Staple Goods, Toward Discretionary Hard Goods and Services

A Discussion Shaped, in Part, by Data Outlined in Table 1


Relative peace and prosperity following World War II ushered in a period of unprecedented growth in consumer spending, as well as major shifts within the consumer market basket itself.  To the first point, the modern “consumer economy” as we know it today initially grew out of strong pent-up demand especially for durable goods following World War II.  In these early postwar years as the war effort cooled, strong consumer demand for goods came to the rescue to keep factories humming and workers on the job, filling the void left by a government no longer purchasing armaments and war materials:  In the three years between 1943-44 and 1947, government spending dropped from 48% of GDP to 16%, while the consumer share rose over the same three years from a wartime-depressed 48%-49% of GDP to 65%.  [Federal spending soared, from $16 billion in 1940 to $109 billion in 1944, and then fell sharply, from $109 billion to $43 billion in 1946 and $40 billion by 1947.]


To this day, the postwar consumer economy has continued to flourish, driven and nurtured by an environment of general affluence, the absence of global wars, and the influence and ability of advertising and the media to persuasively and effectively turn consumer “wants” into perceived “needs.”  Speaking to this marketing success is the fact that, after hovering at about two-thirds of GDP throughout the postwar period, the consumer share of GDP is currently at an all-time high of some 68%.


Not only has the consumer market basket grown in the postwar years, but the mix has also changed.  Consumers can now purchase many more types of goods such as high-tech durables, as well as many discretionary and health-related services.  These goods and services have encroached upon traditional consumer staples.  Two dramatic changes in the way consumers allocate spending dollars are illustrated in Charts 1 and 2 on the page that follows.  Americans now spend less than 10% of disposable personal income (DPI) on food, both “at home” and “away from home,” a steep decline from the 24% food/DPI ratio of the early postwar years, with the entire shortfall explained by “food at home.”  Simultaneously, as food’s share of the consumer dollar has fallen, more spending has gone to health care (Chart 2).


The role of imports.   Imports have grown steadily throughout the postwar period.  In dollar volume imports are the equivalent of 16% of GDP, up from a 4% average in the 1950s.    The stunning growth of imports means that the American consumer can select as never before across an even broader spectrum of products—from big-ticket items like automobiles to bargain-priced electronics, clothing and shoes.


Beyond greater choice, imports provide economies, due to their generally lower cost and also the competition they exert on domestic producers.  As a result, Americans spend fewer dollars per unit on such items as TVs, other electronics, and soft goods.  In the case of hard goods like TVs and computers, we are able to buy more units per household using relatively fewer dollars; or, in the case of goods like clothing, we can buy a like number of units for less money, leaving more dollars for other purchases.


Over the postwar period, the impact of  imports—due to price and competition—has been a factor allowing consumers to shift more and more spending dollars from goods to services, especially health care and financial services.   Currently, the typical American spends 66 cents of every dollar on services and only 34 cents on goods, a relationship that has nearly flip-flopped over the last 4 decades (Table 1).  Services, which are generally a product of domestic labor and little influenced by lower foreign wage rates, continue to take a bigger and bigger piece of the consumer dollar.  This is not only due to higher inflation in services relative to goods (4% annually compared to 2.4% for goods, Table 1), but also because services become relatively more important once demand for goods begins to “top out.”


We can also see from Table 1 several ways that consumers are savvy and sensitive to price:  We buy relatively more recreational vehicles, electronics (in “other durables”), and clothing in response to the low and/or falling prices of these goods.  Meanwhile, in the face of rising gasoline and fuel prices, we economize on energy consumption, through smaller and more fuel efficient cars, fewer trips, more public transportation, and better home insulation.  In fact, while energy prices have risen 40% faster than all consumer goods and services as a whole (4.7% compared to 3.3%), the American consumer has so successfully economized on energy usage that spending for energy actually takes a smaller share of the consumer dollar today than in the early postwar years (3.7% versus 4.6% in 1950-52, Table 1).


Food benefits little from the savings offered by low cost imports and foreign competition.  Like services and in contrast to most durables and soft goods, food is less affected by imports and fresh produce imports are negligible.    From our calculations in Table 1, we can see that “food at home” (technically termed by BEA,  food and beverages sold commercially for off-premises consumption) has increased at an average rate of 3.1%, which is only slightly less than the 3.3% average annual inflation rate for the total market basket of consumer goods and services as a whole.  Food is less influenced by imports because domestic agriculture, much of which is government-subsidized, is competitive globally and because food is subject to spoilage, so it travels and keeps less well than hard goods and non-food nondurables.  Table 1 also indicates that, even though the price of food has outpaced the prices of durables and most nondurables, consumer spending for food, due to slower unit growth, has risen at a slower 4.9% rate than all other major categories of goods and services (except clothing and footwear).


The biggest price increases affecting consumers are in three major areas…services (4.0%), food (3.1%), and energy (4.7%)…compared to 2.4% for total consumer expenditures (PCE).  In contrast to food and energy, where consumers have slowed their rate of spending, individuals seem less price-sensitive to services, which have grown at an average real rate of 3.5%.  Health care services (essential) have grown at a 4.1% real rate, but so too have recreational services (a discretionary purchase).  Perhaps the rather inelastic demand for essential as well as discretionary services reflects demographics, general postwar affluence, the greater availability and types of services, and the time crunch experienced in working households.  Meanwhile, while rising prices have encouraged consumers to cut back on food and energy, bargain pricing has lured individuals to stock up on durables and apparel.



Copyright 2014, Pathways4Health.org

Summer 2014: Eating for Climate Change

To read this newsletter in an easy pdf format, click here to download Eating for Climate Change


“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.”
…National Climate Assessment, May, 2014


“We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last
generation that can do something about it.”  …  Gov. Jay Inslee, Washington


Last month, a group of scientists from government, academia, and the private sector released National Climate Assessment, a report that outlines a disturbing list of potential challenges posed by climate change.   The report suggests that future droughts and scorching heat will bring not only more wildfires to the Southwest but also withering damage to vital cash crops in the nation’s farming heartland.  Meanwhile, torrential rains, damaging winds, and Sandy-type hurricanes are expected to drench, flood, and ravage the Northeast.  The report concludes that if stringent policies are not soon put in place to curb greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, by the end of the century, sea levels may rise by as much as three to six feet (covering much of Southern Florida) while average temperatures could increase by 10 degrees or more.


No matter your age—whether you are young and perhaps dreaming about a future life complete with family and career, or a senior wishing the same for your children and grandchildren—on hearing this report, you may have felt the same initial sense of helplessness and hopelessness that I did.  The global climate-change problem is so immense, we are left to wonder if the early actions of government and the private sector will grow soon enough and meaningfully enough to make a difference.  But, rather than sitting idly by, there are ways we can find right in our own homes to try to conserve energy and in small ways work as individuals to conserve our environment.


Some Empowering Actions We Can Take

Because modern livestock production is a major source of the greenhouse gas, methane, one way we can try to slow global warming is to cut back on our consumption of animal products, shifting instead to more plant-based complete-protein combinations.  For a discussion, please see the last newsletter, as well as the recipes for plant-based, complete-protein combinations at the end of this issue.


Another way to save energy in the kitchen is to organize refrigerator foods to keep open-door “searching time” to a minimum.  After air conditioners, refrigerators are the greatest household consumers of electricity.    Studies suggest that after opening the door for one minute, a refrigerator compressor must work full time for three minutes to return cooling to normal.  [Also, to cut down on plastic bag pollution, try to remember to carry bags with you when you grocery shop.]


Another energy-saving idea, and our focus here, is to choose foods by their energetic “temperatures”—warming foods in winter/cold conditions, cooling foods in summer/warm climates.  Aside from dressing appropriately for the season, we can use foods to help us acclimate to temperature extremes, thus saving on heating and cooling bills.


Choosing Foods to Set Our Internal Thermostat

There are many ways we can think about foods and use foods medicinally to our advantage.   Foods have a taste or combination of tastes—sour, bitter, salty, pungent, and sweet—that affect different organ systems of the body.  In addition, foods move energy in different directions within the body—upward, downward, outward, or inward, or a combination of these.


Foods also have thermal qualities.  Once digested, a food can exert either a warming, neutral, or cooling, effect.  As a result, we can choose foods to tweak our own internal thermostat so we rely less on the thermostats mounted on our walls.


A Thermal-Quality Food Quiz

So what foods are warming and which are cooling?  At a barbeque smorgasbord on a hot summer evening, would you be best choosing a pork chop, a hamburger, or a chicken breast?  What does adding salt do to the temperature of a food?  Are any fruits warming?  The answers might surprise you.


Take the quiz below, marking in the space above each food either a W or H (warming; hot); N (neutral); or C, CD (cooling;cold).  Then, check your answers using the table on the page that follows.  I hope this exercise helps to guide you in making wise choices –if you are always cold, to more warming foods; or, if you often feel too warm, to more foods that are cooling in nature.


Vegetables:  asparagus, broccoli, carrot, celery, garlic, kale, mushroom, radish, watercress.
Hint:  1 is cold (CD); 4 are cooling (C); 1 is neutral (N); 2 are warming (W); 1 is hot (H).


Fruits:  apple, banana, blackberry, blueberry, cherry, cranberry, grapefruit, fig, pineapple, strawberry.
Hint: 3 are cold (CD); 3 are cooling (C); 2 are neutral (N); 2 are warming (W).


Meat/Poultry:  beef, chicken, duck, lamb, pork, turkey, venison.
Hint:  1 is cooling (C); 2 are neutral (N); 2 are warming (W); 2 are hot (H)


Fish/Shellfish:  crab, lobster, salmon, sardine, shrimp
Hint:  1 is cold (CD); 2 are neutral (N); 2 are warming (W)


Dairy:  Butter, cheese, eggs, yogurt
Hint:  1 is cold (CD); 2 are neutral (N); 1 is warming (W)
Using Familiar Foods to Set Your Internal Thermostat-1-1
Comments on the Table:  If you don’t know and have to hazard a guess about the temperature of a food, a good rule of thumb is that most vegetables, fruits, beans and grains—in other words, most plant foods that are high in antioxidants and fiber and low in fat—are neutral to cooling.  Conversely, meat and poultry, nuts and seeds, and dairy—foods that are rich sources of protein and fat—are generally warming.


For vegetables, most bitter green vegetables are cooling, while sweet root and round vegetables tend to be neutral to warming.  The majority of fruits are cooling, particularly those from the tropics, yet a few like blackberries and stone fruits like cherries, dates, and peaches are warming.  Of familiar grains and beans, oats, quinoa, and black beans are warming, with most others either neutral to cooling.


No major nuts or seeds are cooling; so, adding some to any dish is an easy way to add crunch, flavor, and warmth.  If on a chilling winter night you need a warming meal with staying power, choose lamb, which is the warmest meat sold commercially.  Fish and shellfish run the thermal gamut, with much to choose from.  [If you are often cold, unrefined coconut oil (not listed on the table) is a medium chain fatty acid that metabolizes rapidly, so it is an easy way to add thermal warmth to any food.]


Dairy offers warming butter, cheese and milk which are neutral, and yogurt at the cooling end of the spectrum.  Herbs and spices are generally warming to hot.  Pepper is hot; salt is cooling.


Conclusion:  Yogurt and banana on a bone-chilling night?  Perhaps….because, of course, the weather/season is just one consideration when choosing foods by temperature.  If in winter you live in an over-heated apartment or work in an over-heated office, you may feel better with cooling foods.  Or, if you are inherently either warm or cold by nature, weather and the season may be less of a deciding factor when choosing foods.  If your body runs warm, you may feel best throughout the year with yogurt and citrus, bananas, and other tropical fruits.


The key point is to understand that foods have thermal properties and that they can be used to your advantage, so try to eat in harmony rather than at cross-proposes with your biology and the seasons.   If you are always cold or hot, check the foods you are eating to see if you want to tweak your diet.  And, no matter the weather or the season, the right foods are the ones that make you feel your best.   Above all, check in with how your feel.


Reading Resources:
Richard Craze, Tao of Food
Daverick Leggett, Helping Ourselves, Guide to Chinese Food Energetics
Henry C. Lu, Chinese System of Food Cures
Thomas Neuhaus, Chinese Food:  A Holist Therapy
Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods
Rebecca Wood, New Whole Foods Encyclopedia


Copyright 2014, Pathways4Health. Org

Plant-Based, Complete Protein Recipes

The following recipes from Diet from a Small Planet are simple, delicious, economical, and can be prepared in advance.  They are flexible and can be adapted by your own creative additions.

Tabouli (serves 6)

4 cups boiling water

1 1/4 cup bulgur

¾ cup white or garbanzo beans (1/4 cup uncooked)

1½ cup minced fresh parsley

¾ cup minced fresh mint leaves, or additional parsley

¾ cup chopped scallions

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

½ cup or more lemon juice

¼ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Pour boiling water over bulgur, cover and let stand until light and fluffy, about 2 hours.  Shake in a strainer and squeeze out excess water.
  2. Combine bulgur with remaining ingredients and chill for at least 1 hour. 
  3. Serve on lettuce leaves.

Spanish Bulgur (serves two)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

½ cup chopped green onions

½ green pepper, diced

1 ¼ cups bulgur

1 cup cooked kidney or pinto beans (about 1/3 cup uncooked)

1 teaspoon paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash cayenne pepper

1 #2 can of tomatoes

  1. Heat oil and sauté garlic, green onions, green pepper, and bulgur until bulgur is coated with oil and onions are translucent.
  2. Add beans, paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne, and tomatoes.   Adjust liquids if needed.
  3. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until liquid is absorbed and bulgur is tender, about 15 minutes, adding more liquid if necessary.


Oatmeal-Buttermilk Pancakes (6 servings; 18-24 four-inch pancakes)

½ cup water

½ cup instant dry powdered milk

1 tablespoon honey

2 cups buttermilk or milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar

1 ½ cups rolled oats

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

Salt (optional)

1 or 2 beaten eggs

  1. Mix water, milk, and honey and stir in buttermilk and oats.  If using whole oats, refrigerate overnight so the oats can soften.
  2. Beat in remaining ingredients and cook on a hot griddle.
  3. For even better results, allow mixture to stand 1 to 24 hours.  If batter becomes too thick, add more milk or water.


Tofu Corn Bread (from The Best of Jenny’s Kitchen)

1 ½ cups cornmeal

¼ cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt (optional)

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ pound tofu

2 eggs

3 tablespoons oil

¼ cup honey, or to taste

1 cup low-fat milk

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Stir together cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  2. In a blender, process tofu, eggs, oil, honey, and milk until smooth.  Add to dry ingredients.
  3. Pour into a greased and floured 9×9-inch baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes.




Spring 2014: Creating Complete Proteins from Plant Foods


To read this newsletter in an easy pdf format, click here to download Constructing Complete Proteins from Plant Foods


“The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global…and should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity…


Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and [yet] its potential contribution to their solution is equally large.”


Livestock’s Long Shadow, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations



This newsletter was inspired by the current pressure on family food budgets brought about by the recent cutbacks in food assistance programs and by the severe 2013-14 drought that has caused cattle farmers to trim herds to a 21-year low.  It is also inspired by today’s serious environmental concerns and the threat of global warming.  But, while the confluence of cutbacks in food assistance, rising meat prices, and global warming challenge us, they also offer the opportunity to return to the basic nutritional wisdom of prior generations.  Traditional cultures instinctively knew how to combine plant foods for good nutrition.   By understanding how to construct complete proteins from plant foods and exploring American and ethnic recipes, plant-based complete-protein meals can become economical favorites that enable us to play a role in preserving the environment, right in our own homes.


On November 1, 2013, the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary boost to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) ended.  As a result, benefits for SNAP households were cut significantly—by $36 a month for a family of four, to a level where SNAP now provides an average of just $1.40 per person per meal.  Meanwhile, an eight-year drought and higher grain prices have forced farmers to trim herds, putting another pressure on food budgets.  According to the USDA, in January 2014, retail beef prices were at or near record high inflation-adjusted levels.  And, as farmers now hold back cattle to rebuild herds, beef prices are expected to increase again, by 10%-15% this year, as well as throughout 2015.


The Environment.  At the same time that trimming herds squeezes pocket books, it also brings with it a clear short-term plus by slowing climate change.  This potential is easy to see given livestock production’s large footprint on our global ecosystem, as well as its huge contribution to our greenhouse gas problem:  Through grazing and the raising of feed crops, livestock production worldwide accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the earth’s surface.   And, with respect to global warming, the FAO conservatively estimates that livestock production explains for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, measured in CO2 equivalent—a share greater than the entire worldwide transportation sector.  [Jess McNally of Stanford points out that, depending on how the figure is calculated, instead of 18 percent, livestock may explain as much as 51 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO 2 equivalent.]  According to the FAO, livestock production also accounts for 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, which has 23 times the global warming effect of CO2, as well as (largely through manure) 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, which carries 296 times the global warming impact of CO2.


Apart from greenhouse gasses and global warming, other major long-term environmental impacts of the growth of livestock production include deforestation, especially in Latin America, as forests are cleared to create pasture and to raise feed crops; depletion of the water supply (two-thirds of the world population are expected to live in water-stressed basins by 2025); and accelerated threats to biodiversity.   Clearly, these problems will not be resolved by short-term, drought-related cuts in livestock production.


 Chart 1a & 1b



Nor can we count on the worldwide livestock production/environmental picture to brighten in the future:  With expanding populations and incomes, global demand for meat is projected to double in the 50 years 2000-2050.  This makes it all the more important that we find greater environmental efficiencies in livestock production; rely more on animal proteins like poultry and fish that have less of an environmental impact; and shift to more plant-based proteins in countries that overly rely upon meat and have a protein-margin to do so.


Omnivore’s Dilemma?


With the current pressure on household food budgets and environmental issues, Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma of 2006 seems all the more fitting today.   Meat devotees and vegans face off using some of the following arguments…


Meat lovers point to the fact that only animal-based foods supply complete proteins—proteins that include not only the broad array of all 22 amino acids, but also an abundant supply of the 9 essential/indispensable amino acids, those that the body cannot synthesize on its own.   In addition, meat is the only viable dietary source of both vitamin B12 and easily absorbable (heme) iron.  Animal proteins are also easier than plant proteins to assimilate, a factor especially important as people age:  Ruminants act as a kind of “walking processing plant” doing all the grass/grain-to-protein conversion work for us—something our mono-gastric systems cannot easily do.   In favor of eating animals, some advocates of meat may also point to the jaw structure of humans to validate their claim that we are naturally designed to consume animal flesh.


Meanwhile, vegan/vegetarians will argue for a plant-based diet, believing it is more humane, easier on the pocketbook, and less costly to the environment.  In addition, a plant-based diet is associated with a lower risk of chronic health issues, particularly obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardio-vascular disease.   Plant foods also provide fiber and a host of micronutrients and antioxidants that work synergistically to support health in a variety of ways, many of which are not yet understood by science.  Another important consideration is that avoiding commercially-raised animal products is one of the best ways to prevent the unintentional, indirect consumption of hormones, antibiotics, food additives, and GMOs (through GMO feed crops such as soy and corn)—all silent elements that are ingested with commercially-raised animal products.


If we look at the animal/plant protein question simply from a health standpoint, it is certainly true that most people feel best consuming a diet that includes some animal proteins, particularly during the growth years and in the later decades of life.   The goal of this piece is not to advocate for a strict vegan diet.  A vegan diet can work well for many young adults who are able for a time to run on what Traditional Chinese Medicine terms “kidney essence energy” (the finite “dry-cell battery pack” gifted at birth).  But as people age, digestive systems tend to weaken, as does the ability to extract vitamin B12 from dietary proteins, so with advancing years, protein requirements can, in fact, increase.   So, for the vast majority of people associated with the aging postwar baby boom, easy-to-assimilate animal proteins (for example, economical foods using bone stocks) may become increasingly important.


Beyond our own health considerations, of course, is the overriding concern posed by the environment, to which our own health is inextricably tied.  Within this context, it seems urgent that people in countries with a comfortable animal-protein margin understand how and be willing to trade some animal proteins for plant-based foods.


Protein and Protein Requirements


The word protein, from the Greek proteos, means “taking first place,” something that points to the long-standing recognition of the key role that protein plays alongside its macronutrient partners, carbohydrates and fats, in supporting good health.   Consuming adequate dietary protein is essential to supply the body with both indispensable amino acids (those it cannot make on its own) as well as nitrogen.  With these as raw materials, the body can then synthesize the many proteins and nitrogen-based molecules it needs for its many vital functions:  Proteins, which are the major component of cells, are used not only in routine cell maintenance and replacement, but also for building enzymes; hormones; tissue and bone; immunity/ antibodies; transport carriers to and from cells; and as buffers to regulate pH.


How much protein do we need?  According to Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, the recommended protein daily allowance (RDA) for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which translates to 0.36 grams of protein for every pound a person weighs.  This means that someone weighing 140 pounds might require about 50 grams of protein/day; while the RDA for a 180-pound adult would be ~65 grams of protein (package labels on foods can help you with this).   There are no hard and fast rules, however, because protein and amino acid requirements vary from individual to individual depending on age, body type and size, general health, activity and lifestyle.  Also, as a general guideline, at similar weights, protein requirements are about 20 percent higher for males; they are also about 50 percent greater for pregnant and nursing women.  Stress requires greater protein intake, as well, because stress hormones accelerate protein metabolism.


The Standard American Diet (SAD) presents little risk of protein deficiency.   For industrialized nations like the United States, per capita consumption of both meat and dairy is more than twice the global average, a multiple that is expected to remain the same through 2030 (Table 1).   On a per capita basis, the industrialized world consumes almost 10 times the meat and dairy of protein-deficient South East Asia, for example.  South East Asians are typically people of short stature, a trait that is partly linked to their heavy reliance on grains, which lack lysine (lysine is important for growth).  The tall stature of most Americans is one measure of our protein affluence.  A simple test of protein status, no matter your height or build, is to assess the condition of hair, nails, and ease of wound healing.


Table 1



While not enough protein can undermine health, so, too can too much since excessive protein can lead to an overly-acid condition of the blood.  Large amounts of high-protein, acid-forming (low pH) foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese (and soft drinks) without adequate intake of alkalizing (high pH) vegetables and fruits to buffer the acids from high-protein foods force the body to find its own alkalizing buffers.  As a last resort to deal with acidic conditions, the body will tap into its precious stores of calcium and magnesium, minerals housed largely in the bones (think osteoporosis).   [Excess acids are normally excreted through the kidneys via urine, but the system set up long ago by Nature whereby the pH of urine is unable to dip far into the acid range means the body has a hard time dealing with the Standard American Diet of today.  Urine can only do so much to correct for the excessive acid-forming foods that characterize the Standard American Diet...leaving the body to top into its mineral stores to deal with the rest.] 



Comparing Animal Proteins and Proteins Created by Combining Plant Foods


As mentioned above, consuming adequate dietary protein helps supply the body with the 9 indispensable amino acids that it cannot make on its own, as well as with nitrogen, the building block that allows the body to synthesize the remaining complement of 13 amino acids.   The quality of protein provided by a food is most importantly set by its profile indispensable amino acids (IAAs), both in terms of the overall quantity of IAAs that the body requires, as well as the proportions of IAAs needed in relation to each other (see Chart 2).  Protein quality is also affected to a lesser extent by its digestibility, a quality that is somewhat controversial, because it can be measured in a variety of ways.  Regarding the digestibility of proteins in foods, it is best to use large ranges and think of figures as rough estimates.  Also as a side note, the assimilation and digestibility of plant-based amino acids as found in grains, legumes, nuts and seeds is hampered by phytates, a defense inherent in seeds to protect their vital essence.  Grains and legumes need to be soaked to diffuse phytates, which would otherwise block the body’s ability to utilize selected enzymes and their vital minerals.


Chart 2


Animal proteins (except gelatin, which lacks tryptophan) are complete proteins because they include all the indispensable amino acids in sufficient amounts to meet the body’s requirements.   In contrast, proteins found in plant foods are incomplete, with the exception of soy and the grains amaranth and quinoa.


Plant foods are incomplete because they have too little of one or more of the indispensable amino acids.  Protein synthesis requires a perfectly-matched, complete set of indispensable amino acids.  The least of any indispensable amino acid—termed the limiting amino acid—limits the role of all the rest, no matter how abundant (see Chart 3).   The three primary limiting amino acids in plants foods are lysine (deficient in grains); methionine (lacking in legumes); and tryptophan (shy in corn).   In this example, a deficiency of lysine (10 rather than 38 in the example below), something that characterizes a grain-based diet, limits the effectiveness of all other essential amino acids that are present.


Chart 3


The principle of limiting amino acids makes it all the more important to understand some of the simple principles for constructing complete proteins from plant foods (see Table 2 constructed below, as a guide).  Successful plant food combinations can be constructed using Table 2 as a guide, by combining foods that together include “plus signs” across the first three columns of Table 2.


Table 2


Some of the more successful combinations of plant foods are legumes with whole grains (e.g., beans with rice; lentil soup with whole-grain bread); legumes with seeds (e.g., hummus made with chickpeas and sesame seeds); and whole grains with selected nuts/seeds—sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds; cashews and peanuts (e.g., whole-grain bread with tahini or peanut butter).


Because corn, unlike other grains, lacks tryptophan it is best combined with legumes and selected seeds or dairy (a taco with beans and cheese).  Dairy can also be paired with whole grains and legumes to round out the amino acid profile required by the body (e.g., oatmeal with milk; yogurt with granola; black bean soup with sour cream; chili with cheese topping).


Bridging Some Gaps: Vitamin B12, Iron, and Antioxidants and Fiber


Of course, in concentrating on food combinations to build a good balance of amino acids, we should not lose sight of some of the body’s other nutritional requirements.


Vitamin B12.  Key ideas to remember are that familiar plant foods are not good sources of vitamin B12  and also that vitamin B12 becomes more difficult to extract from animal protein as people age.  In addition, vitamin B12 is a critical vitamin both for brain and cardio-vascular health:  Vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to brain dysfunction and memory loss.   Vitamin B12 also partners with vitamin B6 and folate to contain homocysteine.  Homocysteine is a by-product of metabolism that is linked to inflammation, blood clots and cardio-vascular disease.   It follows that strict vegans who do not supplement with vitamin B12 can suffer from cardiovascular disease, just as people often do who consume large amounts of animal proteins.  Some plant-based foods/supplements that do contain vitamin B-12 include brewer’s yeast; some sprouts; fermented soy products; and spirulina.


Iron.  Heavy reliance on plant proteins may also result in iron deficiency because the non-heme iron of plant foods is of lesser quality and more difficult to absorb than heme iron found in meat.  But, no matter whether you obtain iron through plant or animal foods, it is good to remember that iron is best absorbed when accompanied by vitamin C, as well as with traditional fats (since fats assist the absorption of minerals).  Good plant sources of iron include whole grains; legumes; nuts and most seeds; leafy greens; dried fruits; and unsulfured molasses.


Antioxidants and Fiber.  While fruits and vegetables cannot be counted on to supply protein requirements, they are, unlike animal proteins, rich sources of antioxidants and fiber.  Antioxidants and fiber promote longevity and health and are essential components of a balanced diet.  Plant foods are a rich source of three primary antioxidants—vitamins A, C, and E—along with a broad array of other vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients.  These work together to counter free radical damage, something that is the by-product of many kinds of environmental pollution as well as normal metabolic function.


A Note on Soy.  While we might think from Table 2 that soy is the ultimate plant protein choice, keep in mind that most soy, about 80+ percent, is genetically modified.  Also, soy is difficult to digest because it inhibits the digestive enzyme trypsin; it also inhibits the absorption of iron.  The best soy products are those that are fermented and/or spouted, such as tempeh, tofu from sprouted soy, and miso.   Many soy products, like soy milk, soy protein powders, concentrates, and isolates often contain denatured proteins without adequate cofactors needed for proper assimilation and metabolism.   If you eat soy, try to use it sparingly as a component within a balanced diet.


Constructing Complete Proteins, Concluding Comment


Constructing complete proteins from economical plant sources—to meet at least some of the daily protein requirement— is not only cost-effective, but also efficient, because with a little planning, practice, and the right equipment, it can save time and effort in the end.  Most recipes that use plant-based protein combinations, such as split peas and brown rice, can be cooked in large batches, frozen, and later defrosted for easy meals when you are in a hurry.  Beans and grains can also be cooked in large batches and frozen in individual servings, to be defrosted and used to create an infinite variety of practically instant nutritious meals.


Remember that beans and grains are best soaked before cooking to remove phytates.  This is easy to do, either by drawing water and allowing legumes and grains to soak overnight or by doing this in the morning before leaving the house for the day.  Once you develop the habit, it seems easy.  Planning ahead is the hardest part, something that becomes second nature with practice.


If you are not familiar with recipes that use legumes and grains, the following short Recipe Section may help get you started.  I will follow up soon with more plant-based, complete-protein recipes to suit different tastes, budgets, and styles of cooking.



Reading Resources:

Lavon J. Dunne, Nutrition Almanac

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Livestock’s Long Shadow

Sareen S. Gropper, Jack L. Smith, James L Groff, Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism

Elson Haas, Staying Healthy with Nutrition

IHE Delft, Virtual Water Trade

Frances Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet

David and Marcia Pimentel, Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment

PBS.org, “Is Your Meat Safe?”

Jeanne Yacoubou, Factors Involved in Calculating Grain/Meat Conversion Ratios



February 2010:  Investing in Stocks [Bone Stocks]

May/June 2012:  A Chicken with Gratitude–the Food Chain–And the Hidden Dangers of Soy

April/May 2013:  Alkalizing Foods to Prevent Disease




Recipes:  Combining Animal- and Plant-Based Proteins


Success in the kitchen is often rooted in having the right time-saving equipment, knives, and pots and pans of good quality.  A large stock pot, a no-fail rice/grain cooker that can be set in advance, and a slower cooker (even better, several of varying sizes) can save you time, effort, and allow you to cook in large batches and freeze for easy convenience.


The first two recipes below are delicious, economical family favorites.  They combine animal- and plant-based proteins and work as good transitional recipes for people who expect animal proteins in every meal.  With time, the proportions of meat to grains and the amount of vegetables can be adjusted to suit the family budget, tastes, and protein needs.  The last recipe for M’judra is vegetarian; it is economical, delicious, and just plain fun! 



Bistro White Chili (Makes 15 cups, serving 15)

1 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons minced garlic

¼ cup olive oil

1 tablespoons ground cumin or to taste

1 pound ground turkey

2 pounds skinless boneless turkey breasts, cut into ¾ inch cubes

2/3 cup pearl barley

2 one-pound cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon minced bottled jalapeno pepper (wear rubber gloves) or to taste

6 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

½ teaspoon dried savory, crumbled

1 ½ tablespoons arrowroot, dissolved in ½ cup water

1 cup coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese (about 1 pound)

½ cup thinly sliced scallion

  1. In a large pot, cook the onion and garlic in the oil over moderately low heat, stirring until the onion is softened; add the cumin, and cook the mixture, stirring for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the ground turkey and cubed turkey; cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring until the turkey is no longer pink.
  3. Add the barley, chickpeas, jalapeno pepper, broth, marjoram, and savory and simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes.
  4. Stir the arrowroot mixture, add it to the chili, simmer, uncovered, stirring, for 15 minutes.
  5. Season the chili with salt and pepper, ladle it into heated bowls, and sprinkle it with the Monterey Jack and scallion.

Easy, Economical, and Hearty Vegetable Beef Barley Soup (12 one-cup servings)

½ pound lean ground beef

½ cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

7-8 cups low-sodium beef stock, or 7-8 cups water and 2 low-sodium beef bouillon cubes

One 14 ½ oz. can unsalted whole tomatoes, un-drained, cut into pieces

½ cup pearled barley

½ cup sliced celery

½ cup sliced carrots

½ teaspoon basil, crushed

1 bay leaf

One 9-oz package frozen green peas; or frozen mixed vegetables

  1. In a 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven, brown meat.  Add onion and garlic; cook until onion is tender.  Drain.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients except frozen vegetables.
  3. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and cover, simmering for 50-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add frozen vegetables and cook 5-10 minutes until tender (less if using peas).

Additional water can be added if soup becomes too thick upon standing. 



2 cups lentils

1½ cup brown rice

6 yellow onions, chopped

4 cloves fresh garlic, diced fine

3 teaspoons high quality sea salt

8 cups high quality water

2 Tablespoons coconut oil

  1. Rinse lentils and place in soup pot with 5 cups water and 1½ teaspoons sea salt. Cover pan, bring to a boil. Turn down and let simmer until lentils are tender. About 45 minutes – 1 hour. Drain lentils and return to soup pot.
  2. Rinse rice and place in separate saucepan with 3 cups water and 1½ teaspoons sea salt. Cover pan, bring to a boil. Turn down heat and let simmer very low (without opening lid) for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before opening. Open pan and fluff rice with a fork. Add rice to lentils.
  3. Sauté onions in coconut oil and caramelize. Just before onions are finished cooking add fresh garlic and sauté. Do not burn garlic. Add onion mixture to lentils. Stir everything together and serve with chopped onions on top or with fresh avocado and red pepper seeds.

Source:  Today’s Abundant Living

                                                                                                                Copyright 2014 Pathways4Health.org

Winter 2014: A New Year’s Guiding Star

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download New Year’s Guiding Star


The North Star (Polaris) marks the direction north and has long been used both on land and sea to guide travelers because it retains its place in the sky while the entire night sky revolves around it.  Though not the brightest star in the nighttime sky, it is a dependable guide which can be found even under cloudy skies or a full moon.1


Working on boards and committees with my good friend and writer Amira Thoron, I often think of Amira’s expression ‘North Star’ to mark the themes we define to guide and focus our efforts.  Today, after the holiday season and with the ever-present confusion created by the array of food creations in our modern supermarkets, let’s focus on some concepts for healthy eating, some North Star guideposts for the New Year. 


In the last few months, I have started to think more and more about how our current dietary and lifestyle habits have grown far from what they were just a few decades ago; how eating outside our evolutionary norm is affecting our health and well-being; and, how we might define some simple, common-sense guidelines that can fit every situation when we face choices about what to eat.


For some North Star questions to ask ourselves, I would propose:


Could this food be grown on a traditional farm? 

Could bacteria in the environment break it down and decompose it?

Could the food be (or have been) prepared in a typical family kitchen?


To eat foods that stand up to these North Star tests is the best strategy to assure that we are eating within our evolutionary norm and walking within our biological footprint.


Modern foods in an evolutionary context.  Experts mark the start of homo sapiens at perhaps 40,000 B.C., so for almost 42,000 years our ancestors lived by the seasons; ate foods that were local and seasonal; and, consumed whole foods, first those caught or foraged, later adding more varieties that were cultivated on the farm and prepared in a traditional kitchen.


It has only been in the last century or so, with the development of the light bulb and electricity, the exodus to cities, women joining the labor force in great numbers, and the creation of convenient, commercially-prepared foods that we have strayed from the  traditional lifestyle and dietary patterns that for centuries set our biorhythms, metabolism, and digestion/assimilation.


Today, the food industry and we as consumers rely on refined food ingredients because they are cheap and have a long shelf life.  But these, which include sugar, refined flour, and refined vegetable oils, are inflammatory and foster chronic disease.  Have you ever stopped to think what we are doing to our bodies when we consume foods with a long shelf life—foods that do not/cannot go rancid? If bacteria in the local environment cannot break down these foods, how can we expect our digestive system, which is designed to break up and assimilate whole foods from nature, be expected to do so?


I have to wonder if the current prevalence of allergies, wheat intolerance, hyperactivity, and psychological and emotional issues is not related to our modern diet that so often centers on these long-shelf-life processed foods.   It is a known fact that sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and refined flour feed bad bacteria in the gut and fuel inflammation, while refined vegetables oils upset metabolism and also foster inflammation and chronic disease.


With a host of gut-related ills plaguing our society today, many of which we treat with antibiotics, we might take away a cautionary lesson from the modern, commercial cattle industry.  Feedlot cattle tell us a lot about what happens when we eat outside our evolutionary footprint:   Cattle that are moved from traditional pasture grazing into crowded feed lots where they are fed GMO corn require a steady stream of antibiotics to keep them standing, and hardly long enough to fatten for slaughter.


The “Big Three” Ingredients in Modern Foods that Dominate our Modern Diet and Push Us Beyond Our Evolutionary Norm


With the thousands of refined, denatured and chemical food ingredients used by the food industry to make foods exciting, attractive, and “timeless,” our North Star list of verboten foods would be long, indeed.  So, let’s focus just on the Big Three—sugar; refined flour; and refined vegetable oils.  These three ingredient dominate the convenience, processed foods sold today.


  • Sugar does indeed have a long history, but it was never widely used nor a major component of traditional diets.   A product of tropical environments, it was geographically out-of reach for most and also too expensive to produce.  To extract pure crystals of sugar, the chemical C6H12O6,, from the cane’s tough network of fiber, water, and minerals, required massive manpower and capital equipment.


From the way nature packaged sugar inside its tough husk of cane, we can guess this was a natural, inherent safeguard for overindulgence:  More than a foot of sugar cane is required to produce one small tablespoon of sugar.  So, in its natural form, we would be hard pressed to consume a tablespoon of sugar in one sitting.


Yet, in its denatured, concentrated crystal form, the food industry makes it easy for us to rather thoughtlessly consume the equivalent of a foot of sugar cane over breakfast, or our morning coffee break, or just about any time we grab a snack.   Take the time to read the early histories of sugar that describe the process, slave labor, necessary equipment, and the lives lost and you will come away with a real sense of how unnatural a product sugar, in its pure crystal chemical form which is now cheap and widely available, really is.


While sugar has been around for centuries, albeit in limited amounts, we can assume from the modern ills linked to sugar that our bodies have not yet adapted to sugar, particularly in the vast amounts we consume today.  Sugar elevates blood sugar to foster diabetes and obesity; leaches valuable minerals from our bodies, especially from our mineral storage “banks” located in our bones and teeth (think osteoporosis and teeth problems); feeds bad gut bacteria; and supplies empty calories that “crowd out” nutrient-dense whole foods.  Sugar is also linked to depression and hyperactivity.


Alternatives:  Maple syrup, maple crystals, coconut sugar, date sugar, brown rice syrup, molasses, honey.  See June 2009, Natural Sweeteners and Kicking the Sugar Habit.


  • Refined flour as we know it today also lies outside our evolutionary footprint.  The reason is not only because currently most flour that we consume is refined, but also because the kind of wheat that we eat is a new-fangled hybrid high-yield, high-starch, high-gluten variety developed only within the last 50 years—something called “dwarf wheat.” The high amylopectin starch content of dwarf wheat makes it super-fattening and promotes insulin resistance and diabetes.  In addition, the genetic engineering of dwarf wheat creates an extra chromosome set with more and different gluten proteins than exist in traditional wheat varieties like Einkorn and Emmer.  These new, untested wheat proteins are linked to wheat allergies and celiac disease.


The prevalence of obesity and diabetes as well as gluten intolerance suggests our bodies are having a hard time adapting to dwarf wheat, particularly in its refined state—this is not something that we can blame on the amount of wheat that we eat today:  In fact, the typical American now consumes one-third less wheat than a century ago, a time when wheat allergies and celiac disease were hardly known.


Traditional cultures were sustained by whole-grain flours.  These were largely derived from wheat of heirloom varieties.  Wheat was favored because it grows in most climates and is the most nutritious of the grains due to its superior ability to extract nutrients from the soil.   Whole-grain wheat flour used by traditional cultures provided vitamin B and E, as well as essential fatty acids, proteins, minerals, and fiber to offer nutrition; and, the bran (fiber) and germ (fats) that were left intact rather than being refined away helped moderate the blood sugar effect we currently associate with refined flour products.


Today, modern refining techniques separate the starch from the bran and germ to create white flour, a long-shelf-life product that does not go rancid.  White flour is a pure carbohydrate that spikes blood sugar at an even faster rate than does sugar.   Like sugar, refined flour is inflammatory and taps into the body’s store of minerals when it is metabolized.


[As an aside, Island Grown Schools of Martha’s Vineyard, with the guidance and support of Kay Rentschler and Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills, as well as scientist and seed-saver/activist Gary Paul Nabhan, is now planting four heirloom New England grains in its school gardens.  We are grateful for the farmers, gardeners, seed-savers, and others who are part of the ongoing movement to support crop diversity and heirloom foods.   As Gary Nabhan notes, in 1984, there were only 99 vegetable, grain, legume, tuber, and herb varieties listed in North American seed catalogs; by 2004, there were 8494.  Seed libraries and seed banks are growing and the internet opens up all kinds of opportunities for future growth and development of traditional, heirloom grains and foods.  Stay tuned to this movement and join it if you can!]


Alternatives:  Whole wheat pastry flour, heirloom whole wheat flour, barley flour, oat flour, and whole-grain non-gluten flour.


  • Refined vegetable oils echo much the same story as sugar and refined flour.   Commercial refining that involves expensive capital equipment is the food industry’s way to create cheap, denatured oils with a long shelf life.   Refining vegetable oils requires not only elaborate equipment, but also chemicals, high pressure and extreme temperatures.


Refining oils sings the familiar chorus heard above regarding refining sugar and refining wheat:  In refining, fragile oils are first separated from the seed using high-heat mechanical pressing and solvents.  In the process, oils are stripped of vital nutrients, such as lecithin, chlorophyll, vitamin E, beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus.   Then oils are refined, bleached, and degummed, where at each stage they are subjected to chemicals and extreme temperatures.   But, because high temperatures make oils go rancid and take on odors, they are then bleached with chemicals such as benzene and hexane and deodorized at high temperatures approaching 500 degrees.  In the process, some omegas, especially fragile omega-3s, become transfats.


By the end of the refining process, there is nothing left to taste foul or go rancid, so you never know if refined oils have spoiled.  But, stripped of their natural antioxidant protections, they are vulnerable to free-radical damage.   Missing other nutrients, these inflammatory oils are linked to cancer because their denatured state makes it hard for the body to break them down.


Vegetable oils fuel inflammation, upset metabolism, contribute to weight gain, and are linked to cancer and other chronic disease.    As products of the postwar food industry, refined vegetable oils are untested food ingredients that lie outside the footprint of evolutionary experience.  Degumming, stripping, bleaching, deodorizing, and pressure-heating vegetable oils were never part of family farming/food preparation traditions.


Alternatives:  Butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, and selected unrefined oils.


Throughout time, peoples were fed by the earth (not by factories) and were guided by the stars.  In the New Year, as we navigate the grocery isle and restaurant menus of our modern world, we can take comfort that we are eating within our evolutionary footprint and honoring our biological limits when we choose whole, nutrient-dense foods, particularly those grown close to home.  Doesn’t it feel like overreaching to do otherwise?


Reading Resources:

April 2009:  Sugar, A Depleting Chemical; and Is Sugar Toxic.

June 2009:  Natural Sweeteners and Kicking the Sugar Habit.

September/October 2010:  Defending Wheat; Restoring Wheat.

November/December 2013:  Smoke Points and Canola Oil; Other Pathways4Health article on oils.

Peter Macinnis, Bittersweet: The Story of Sugar.
Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History.


Recipe:  Mulled Cider for Winter Cheer


This is a very simple recipe that will fill the house with a festive aroma, which itself can convey a sense of warmth, lift spirits, and viscerally satisfy sweet cravings.  While any fruit juice consumed alone will elevate blood sugar, a small serving may fulfill some of the normal cold-weather cravings for sweets, saving calories in the long run.  Consuming some nuts, cheese, or other foods that contain fats and proteins can moderate the blood sugar effect associated with drinking this or other fruit drinks in isolation.  And, cinnamon added to any recipe not only provides the illusion of sweetness, but also helps curb the blood sugar effect of sugars and other carbohydrates. 


1 orange

2 cinnamon sticks

4 cups (1 quart) apple cider or organic apple juice

  1. Use a vegetable peeler to remove long strips of zest (the orange skin but not the white part underneath) from half of the orange.
  2. Put the cinnamon sticks, orange zest, and cider in a pot and put the pot on the stove.  Turn the heat to medium-high and heat until it is steamy—about 7 minutes.  Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Source:  Adam Reid and Edible Vineyard.



Copyright 2014, Pathways4Health.org

[1] www.earthsky.org

  1. www.earthsky.org []

November/December 2013: Smoke Points and Canola Oil

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download Smoke Points and Canola Oil.


Bad fats and oils will destroy your health faster than sugar.

They cause more problems1 than any other class of food.”…Paul Pitchford


Fats and oils (fats that are liquid at room temperature) are vital to support health and sustain life.  They are also indispensable in the kitchen where they are used to tenderize foods, enhance flavor and texture, and provide a sense of satiety and satisfaction.   In addition, cooks rely on fats because they make it possible to cook foods at temperatures well above the boiling point of water.   This is because, unlike simple H2O molecules that quickly vaporize with heat, fats are large, complex triglyceride molecules (3 fatty acids attached to a glycerol).  They tend to knit together at points along their long carbon chains, so a substantial amount of heat is needed to break their bonds and dislodge them from one another.


The temperature at which a fat visibly breaks down is called its smoke point.   Smoke points vary, ranging from 225oF for flax oil and unrefined canola oil to nearly 500oF for refined canola and clarified butter (see table, p. 2).  While damage to oils does occur before a fat begins to smoke, at its smoke point a fat vaporizes, leaving behind a liquid byproduct of bad-tasting, carcinogenic chemical residue.   The fat no longer acts as a lubricant so foods begin to burn and stick; in addition, the remaining toxic chemicals spoil a food’s flavor and can be harmful to health.


What Determines a Fat’s Smoke Point?  Several factors in the natural makeup of fats influence the temperature at which they will breakdown and smoke.  These include a fat’s saturation, molecular length, and the amount of free fatty acids (fatty acids not attached to other molecules) it contains.


Butter (technically butyric acid) is a saturated fat and therefore reasonably stable, so you might think that it would have a rather high smoke point.  Instead, two factors work against its heat resistance:  butter’s short molecular length (only 4 carbons, the shortest of all fat molecules) and its composition (included are some proteins and carbohydrates, which burn at relatively low temperatures).  Butter’s 350o F smoke point can, however, be elevated by heating and removing these substances.  The result is clarified butter which is far more heat- tolerant (see table below).


A fat’s profile of free fatty acids also affects its smoke point.  The more free fatty acids, the lower its smoke point.  Animal fats and unrefined oils inherently contain more free fatty acids than refined vegetable oils.  This is another reason why animal fats and unrefined vegetable oils are not generally used for high-temperature cooking.


Smoke Pts, NoText



The freshness and purity of a fat also affect its natural smoke point:  Heating/reheating and the accumulation of food particles and impurities will quickly reduce a fat’s smoke point.  A fat that is heated repeatedly to high temperatures and/or contains residual food particles (as in fast-food deep-frying) will be damaged and smoke at successively lower temperatures every time that it is used. As a general rule, the fast food industry fails to take this into account.


Commercial Refining and Health.  Commercialrefining is, of course, the food industry’s standard way to artificially and dramatically elevate smoke points, while also creating cheap, denatured oils with a long shelf life.  Refining essentially doubles the smoke points of vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower, and canola.  This magical transformation requires elaborate equipment, chemicals, high pressure and extreme temperatures:


In refining (see diagram, p. 4), fragile oils are first separated from the seed using high-heat mechanical pressing and solvents.  In the process, oils are stripped of vital nutrients, such as lecithin, chlorophyll, vitamin E, beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus.   Then oils are refined, bleached, and degummed, where at each stage they are subjected to chemicals and extreme temperatures.   But, because high temperatures make oils go rancid and take on odors, they are then bleached with chemicals such as benzene and hexane and deodorized at high temperatures approaching 500 degrees.  In the process, some omegas, especially the fragile omega-3s, become transfats.


The Processing Steps from Seed to Refined Oil



By the end of the refining process, there is nothing left to taste or go rancid, so you never know if refined oils are bad.  But, stripped of their natural antioxidant protections, they are vulnerable to free-radical damage.   Missing other nutrients, these inflammatory oils are linked to cancer because their denatured state makes it hard for the body to break them down.2


Concluding comments:  I personally believe that all refined vegetable oils should be avoided.  They fuel inflammation, upset metabolism, contribute to weight gain, and are linked to cancer and other chronic disease.    As products of the postwar food industry, refined vegetable oils are untested food ingredients that lie outside the footprint of evolutionary experience.  Degumming, stripping, bleaching, deodorizing, and pressure-heating vegetable oils were never part of family farming/food preparation traditions.


As far as cooking goes, there simply are not many healthy options for high-heat cooking.  Our healthiest strategy is long, slow cooking at modest temperatures using traditional fats—butter, unrefined coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil.  This is easiest to do in a slow cooker or a moderate oven.   For stove-top, high temperature applications, clarified butter/ghee is a reliable and traditional choice (see recipe, p 7).   But, because heat can damage oils well-before they smoke and because high-heat cooking can create carcinogenic acrylamides, foods cooked at high-temperatures are best eaten in moderation.


Canola Oil (a GMO Derived from Rapeseed) in the Context of Smoke Points


Because rapeseed is very adaptable to genetic manipulation, plant breeders have been able to develop varieties [such as canola]…Because of its high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids, canola is partially hydrogenated for many applications…Unhydrogenated canola oil that has been refined loses a substantial portion of its omega-3s.” ((Mary Enig, PhD, Know Your Fats, 120.))


Canola remains the rising star of the food industry, but as a new food ingredient and a genetically- modified oil, it is my least favorite of all the refined vegetable oils.  I hate to come down too hard on canola because I have many friends in the food and nutrition field that use it often, but I feel  that it has gained the spotlight due solely to the self-serving interests of the food industry.   If canola can be banned from infant formula, am I being too harsh?  While corn, safflower, sunflower, sesame, and peanut oils are inflammatory omega-6 oils, at least they are derived from real plants with centuries-long histories—something that canola cannot boast.


Canola’s Story.  Rapeseed, the mother of canola, has no historic roots in Western dietary tradition.  In its natural form, rapeseed is a most unlikely food because of its high concentration of glucosinolates.  Glucosinolates are bitter-tasting natural toxins that interfere with proper metabolism.  Rapeseed also contains problematic levels of erucic acid, a substance that is linked to heart disease.


Using selection-mutation breeding and DNA technology, botanists in the early 1970s were able to reduce the glucosinolates in rapeseed and transform most of its erucic acid into omega-9 fatty acids.  The result was a low-erucic acid oil (initially named LEAR oil) plant that could be successfully grown in the colder climates of Canada and the United States.  The first genetically modified varieties were quickly adopted by Canadian commercial growers, who renamed the oil “canola,” short for “Canada low-acid oil.”


The U.S. food industry quickly recognized the money-making potential of canola as the economical substitute for olive oil.  Using its political clout, Big Food successfully convinced the USDA to bypass its normal years of research and testing to grant GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status to canola in 1985—hardly 10 years after its initial development and a good 10 years before it began to appear on grocery store shelves for widespread use and real-life testing by the general public.


Once canola could be made somewhat palatable and won USDA approval, it did not take the food industry long to turn it into a major cash cow.  Not only could canola be grown in the cold, inclement climates of the United States and Canada where other crops could not, but it could also be promoted as the healthy alternative to other vegetable oils, particularly since it ranks highest in omega-3s.  In addition, canola welcomed genetic manipulation, allowing scientists to create varieties to suit just about any commercial farming preference, engineered to just about any “need” imaginable.  By inserting transgenic genes into rapeseed-derivatives, scientists have been able to create Round-Up Ready, Liberty Link, Clearfield and other canola varieties.3  With the strong marketing support of commercial farmers and the food industry, canola has come from nowhere in the last decade to account for about 10 percent of all edible oils sold in the United States today.


Canola—All things to all people?  The food industry promotes canola as the healthiest, most economical choice among vegetable oils because, of all the oils to choose from, it is the lowest in saturated fat (7%) and highest in omega-3 essential fatty acids (10%).   Many professional cooks and dietitians are also told to use canola because it stands up to heat; it has a neutral taste that does not interfere with the natural flavor of foods; and, it remains liquid when refrigerated so it works well in salad dressings and marinades.


When we hear these claims particularly within the context of what we know about smoke points and unrefined versus refined oils in general and canola in particular, we need to ask, “Which canola are we talking about?”—the one with a smoke point of 225oF or refined canola with a smoke point of almost 500oF?  As much as the food industry would like us to believe that canola can simultaneously satisfy both claims, good sense tells us otherwise.


Canola cannot be both a rich source of healthy omega-3s and stand up to intense heat.   Unrefined canola, a potential source of natural omega-3s, is too bitter, too fragile, and has too short a shelf life to claim supermarket shelf space.   Only refined, damaged canola is marketed widely and readily available in grocery stores.  The canola we buy is a manipulated byproduct of a very fragile, highly unstable oil composed of omega-3s that have undergone intense heat and chemical manipulation.  The result is an oil that not only withstands heat but also contains transfats.


Some experts estimate refined canola contains 4.5% transfats.4  Transfats are linked to heart disease, obesity and diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and infertility, to name a few.  The food industry gets around labeling transfats because a serving can contain up to 0.5% transfats and still be labeled “0% transfats.”  But, since serving sizes stated on labels often understate how much we actually devour at a sitting, it is easy to consume a harmful level of transfats when eating processed and/or fast foods.


Concluding, summary comment.  Canola is a GMO, untested by the USDA, and has no real-life track record.  Unrefined canola is also high in omega-3s, making it a very fragile oil with a smoke point on par with flax oil—an oil that we would never use in cooking.  Due to it fragile nature, scientists tell us not to heat unrefined canola above 120oF.  How, then, can virgin canola be refined at high temperatures and come out on the other end as a safe oil, free of transfats?


I personally believe that given its genetic status and naturally high content of fragile omega-3s, canola is one of the most dangerous—the highest in transfats and damaged molecules—of any of the refined vegetable oils.


Strategies to Promote Health.  Since canola, like all processed vegetable oils, is used widely by the processed food and fast food industries, it is best to read labels, ask questions in restaurants, and cook at home with known ingredients whenever possible.  When cooking, try to rely upon the traditional fats and oils that have supported good health through the generations:


  • Butter from grass-fed cows, as well as grass-fed butter that is clarified (ghee).  Butter from pastured animals has an ideal 1:1 ratio of omega-3s to omega-6 fatty acids.  Ghee is a short-chain (4 carbon) fatty acid that is highly saturated and free of other substances, so it withstands heat;
  • Unrefined coconut oil, which is  high in anti-bacterial/microbial lauric acid; 92% saturated for stability in cooking and baking; and free of cholesterol;
  • Extra virgin olive oil, the first cold pressing, to be used at the table and for low-heat cooking;
  • For baking, if you do not want to use butter or unrefined coconut oil, sourdough can be used successfully in some recipes to replace vegetable oil; it provides body, texture and a moist crumb.


Recipe: Clarified Butter (Ghee)


Yield:  1 ½ cups.  Time:  30 minutes.


Because the milk solids are lightly browned, ghee has a slightly nutty flavor.

You can substitute ghee 1:1 in place of vegetable oil when you bake; butter cannot be substituted in as simple a way.


Ingredients:   One pound, unsalted butter

  1. Line a sieve with cheesecloth or butter muslin and place the sieve over a medium-sized bowl.
  2.  Put the butter in a heavy saucepan and warm it over a medium
    heat. When the butter begins to foam and splutter, lower the heat and allow
    it to simmer gently for 20-30 minutes. When it begins to brown around the
    edges, it¹s ready.
  3. Pour the hot mixture through the cheesecloth or butter muslin,
    and then discard the strained milk solids. What remains in the bowl is ghee.
  4. Store ghee covered, either in the refrigerator or at room
    temperature. As with butter, protecting it from light will preserve its
    flavor and keeps it fresher longer, for up to several months on the counter
    top or longer in the refrigerator.

Source:  Ellen Arian, ellensfoodandsoul.com


Reading Resources

  • Mary G. Enig, PhD, Know Your Fats
  • Udo Erasmus, Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill
  • Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking
  • Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods


  1. Fats and oils (triglycerides) and phospholipids (which contain a diglyceride molecule) are members of the lipid family.  Lipids repel water.  Traditional fats and oils are the raw materials that the body uses to construct cell membranes of proper permeability, which is an exacting science:  Cell membranes act as “intelligent” barriers between cells and the intercellular environment; and, they act as sentries for what passes in and out of cells.  The body needs an adequate supply of traditional fats to build cell membranes for proper function.  Transfats so cleverly mimic traditional fats that the body can be fooled into incorporating them into cell membranes, a factor linked to metabolic issues, obesity, cancer, and other chronic diseases. []
  2. Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, 181. []
  3. For a sense of the food industry’s manipulation and marketing of canola, see http://www.canolainfo.org/canola/index/php?page=7. []
  4. Fred Pescatore, MD, PPH, CCN, “The Science of Fats, Fatty Acids, and Edible Oils.” []

September/October 2013: Living with and Experimenting with Sourdough

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download Living with and Experimenting with Sourdough (2)


I am just loving feeding, nurturing and using my sourdough starter.
Thank you, Carol, so much for introducing me to this wonderful form of baking

                                                                              …Judy Crawford, Martha’s Vineyard



I love caring for and working with sourdough.  In many ways, my sourdough culture has become my loyal pet now that our family dog and cat are no longer living.  My starter, made of flour and water, is a magical mixture of live yeasts and bacteria feeding on the flour’s starch.  It is fascinating to sense the presence of these invisible creatures that whoosh about in our everyday environment.  I see them at work every time I feed my starter with flour and water and then give it a vigorous stir.  Invisible, yet they leave a visible footprint of their labors:   After each feeding, my starter bubbles to life, rising higher and higher in its “keeping” jar, a tall two-quart canning jar that is now flour-encrusted from use.  To keep it vibrant, I feed my starter and bake with it often.   Baking sourdough bread and experimenting with sourdough in other recipes is a remarkable, whimsical, and endlessly fascinating science.


My fascination with the science and the art of sourdough baking led me last fall to write a newsletter that I called Reviving Culture.1   In that piece, I explored sourdough in its many aspects, including its science, health benefits, and many advantages compared to commercial yeast bread, while also offering a series of tested sourdough recipes.  But, at that time I left out an important piece of my research concerning sourdough’s positive, modulating impact on blood sugar—something that has important implications for the prevention of insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity.   I felt then that my experimental results required more testing, and so now I want to share these results with you.


But first, a quick review of sourdough’s other many benefits…


Using sourdough in baking contributes to taste, texture, and extends shelf life.  Beyond curbing blood sugar reactions, our major focus, sourdough promotes good health in a variety of other ways:  Sourdough degrades the phytic acid found in the bran of whole grains which would otherwise block digestive enzymes (pepsin, amylase, and trypsin) and the absorption of the vital minerals found in grains such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc.  Sourdough fermentation, like yogurt fermentation, also creates new nutrients—bacteria synthesize vitamins, including B12, while yeasts boost lysine, the limiting amino acid in grains, to help make sourdough bread a nearly complete protein.
Sourdough can also help alleviate digestive issues related to gluten intolerance by reducing gliadin and avenin, two culprits that elicit an immune response in all people.  And, sourdough supports gut health and immunity by slowing the fermentation of fiber; generating polysaccharides which contribute prebiotics; and feeding micro-flora in the intestinal wall.


The Power of Sourdough to Control and Sustain Blood Sugar


One of sourdough’s greatest selling points, and our subject here, is its ability to curb the blood sugar spike and insulin reaction— “metabolic stress”—often associated with the consumption of  carbohydrate-rich baked goods.  It is a well-documented fact that adding sourdough to the dry ingredients of a baked good and allowing these to soak for some hours before baking reduces the glycemic impact of flour.  The scientific reason that sourdough is able to do this is that lactobacilli in sourdough feed on the maltose in flour, producing lactic and acetic acids.  These acids then slow the rate at which starch is digested and assimilated (see Reviving Culture for complete discussion).


What is interesting from my research using a buckwheat muffin recipe to which I added varying amounts of sourdough (see Charts 1 and 2 and related comments on the page that follows) is that in all cases, my blood sugar peaked not at 30 minutes after consuming the test samples, but rather at 90 minutes…an entire hour later than what might be expected.   And, with an extreme ratio of sourdough used in buckwheat muffins, 75% sourdough and 25% buckwheat flour, my blood sugar (line 3, Chart 1) actually dipped initially after eating.  This is probably due to the modulating blood sugar effect not only of sourdough but also of the fat (coconut oil and egg) and protein (egg) in the recipe, since protein and fat also help blunt the blood sugar reaction to carbohydrates.  Note in line 5, Chart 2, for example, how spreading a fat like butter on a muffin will limit and delay the blood sugar reaction.   Incorporating sourdough, or protein or fat for that matter, helps curb and sustain blood sugar to spare the body from sending oodles of insulin to the rescue.  Charts 1 and 2 speak to the power of sourdough to modulate and yet sustain blood sugar; they illustrate in graphic form the satiety and feeling of satisfaction provided when sourdough is added to baked goods.


As mentioned earlier, when I did these experiments last fall, I felt that I should go a step further and test sourdough in isolation to try to confirm the timing of these results.  I wondered how my blood sugar might react on two separate mornings if, as the first morning meal , I tested sourdough starter baked as “bread” against a white “bread” made with the same type flour, with water and yeast added.  Granted, this is not my favorite breakfast, but it was worth giving the time on two mornings, pricking my fingers, and recording my blood sugar reading from a blood sugar monitor to try to answer this question.


Charts 1& 2 Sourdough


Chart 3 - Power of Sourdough to Cub Metabolic Stress

Testing Sourdough Versus White Bread.
  Chart 3 traces the results of my 100% Sourdough versus White Bread experiment.  Both tests were conducted using a fixed two-ounce serving of bread as the first meal after a 12-hour overnight fast.  As would be expected, my blood sugar peaked at 30 minutes (28 points above my starting blood sugar level) after eating White Bread.  And within two hours my blood sugar fell below the zero line (initial fasting level).  Presumably, in reaction to the excessive blood sugar caused by consuming a solitary carbohydrate, my body sent so much insulin to the rescue that my blood sugar then quickly fell below zero.


The White Bread graph in Chart 3 illustrates what can happen to our blood sugar when we do not take time for a well-balanced breakfast.  A carbohydrate breakfast on the run—perhaps a plain bagel, English muffin, or Pop Tart—might trace a similar graphic footprint:  The body would respond to a surge in blood glucose with a round of insulin; we would momentarily be energized, only to soon become light-headed and even hungrier than before eating the breakfast snack.


In contrast to the White Bread experience, the morning that I ate 100% Sourdough “bread,” my blood sugar rose slowly, smoothly, and gradually.  It peaked and leveled off between 90 and 120 minutes at a reading of 19, one-third below White Bread’s peak.  My blood sugar then slowly drifted lower, but it was sustained above its starting point for almost four hours, twice as long as for White Bread.


The test results for sourdough seem to underpin and support the results I first obtained last fall in my test of buckwheat muffins.  They also validate other tests I have conducted in the past with my artisanal sourdough bread.  Friends who eat my sourdough bread tell me they feel it sustains them throughout a busy morning.


I invite you to join in the fascination of keeping sourdough starter and to experiment by using it in your favorite recipes.  Several of my own recipes that follow will give you an idea of how you might incorporate sourdough into recipes.  You may want to test your recipes with a blood glucose monitor.   Or, then again, you might simply want to use sourdough for its advantages of taste, texture, long shelf-life, health benefits, and “staying power” and just enjoy how you feel!

Reading Resources:

  • November/December 2012:  Reviving Culture & the Health Benefits of Sourdough 
    • This newsletter includes ideas for purchasing, feeding, and/or growing your own sourdough from scratch.
  • May 2011:  Monitoring Metabolic Stress
    • This article explains blood sugar monitoring in greater detail and blood sugar reactions to a variety of foods, from soda on an empty stomach to balanced meals of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
  • Emily Buehler, Bread Science
  • Karel Kulp and Klaus Lorenz, Handbook of Dough Fermentations.
  • Sara Pitzer, Baking with Sourdough
  • Lisa Rayner, Wild Bread
  • Daniel Wing and Alan Scott, The Bread Builders:  Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens
  • Ed and Jean Wood, Classic Sourdoughs:  A Home Baker’s Handbook

Recipes for Baked Goods Incorporating Sourdough

Buckwheat Blueberry Muffins (or Squares)

  • ¾ cup buckwheat flour
  • ¾ cup stone ground whole wheat flour
  • ¼ cup sourdough starter
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • ½ t. salt
  • 6 T. honey or maple syrup
  • ¼ cup coconut oil or butter, melted
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 1 cup dried wild blueberries, dusted with flour
  • And ½ cup chopped almonds.


  1. Mix the first four ingredients through water and allow to soak for 12 hours at room temperature.
  2. Add the baking powder and mix.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat egg and add the remaining wet ingredients through vanilla.
  4. Gently combine wet and dry ingredients.
  5. Fold in blueberries or other dried fruit and nuts.
  6. Pour batter into a 8 ½” square well-oiled baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees 25-30 minutes. Batter can be baked as muffins, reducing the baking time to about 20 minutes.


Gluten-Free Corn/Buckwheat Bread

Follow directions as above, but substitute cornmeal for whole wheat flour.


Sourdough Cornbread

  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 1 cup stone ground whole wheat pastry flour
  • ½ cup sourdough starter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1 t. sea salt


  1. Mix together the first four ingredients and let rest at room temperature, 6-8 hours
  2. Stir in baking powder.
  3. Add remaining ingredients
  4. Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes.


Sweet Potato Sourdough Cornbread

Follow directions above but add 1 cup mashed sweet potato with Step 3.


Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Sourdough Cornbread with Pumpkin Seeds

Substitute brown rice flour for whole wheat flour. Add mashed sweet potato and pumpkin seeds at Step 3.

  1. See http://pathways4health.org/2012/10/22/novemberdecember-2012-reviving-culture-and-the-health-benefits-of-sourdough/ []

July/August 2013: Summer Shorts…Healing Reactions; Kuzu, a Medicinal Food

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download Healing Reactions and Kuzu as a Medicinal Food(2)



“If the patient has been to more than four physicians, nutrition is probably the medical answer.”
…Abraham Hoffer, MD, PhD


Healing Reactions, On the Road to Better Health


Summer’s rich bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables together with its heat, humidity and more leisurely pace invite us each year to lighten up and adopt healthier habits. In summer, we naturally rotate away from heavy anabolic “build-up” foods such as animal proteins and fats to more catabolic, cleansing fruits and vegetables. We may also try giving up sugar or caffeine/coffee, replacing these with more sleep.1


Dietary changes give the body a chance for “housekeeping.” Cleansing foods allow the system to expel toxins and set healing in motion. But, healing often brings reactions, so when we launch into a healthier dietary or lifestyle program, we need to expect reactions and read them as positive signs of healing.
Far Eastern philosophy suggests that true healing requires reaction: Reactions signal the body’s attempts to discharge toxins, both physical and emotional, that stand in the way of healing. Giving up sugar, coffee, alcohol, dairy, meats or fats each has a set of associated reactions, outlined below.

Possible Symptoms
SugarFatigue, sleepiness, depression, lack of coordination, alienation1 to 5 days
CoffeeHeadaches, shakiness, nervousness1 to 10 days
AlcoholTension, inability to relax2 to 5 days or more depending on level prior consumption.
DairyMucus discharge through the skin, sinuses, mucous membranes, lungs, sex organsStarting up to 3 months after the food is stopped, for a year or two.
Meats, Fats, ProteinsFoul body odor, coated tongue,feelings of being toxic, skin eruptionsVaries: 1 to 4 weeks with fats; 6 to 10 months deeper accumulations.

Emotional and physical healing. Toxic experiences and traumas, perhaps dating to early childhood, also come with their own unique set of physical and emotional reactions; these are signs of a more prolonged and complex healing process. Healing reactions present an opportunity to go back through everything not previously resolved in life. Our body carries our personal history.


The nature of a reaction indicates what phase of life is being healed. Reactions feel similar to the original disease or emotional trauma but usually appear in a diminished form. If the reaction is an emotional discharge of anger, the feeling may remind a person of anger earlier in life, even though the present anger may be “caused” by different circumstances. Physical reactions are also reminders of former conditions: If chronic sore throats occurred during childhood, a healing reaction could involve one or two sore throats that eliminate any residues accumulated from the original infection(s).2


Types of Healing Reactions:3

  1.  Tension or pain in the upper back and neck, which may move upwards to the head, downward across the abdomen, arms, and legs, and eventually to the top of the head and to the toes and fingers. Pain may occur in the internal organs, particularly the liver, under the right side of the rib cage. Headache is also common.
  2. Vomiting, particularly bile or various types of mucus.
  3. Digestive imbalances: gas, cramps, diarrhea, constipation.
  4. General fatigue. Weakness, weight loss, sensations of cold and/or heat. Fever, chills, cough, minor hair loss.
  5. Heavy and prolonged sleep; occasional wild dreams.
  6. Possible discharges include boils, pimples, rashes, body odors, nasal and vaginal discharges, coating on the tongue. Mercury fillings may loosen and fall out.


Progressive Order of Healing


In true healing, symptoms of discharge follow a set progression. First outlined by Constantine Hering (1800-1880) and known as Hering’s Law of Cure, such symptoms are used to this day in the field of homeopathy. In a true case of healing, symptoms unfold in the following patterns:

  1. From the inside to the outside; internal heat or toxins can appear as rashes on the skin.
  2. From the upper part of the body to the lower extremities. Medications that affect the liver or kidneys can appear as redness or rashes on the legs or ankles.
  3. For chronic conditions, symptoms may appear in reverse order: Known as “retracing,” someone who in early childhood contracted chicken pox and later bronchitis may experience a period of coughing associated with bronchitis, and later a skin rash resembling chicken pox.
  4. Prior to a healing crisis, a person feels a sense of calm and centeredness.
  5. At a deep level, a person in a healing mode, despite symptoms, feels good.

If the summer season inspires you to make positive changes in your life, have patience, knowing that healing may bring a few ups and downs on the way to establishing a firmer foundation for better health.



Kuzu, for the Kitchen, the Medicine Chest, and the Suitcase


Kuzu, a strong and tenacious root, is highly-valued in Japan, where the powder from its root is used medicinally and in cooking to thicken soups, sauces, and desserts, much like corn starch or arrowroot.   Kuzu is known as kudzu in the United States, where we view it with mixed sentiments:  It thrives in the Southern States, where it is often viewed as a pesky, invasive, destructive menace, capable even of felling telephone poles!  At the same time, kudzu helps fix the soil to prevent erosion, while it also works as a natural fertilizer.  Wild kudzu requires no irrigation, fertilizers, herbicides, or care.  Kudzu is one of the hardiest plants one could imagine.  Cooking with kuzu powder allows us to capture some of the essence and strengthening powers of the kudzu root.  Kuzu, similar to most roots generally, has a downward/inward energy and nourishes and strengthens the digestive system. 

Kuzu powder (the form used in the recipes that follow) is processed from the root and available in most health food stores.   It is used in cooking and beverages.  While not widely available in the United States, kuzu in its natural root form is also used in the Far East to make healing teas.

Kuzu powder is highly alkalizing and is a wonderful antidote to overeating heavy, acid-forming foods.  It is also a great digestive aid.  Because the powder is derived from the tough kuzu root, it is strengthening, with a strong downward, inward energy, well-suited for the lower intestinal tract.  Kuzu is used to treat colds, flu, fevers, diarrhea, stomach upset, and hangovers.   By alkalizing the blood, kuzu is also used to clear the skin of rashes and minor acne.   And, rich in flavonoids, kuzu can be effective in lowering blood pressure and blood sugar, treating chronic migraine headaches, and relieving acute pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders.  Kuzu’s ability to curb cravings for alcohol is validated by modern science, something that was known and used in Chinese medicine more than two thousand years ago.


Kuzu’s ability to relieve overeating, stomach upset, diarrhea, headache, and hangovers make it a perfect remedy to pack this summer if you have travel plans, or anytime in the future when you venture to foreign shores. It is also a handy mainstay in the kitchen, where it can be used in place of cornstarch as a thickening agent and to enhance the flavor of soups, sauces, and desserts. And, unlike cornstarch which thins as it cools, a sauce or dessert with kuzu will continue to thicken when taken from the stove.


Kuzu Recipes4


Kuzu Cream

This restorative tonic is most effective when taken about 1 hour before meals, preferably in the morning on an empty stomach.
1 ½ tablespoons crushed kuzu thoroughly dissolved in 1 cup cold water
1 umeboshi plum, pitted and minced, or 1 teaspoon umeboshi paste
½ teaspoon fresh ginger juice (grate ginger and squeeze to extract juice)
1 teaspoon shoyu (optional)

  1. In a small enamel pan, place dissolved kuzu mixture. Add the umeboshi and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. As soon as the mixture begins to bubble around the edges, stir constantly until kuzu thickens and becomes translucent.
  2. Gently simmer for 1 to 2 minutes longer and remove from the heat. Add the ginger juice and, if desired, shoyu to taste.


Apple Kuzu Drink

A good tonic for constipation and fevers and can be used to help calm hyperactive children. [Try making this by the quart, multiplying quantities by 4. It keeps well.]
1 cup organic apple juice
Pinch of salt (optional)
1 generous teaspoon crushed kuzu starch
1 to 2 tablespoons of water for dissolving kuzu

  1. Heat the apple juice and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat just until bubbles begin to appear around the edges. Remove from the heat.
  2. Thoroughly dissolve the kuzu in water, add it to the juice while stirring, then return the saucepan to the burner. Stir constantly until kuzu thickens and becomes translucent. Simmer 1 minute more, then remove from the heat.
  3. Let cool before serving.

Fruit Sauce

This is a light fruit dessert that can be eaten as is or used as a topping for puddings, cakes, pies, tarts, waffles, or pancakes. It will keep in the refrigerator for several days.

2 ½ cups sliced or whole fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, nectarines, pitted cherries)
1 cup organic apple juice
1/3-1/2 cup brown rice malt syrup (less for sweet fruits; more for tart ones)
Pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons crushed kuzu starch

  1. Cut larger fruits into bite-size pieces. Small berries can be left whole.
  2. Combine the juice, rice syrup and salt in a saucepan. If cooking the fruit is recommended (see below), add it to the saucepan and bring to a simmer, uncovered, over medium heat. Remove from the heat.
  3. Thoroughly dissolve the kuzu in 2 tablespoons of cool water and add to fruit mixture while stirring briskly. Place over medium-low heat and stir constantly until mixture returns to a simmer and thickens.
  4. If using fruit that does not require cooking, place fruit in a ceramic or glass bowl and pour the hot liquid over it. Mix gently and cool in the refrigerator. If fruit is already mixed in, transfer contents of the pot to a bowl and cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools.


Note: Delicate fruits like strawberries and raspberries should not be cooked. Ripe nectarines do not need cooking, but firmer fruits like blueberries, cherries and apples should be simmered with the juice.


Reading Resources:


John and Jan Belleme, Japanese Foods that Heal
Annemarie Colbin, PhD, Food and Healing
Mary Enig, Know Your Fats
Udo Erasmus, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill
Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods
William Shurtleff & Akiko Aoyagi, The Book of Kudzu
Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia


Copyright 2013, Pathways4Health.org

  1. For an excellent piece on sleep, see, well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/cheating-ourselves-of-sleep/?hpw []
  2. Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, 106-7. []
  3. Pitchford, Annemarie Colbin, PhD, Food and Healing, 216-19. []
  4. From Japanese Foods that Heal. []

May/June 2013: Alkalizing Foods to Prevent Disease

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download Alkalizing Foods to Prevent Disease.


“For the cells of the body to continue living, there is one major requirement:  the composition of the body fluids that bathe the outside of the cells must be controlled very exactly from moment to moment and day to day, with no single important constituent ever varying more than a few percent.  Indeed, cells can live even after being removed from the body if they are placed in a fluid bath that contains the same constituents and has the same physical conditions as those of the body fluids.”

… Arthur Guyton, M.D., Function of the Human Body, 1959


The body is constantly striving toward balance.  When we eat, breathe, walk, talk, jog, bend over, laugh, or simply sit and do nothing, the body is at work making hundreds of thousands of adjustments to maintain homeostasis.  Our system fine-tunes to keep a host of factors, including body temperature, blood glucose, and the oxygen levels of the blood within safe ranges.    For good health, the body must also maintain the blood and extracellular body fluids in a slightly alkaline range, a pH between 7.35 and 7.45, where a pH of 7 is considered neutral.


Maintaining a slightly alkaline condition is important for good health, but consuming alkalizing foods to balance those that are acid-forming does not come naturally to most of us.   I believe three key factors are to blame:


First, we naturally favor acid-forming foods because they taste good to us.  Acid-forming foods are generally those that have a sweet or bland taste, such as sugar, refined-flour baked goods, grains, and animal products.  In contrast, alkalizing foods tend to be bitter, sour, or pungent, foods like dark leafy greens, lemons, radishes and onions.  Our taste preference for sweet is nothing new.   Nature programmed us to like “sweet” as a self-protection pointing us to safer foods in the environment, since sweet foods are generally non-poisonous.


Second, cheap, convenience foods and fast foods—sugar, refined flour products, and fried foods—which are largely acid-forming, are everywhere.  Beyond convenience foods, we must also add the factor lifestyle—our “grab-and-go,” “grab-on-the-go” hurried living undermines home cooking, particularly the preparation of alkalizing foods like dark leafy greens and other plant-based alkalizing foods.


Third, because the brain runs on glucose and because our lives are over-filled with stresses and overthinking, we often find ourselves running around on “empty.”  When we “hit the wall,” we crave sugar and refined carbohydrates as a stop-gap to stoke and appease our brain cells to keep them working for us despite fatigue and stress.


To consume sufficient alkalizing foods in today’s world requires a conscious and conscientious effort. But, once we understand the role that alkalizing foods can play to prevent over-acidic blood conditions, a factor that is linked to chronic disease, it is easier to make such a commitment.


Prevention and Self-Healing


CaduceusDating back to Ancient Egypt and later Early Greece—well before the days of antibiotics and modern suppressive drugs—good health was based upon a balance of two dualities, intervention and natural healing.  Until modern times, doctor and patient worked together, with both playing a vital role in the patient’s healing journey.   Today, however, because of the seeming power of modern miracle drugs to address most ills in the short-term, we have largely forgotten the caduceus’ intended message regarding the dual role of patient and practitioner.  We now take the caduceus simply as the “logo” of modern medicine.   Perhaps, the discussion that follows concerning acid/alkaline foods will be an inspiration for us to take back the ball and run with it when there are ways for us to complement modern medicine.  There is much we can do to support our own health.  Taking action is itself a positive when it empowers.  In the end, we control what we eat and how we live, which means that we have the power to prevent our blood and extracellular fluids from being in an over-acidic condition.


“…to be healthy our body fluid must be kept at an alkaline level (pH 7.4), we must re-supply the lost alkaline elements through the foods we eat.                              ….Herman Aihara


The Potential Role of Acidity in Chronic Disease:  Bernard and Bechamp ‘s “Milieu Interieur” vs. Pasteur’s “Germ Theory”


The 19th century French physiologist Claude Bernard first developed the concept of the “milieu interieur,” that the internal environment nourishing cells was vital for their proper functioning.  [Bernard’s theory was a precursor of Walter Cannon’s 20th century concept, homeostasis.]


Living at the same time as Bernard and formulating a more extensive hypothesis, French chemist Antoine Bechamp believed that even though we live in a world of viruses and bacteria, disease cannot take hold in a healthy person who eats well and leads a healthy lifestyle:


“Bacteria and parasites cannot cause and instigate inflammation and other disease unless they find their own particular morbid soil in which to feed, grow, and multiply.”  The “morbid terrain” necessary for microzymes to breed and multiply as harmful bacteria is a result of poor diet and lifestyle factors that go against nature’s laws.1


Bechamp successfully conducted research to support this hypothesis—that preventable disease is the result of diseased tissues, “morbid terrain,” acting as an accommodating host for harmful bacteria and viruses.  Bechamp believed that disease springs from an extracellular environment that is acid and oxygen-deficient, something that results from an acid-forming diet and unhealthy lifestyle.    


Pasteur, a contemporary and 19th century rival of Bechamp, apparently borrowed ideas from Bechamp to develop his “germ” theory, the view that germs “attack” a healthy body to cause disease.  Pasteur’s theory triumphed over Bechamp’s.  Germ theory was championed by pharmaceutical companies who could reap profits by creating patented synthetic drugs to fight germs.  Germ theory also appealed to the medical profession (and perhaps the public, too) because it assigned an active role to doctors in being able to point to and fight a specific enemy—germs—while it allowed patients to relinquish/sidestep responsibility for their own health.


While Bechamp’s theories—self-help strategies involving alkalizing foods and a healthy lifestyle—were never the kind to gain the support of moneyed constituencies and mainstream thinking (since fruits and vegetables cannot be patented to reap profits like synthetic drugs), Bechamp’s ideas still have value.  As we explore acid-/alkaline-forming foods in the discussion that follows, let’s hold in our mind the concept of “milieu interieur,” and the potential positives that foods and lifestyle can have in helping us maintain a healthy acid/alkaline balance throughout.


Understanding Acid/Alkaline


Water is a powerful solvent; it can take into it most minerals essential to life—think, for example, of the many minerals and trace minerals, some 80 now known, contained in sea water.  One of the chief characteristics of water is ionization.  Water holds atoms in suspension and facilitates chemical reactions whereby ions, atoms that have an unequal number of protons and electrons, seek stability by exchanging electrons, either stealing from or donating to a neighbor.


Blood and extracellular body fluids, largely composed of H2O, are the medium of the myriad ongoing chemical reactions that take place in the body to preserve homeostasis and sustain life.   The body must keep the pH of the blood plasma within a tight range, between 7.35 and 7.45.  In the words of Walter Cannon, who in the early 20th century originated the concept of homeostasis,


“It is of the greatest importance to the existence and proper action of the cells that the blood shall not vary to a noteworthy degree either in the acid or the alkaline direction.”2


Any deviation from this 7.35-7.45 range causes death:  An acid pH of 6.95 triggers diabetic coma and death, while an alkaline pH of 7.7 triggers tetanic convulsions, leading to death.  Acidic conditions slow the heartbeat while alkaline ones have the opposite effect.3


What is pH?  Measures of pH are based on the acidity or alkalinity of fluids.  Acids are chemical compounds containing an excess of hydrogen ions with the ability to donate positively charged hydrogen ions (H+) to a chemical reaction.  Alkalis (bases), in contrast, hold a surplus of hydroxyl ions (OH-) and stand ready to donate electrons; thus, they are able to neutralize acid solutions and acidic conditions.  When alkalis relinquish electrons, acids that can be harmful to the body, particularly the kidneys, liver, and large intestine are neutralized:  alkalis (carbonic salts in form of the mineral compounds sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium) join with acids (usually sulfuric, phosphoric, acetic, lactic) to transform corrosive elements into benign water, carbon dioxide, and neutral salts.


Measuring pH.  The acidity or alkalinity of a solution is measured by pH, an exponential calibration, and a term that by convention is based on the number of hydrogen ions (H+) in solution, although in any solution, hydroxyl ions (HO-) are also present.  For example, water in an ideal state is neutral with a pH of 7, indicating that it contains an equal number of hydrogen and hydroxyl ions.  A reading below pH 7 indicates a greater concentration of hydrogen ions relative to hydroxyl ions; for any reading above pH 7, the opposite is true.  In reality, any solution contains both hydrogen and hydroxyl ions.  Whether we label a solution acid or alkaline is really a relative concept, determined by which set of ions, H+ or HO-, has the upper hand.



As an ideal, a pH of 7 indicates that in distilled water held at 22 C degrees, there is one gram of hydrogen ions (H+) as well as one gram of hydroxyl ions (OH-) for every 10,000,000 liters of water:  the hydrogen concentration is one ten-millionth or 1/10,000,000, or 10 to the negative 7th power, a pH of 7.  Similarly, pH 6 would indicate one gram of hydrogen ions for every 1,000,000 liters of water, and so on, following exponentially.


As indicated by the Acid/Alkaline chart above, stomach acid has a pH of around 1.5.  It is highly corrosive, with a heavy concentration of hydrogen scavenger ions relative to hydroxyl donors.   Its 1.5 pH means that it has a powerful 1.5 grams of H+ per 10 liters of water.


Moving up the pH scale, hydroxyl ions (H0-) begin to dominate.  At pH 12, hydrogen ions are greatly diluted, with only one gram of hydrogen ions to 1,000,000,000,000 liters of water.


The key idea is that readings below pH 7 indicate exponentially greater acid conditions, whereby hydrogen ions, H+, “scavenger” about to try to capture missing electrons.  In contrast, readings above pH 7 suggest alkalinity—a condition where hydroxyl ions, potential electron donors, dominate.  A pH above 7 means hydroxyl ions stand ready to neutralize acid conditions.  (See Appendix, p. 8, for more illustrations)


What we want to remember is that alkalis help neutralize corrosive acids that are created by exercise or when the body metabolizes acid-forming foods.  Alkalis turn toxic body wastes into harmless H2O + CO2 + Neutral Salts so that they can be safely excreted.  The body will do this, using either the minerals we supply to it by deep breathing or the alkalizing foods that we eat every day, or by tapping into our body’s minerals stores.  The latter results in an over-acidic condition that can with time foster chronic diseases like osteoporosis, inflammation, and cancer.


How pH can help guide our food choices.  We don’t have to understand the intricacies of pH as along as we roughly understand the difference between acid-forming and alkalizing foods.  Yet, this itself is tricky:  acid tasting foods like limes are, in fact, highly alkalizing to the body.  This is because, when metabolized, they leave behind a mineral residue that is alkalizing; the body can then use these minerals to neutralize acids.  Likewise, bland/sweet foods that do not taste acidic, like grains, proteins and sugars, tend to be highly acid-forming because they contain sulfur and phosphorus and leave end products sulfuric and phosphoric acids that must neutralized by minerals before they can be safely expelled.


Acid-Forming Elements:                                                                 Alkalizing Elements:4

Sulfur; Phosphorus; Chlorine, Iodine                                          Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron


Table of Acid/Alkaline

Acid-Forming and Alkalizing Foods


Fruits and vegetables, rich in minerals, as alkalizing foods. Fruits and vegetables are alkalizing because their organic acids contain minerals like potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium.  When their organic acids are oxidized, they are converted to carbon dioxide and water and leave behind alkalizing elements, such as Na, K, Ca, and Mg.  The body can then use these to help neutralize acid-forming foods, like sugar, animal products, and refined grains.


Proteins and grains, high in sulfur and phosphorus, as acid-forming foods.  As noted above, most protein foods and grains are acid-forming because they contain phosphorus and sulfur, which when metabolized produce phosphoric acid and sulfuric acid.  Fats and carbohydrates produce acetic and lactic acids.  These acids are also toxic and need to be neutralized (converted to carbon dioxide, water, and neutral salts) before they can be excreted by the kidneys and/or the large intestine.


pH  and physical activity and respiration.  Apart from food, our daily activity also influences the pH of our blood and extracellular fluids.   Exercise creates the end products lactic acid and carbon dioxide (carbonic acid), acidic conditions in the blood and body fluids.  Exercise, therefore, also demands alkalizing foods—fruits and vegetables—that are rich sources of Na, Ca, Mg, and K to help neutralize these acids.  An athlete will require more alkalizing foods than someone who is more sedentary.


Deep and prolonged breathing is also a good way to alkalize the body:  Deep breathing reduces the carbon dioxide in the lungs.  The lungs then pull carbon dioxide from the blood, thus helping to alkalize the system.  The deep breathing that we naturally do in vigorous exercise provides some alkalizing offset to the acid condition caused by exercise.


How do you know if your system is over-acidic?  You can purchase litmus paper, available at most drug stores, and test your saliva upon waking, but the easiest way is simply to pay attention to how your mouth feels, especially when you first wake in the morning.  If you wake with a sour, dry, “cotton” mouth, take this as a sign of over-acidity.  We easily feel this way after late-night partying.  Shrimp, steak, and alcohol are highly acid-forming foods, which is why we naturally head for a tall, alkalizing glass of orange juice the morning following a long night out.  Or, why bacon and eggs (acid-forming) demand orange juice; and why eggs and steak (acid-forming) demand alkalizing seasalt (see table above).


Balancing acid/alkaline to meet your personal requirements.  As noted above, people who exercise vigorously require more alkalizing foods than individuals who are more sedentary.  An Olympic athlete in training might require a ratio of alkalizing:acid-forming foods of perhaps 4:1.  The same might be true of someone fighting cancer or other chronic disease conditions.  For many people who are generally healthy and moderately active, a reasonable ratio might be closer to 2:1 or even parity.


Reading Resources


Herman Aihara, Acid & Alkaline

Dr. Susan Brown, Larry Trivieri, Jr., The Acid Alkaline Food Guide

Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., Food and Healing

Dr. Henry Lindlahr, Philosophy of Natural Therapeutics


Alkalizing Recipes


These are particularly helpful for people suffering from cancer and joint issues, and other chronic conditions that are linked to over-acidic blood conditions.


Bieler Broth

Bieler broth is a wonderful, nurturing and calming food that has been used by holistic doctors for fasting.  It helps to nourish and de-acidify the system and can be enjoyed in limitless amounts.


Choose a combination of equal amounts of the following vegetables:

  • Celery
  • Green beans
  • Zucchini
  • Spinach
  • Parsley

Place vegetables in a steaming basket and cover the pot with enough water so that it does not boil dry, but not enough to cover any of the vegetables.  Bring water to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer.  Check vegetables with a fork periodically to be sure that they are still “crunchy.”  Steaming will take a few minutes.  Place vegetables and the steaming water into a blender and puree.  Add any favorite fresh or dried herbs to enhance the flavor of the broth.


Or, if you have a sensitive digestive system and do better with foods that are well-cooked, place the above fresh vegetables in a soup pot with a significant amount of water.  Add any of your favorite fresh or dried herbs to enhance the flavor of your soup.  Bring this to a boil, then turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 40-60 minutes.  Drain and keep the broth, discarding the vegetables, which have lost their nutrients to the broth.  Store broth in the refrigerator 2-3 days or freeze it for later use.



Gerson Alkaline Broth

This recipe can be made in a slow cooker.  It is an excellent diuretic.  The vegetables can also be eaten.

  • 3 stalks celery or bok choy
  • Parsley
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 large onion or 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup spinach leaves
  • 6 organic unpeeled potatoes

Cover vegetables with water and cook until the broth has a rich flavor.  Strain and drink hot or cold.


Appendix:  The Simple Mathematics of pH




pH 7 =  1 gram hydrogen ions (H+) per 10,000,000 liters of distilled water @ 22 C degrees


pH 6 =  1 gram hydrogen ions (H+) per 1,000,000 liters of distilled water


pH 5 = 1 gram H+ per 100,000 liters of distilled water


pH 1.5, stomach acid = 1 gram H+ per 10 liters of water


Fluids become exponentially reactive and corrosive as pH numbers become smaller.

pH 8 = 1 gram hydrogen ions (H+) per 100,000,000 liters of distilled water.  The hydroxyl ions

(HO-) begin to dominate, as fluids become more alkaline


pH 12, baking soda is extremely alkalizing, with 1 gram hydrogen ions per 1,000,000,000,000

liters of water.


Fluids become increasingly alkaline as pH values rise above pH 7, which is neutral.  Reactive hydrogen ions are increasingly diluted and outnumbered by hydroxyl electron donor ions.





H+                                                                                                                                                                                         H0-


“Hungry” Hydrogen Ions, Missing Electrons                                             Hydroxl Ions, Surplus Electrons, Donors


pH 1 = 1 gram H+/10 liters water                                             pH 12 = 1 gram H+/1,000,000,000,000 liters water


Acid, Corrosive                                                                                                                                     Alkaline, Neutralizing




Acid-Forming Foods…Sweet, Bland Foods                           Alkalizing Foods…Bitter, Sour, Pungent

Sugar                                                                                                           Leafy Greens

Alcohol                                                                                                       Fruits, Citrus, Melons

Meat                                                                                                            Vegetables

Grains                                                                                                         Seaweeds




Acidic and Alkaline Foods

  1. See Dr. Henry Lindlahr, Philosophy of Natural Therapeutics. []
  2. Aihara, 9. []
  3. Walter B. Cannon, The Wisdom of the Body, qtd. in Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., Food and Healing, 75. []
  4. Aihara, 24. []

March/April 2013: Weight Wellness

To read this newsletter in an easy .pdf format, click here to download Weight Wellness.


“There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.”  …Mark Twain


My friend Nicole Barlett, who is the school nurse at the Edgartown School, recently asked me to share some thoughts with her Biggest Losers weight loss group.  I jumped at the opportunity, thinking how much fun this would be.  We could talk about sugar; fats and metabolism; expansive/contractive foods and how stress, which is contractive and activates fat storage hormones, works against weight loss.  I could pack up my long stalk of sugar cane, a few diagrams and be set to go.


But, the more I thought about weight loss, the more I felt that topics like sugar and fats were too specific and miss the bigger picture.  Isn’t the goal wellness, not weight?  And, isn’t the means to this end healthy habits and lasting change that grow not from a prescribed diet, but from a process that takes root from within?   Don’t we seek to find our own unique weight “set point” where we feel vibrant and eager to carry out our life’s work, a place where we waste no mental energy thinking about dieting and the number on the scale?


I have never written a newsletter on weight loss, partly because finding a comfortable weight is a personal journey.  A healthy weight varies with body type, bone structure, and other genetic factors.  It is also complicated by stress and lifestyle issues that at different phases of life can work against weight loss and the desire and ability to alter habits in a sustainable way.  At difficult times of life, when stress is too great and when we may not have an adequate network of supportive family and friends, trying to lose weight can be overwhelming and self-defeating.   Because of mind/body emotional feedback loops, discussed later in this newsletter, the last thing we need to do is to beat up on ourselves, something that can send us straight away to the kitchen in search of comfort food.


Also, weight, the number on the scale, is only one input and does not address the greater issue of wellness.  Once we have found a comfortable weight where we feel healthy and energized, a scale can keep us on track, encouraging us to make small mid-course corrections involving food and exercise so that we never think of dieting again, but a scale can also be depressing if we “do everything right,” only then to find that we have jumped up a few pounds.  Because wholesome fruits and vegetables, as well as fermented foods, help the body retain fluids, the scale may not instantly reward healthy eating habits.  The same is true over time if we build muscle by lifting weights, since muscle weighs more than fat.


Obviously, weight is a complex topic, not suited to simple prescriptions or magic formulas.  But I believe we each can move to a good place that feels right for ourselves if we make wellness rather than weight our “north star.”  A sensible focus on eating real food for vitality and strength, with adequate exercise, sleep, and emotionally-fulfilling activities are the cornerstones of sustained good health and healthy weight maintenance.   If there are two specific ideas that I believe can be helpful in any weight-wellness journey they would be to:

  • Crowd out empty calories with whole foods.  Commercially refined/processed/fractured foods enriched with “taste-too-good” food additives pack on weight and fail to satisfy.  They lie outside any evolutionary process or norm.  Shifting, at least in gradual steps over time, to nutrient-dense whole foods can cause processed foods and snack foods to lose their luster.   Whole foods are balanced; they satisfy, eliminate cravings, and often alter taste preferences in an enduring way.  Plants; whole plant foods; animal products from free-range, humanely-raised animals; and people are all part of the same system of life, the same “ground of all being.”
  • Crowd out food with other activities that nourish the emotions and spirit.  It is easy to forget that food is more than just crunch, nutrients, and calories.  Emotional factors surround food, something that relates to the way nature built the human body, with multiple feedback loops between the head-brain and the gut-brain.  When we feel sad, lonely, angry, or bored, it is easy to try to fill the void or muffle our emotions by turning to food.  Eating food registers in the reward centers of our gut-brain, helping temporarily to lift our spirits.  Once we appreciate this mechanism, it is easier to recognize this chain of events and alter habits by substituting other emotional pleasures in the place of empty calories.


Concept One:  Crowd Out Fractured, Processed Foods with Whole Foods that Satisfy


What is a whole food?   A whole food is a food that grows in nature, with nothing added or subtracted—a food that is just itself, no more, no lessa food that is not altered, that comes packaged by nature with all its protein, carbohydrates, and fats, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, water, and fiber to support our health.  All these ingredients work together synergistically as a system to nourish the body in ways that defy the scientific microscope.


Whole foods are designed to be consumed with all the edible parts as perfectly balanced nourishment for the human body, which is also a system. Let’s think about the body for a moment.  It is a macro-system made up of many independent micro-systems all working together for our benefit.  We have a circulatory system, a digestive system, an immune system, to name a few…and they all work together to support our health.


And what is a system?  It is any group or entity that is designed to function with all its vital parts. Cars, computers, televisions, and cell phones are systems.  Every part is essential to the whole…remove a chip, a wire, or a connection and these no longer work properly.  Groups of people working together are also systems—doctors and technicians in an operating room; the cast and production crew of a Broadway musical; and any group playing competitive sports.  When one part is missing, the system is compromised.  When a part is added or subtracted, behavior changes, often in unpredictable ways.


As systems ourselves, we are genetically programmed to consume foods in their whole form, with their vital energy intact.  We have been eating whole foods for the last 42,000 years.  And, over thousands of years, we have evolved just the right software to digest and assimilate whole foods made according to nature’s blueprint.   In contrast, manufactured foods, with ingredients that are added and subtracted, change the dynamics of a food in ways that are hard to predict.


Behavior of non-food systems when components are altered.  First, let’s add something to a system and see what happens.  If we consider the flow of traffic on a typical super highway—drivers behaving as a system according to certain rules of the road, while some motorists speed along their way.  We all know what happens to driver behavior when a state trooper appears.  Here, behavior is predictable… drivers slow down and check in with their speedometer.


Families are also systems, of course.  When we add or subtract a member, the dynamics change.   I have a friend in Boston with five children and a Vermont ski house that the family uses on weekends.  His trick to raise the family behavior a notch or two is to allow, on a rotating basis, each child to invite a friend.  Inserting a non-family friend into the mix is an investment in good behavior by all.


Now, let’s think of subtracting something from a system.  In ice hockey, what happens to team strategy when a player is sent to the penalty box—play is compromised and the team suffers.   Or, let’s take a different example.  What about a classroom of young students, when a teacher momentarily steps away?  We can be sure that student behavior will change— this time in unpredictable ways.


Implications for foods  when they are fractured, supplemented with chemical additives, or genetically altered.  Of course, the idea to take away is that when we fracture foods or add synthetic ingredients or alter genes, we cannot predict the outcome for the body.  Manipulated foods have not stood the test of time.  When we eat fractured, artificial foods with added and subtracted ingredients, we simply cannot know all the ways that we might be compromising our system.  Examining food under the microscope cannot fully predict how fractured foods, food additives, or genetically modified foods will affect the body over the life span.    Inserting artificial/synthetic food additives to fractured foods in an attempt to make them more palatable  can set off a cascade of untoward change.


Unlike commercial, fractured foods, natural whole foods have water, fiber, macro- and micro-nutrients, that satisfy, so we eat less.  How foods are packaged in nature gives us important clues about the way nature intended for them to be consumed.  Let’s take 3 examples:

  • Carrots versus carrot juice.1  Four or five carrots are necessary to make a glass of carrot juice.  Juicing strips away the fiber and the crunch, and the satisfaction from chewing.   When we down  juice in a quick sitting, the body never has a chance to feel the satiety derived when we consume carrots in their whole form.   And, drinking the juice can send us in search of a bag of chips to satisfy the crunch that is missing.  How many carrots would we eat if, instead of juice, we ate the carrots in their whole form?
  • Sugar cane versus refined sugar.  Nature gave us sugar cane, a sweet treat packaged with water and micro-nutrients encased in a tough band of fiber.  Complicated, capital-intensive processing and refining equipment is needed to strip away 99% of what makes sugar cane—mostly fiber (nature’s safeguard designed so that we do not eat too much), as well as water and macronutrients—leaving behind the pure chemical we call sugar.   It takes one foot of sugar cane to make one tablespoon of sugar, something we might easily consume with our breakfast coffee and cereal; and another three feet to sweeten the can of soda we might drink later over the course of the day.  Sugar is the most fractured food in common use.  It is dehydrating, upsets metabolism, and sets up cravings for its missing nutrients.
  • Walnuts in the shell versus commercially-packaged nutmeats.  As a child, I had to crack walnuts for my mother, something that made me wonder why she insisted on adding them to her brownies and cookies.  Today, purchasing bags of nutmeats at the super market is quick, easy, and inexpensive.  Eaten from the bag, as my family likes to do, nuts are easy to over-consume (in excess, they can burden the liver).

The difference between whole foods as systems versus fractured foods is really this:  When we fracture foods, we destroy the natural balance, we remove the inherent safeguards designed to protect us from mindless over-consumption, and we set up cravings as our body looks for the missing ingredients—ingredients that it is programmed to expect.


Also, convenience processing methods remove the life force energy of foods, as well as many of nature’s efforts to package nutrition in ways that satisfy us.  The ease with which we can purchase processed foods, with little effort and connection to plants and animals, plays a role in our present obesity/diabetes problem.  Manufactured, fractured foods also disconnect us from the food chain and the sense of awe and gratitude of our forebears whose livelihood and existence depended upon a close connection with plant and animal life.


Concept Two:  The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and Head-Brain Pleasure Centers Can Be Satisfied in Ways that Do Not Rely Upon Food.


“If hunger is not the problem, then eating is not the solution”…author unknown


The enteric nervous system, the “gut-brain” is found in the mucosal lining of the digestive system, between the muscular layers of the esophagus, the stomach, and the small and large intestines.  It is a complex network of neurons and neurochemicals that sense and control events in the digestive tract.  The ENS can read and respond to sensory inputs from other parts of the body, including the brain.  There are over one hundred million nerve cells in the gut-brain—as many as are found in the spinal cord.  More than the head-brain, it is the gut-brain, with its feedback loops to the brain,that helps set our food preferences, while it also controls how we digest and assimilate nutrients.


The head-brain and the gut-brain talk with each other:  Both the brain and the entire lining of the digestive tract contain cells that produce and receive neuropeptides and neurochemicals (such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine), as well as many hormones and chemicals like endorphins and enkephalins—chemicals that translate feelings of joy, satisfaction, pleasure and well-being.2 Because endorphins in the gut communicate with reward centers of the brain, we derive pleasure from eating. Mirand, pls. insert Detail to right, with fewer labels, to be discussed.  J


VilliDigestive Tract


Concept Three:  The ENS and Mind/Body Feedbacks Can Undermine Attempts to Diet and Lose Weight, Especially If These Efforts Are Accompanied by Feelings of Denial and Guilt.


Through the brain, spinal cord, and ENS, the Mind/Spirit and the Body communicate in continuous feedback loops.  We can choose to use this concept either to benefit our health, or to work against it.


Race Tract


If we wish to improve our well-being, we can choose any positive activity or mindset, any point on this continuum to enhance our present condition:  Anything that we do to lift and improve our body—through sunshine and fresh air, exercise, whole foods—can feed back to improving our mood and mental outlook.  Likewise, anything that lifts our spirits and fills the empty spaces in our lives—nature, loved ones, gratification from helping others, gratitude, spiritual practices, laughing, music, artistic endeavors, working with plants or animals—can have a positive effect upon our body chemistry and fill us up so that we are less likely to turn to food.


By the same token, and in a negative way, denial and guilt—the mind/spirit beating up on the body through destructive neurochemical messages—can backfire.  These feelings can send us to the refrigerator in search of food in an attempt to drown out our own verbal abuse and brow-beating.  [See Appendix:  Triggers to Overeating.]    The mind/body model can serve as an ever-present reminder of the potential negatives associated with self-deprecation, denial and guilt.


Denial:  When we deny ourselves “forbidden fruits,” they often grow ever larger in our mind and cravings.  Thankfully, when we shift to eating more and more whole, nutrient-dense foods the feeling of denial fades into the background.  Over time, a hot fudge sundae and a Snickers candy bar lose their appeal, and sugar and other denatured “treats” no longer loom as great temptations.


Guilt:  We all make food mistakes.   We can be grateful that our body talks to us, providing feedback to help us change.  It is pointless to overlay the fallout from mistakes with an added feeling of guilt; our body and our emotions have already paid the price to right themselves.  If we want to blame someone, perhaps it should be Big Food.  When we overeat, we may simply be the victim of the food industry which engineers foods with just the right combination of sugar, fat, and salt—“too-good-to-be-true” food—that sets up cravings for more.


Food mistakes:   We all make these, in varying ways and by varying degrees.  Mistakes are lessons,   nothing more, nothing less.  All we have to do is pay attention to how we feel so that we can hope to do better the next time.  To avoid negative chemical reasons from mind/body feedbacks, try to resist charging these episodes with emotional layers and self-flagellation.


“Most men occasionally stumble over the Truth, but most pick themselves up

and continue on as if nothing had happened.”      …Winston Churchill


Dieting:  A lot of energy and angst can go into dieting.  Dieting can lead to disappointment and negative feelings, which can set off more over-eating.  On the positive side, dieting can offer a quick-start if the goal is to change habits for the long-term, but the bedrock of sustained weight loss is a program centered on real foods; exercise that you enjoy; chewing and taking pleasure in food; flexibility, which allows for splurges; and patience and forgiveness.  Good food and “preventative cooking and eating” (discussed below) go a long way over time to help us find a comfortable weight where we are happy, healthy, productive, and think little about the scale…


Don’t go out of your weigh to please anyone but yourself”…author unknown.


Chewing:  One of the best ways to lose weight and prevent overeating is to chew every bite 30 times.  It is also one of the best antidotes to a feeling of denial.


Sleep:   Sleep is critical to a strong immune system, to prevent cravings for carbohydrates and stimulants, and for hormonal balance (particularly cortisol, which is associated with belly fat).   Adequate sleep is a powerful tool for weight loss and/or healthy weight maintenance.


Stress:  Chronic stress and stress-related hormones like cortisol are linked to belly fat.  Try to put a margin of time in each day for the unforeseen and allow yourself time to decompress.


Scales:  We can use a scale as a good way to check in with ourselves, but it will never tell us how healthy we are or the status of our belly fat (belly fat is important because it is linked to chronic disease).  When we eat nutrient-dense whole foods and exercise in whatever ways make us happy and feel good, the body takes care of the rest, especially if we avoid feelings of guilt and self-deprecation.


Supportive Networks:  Share meals and exercise with people who support your healthy food/exercise goals.  A network that does not support your efforts can quickly undermine resolve and good intentions.


Gauging Satiety:  Alcohol, juicing, or daytime fasting to save up for a big evening meal can prevent us from gauging how much food we really do need.   By consuming enough nutrition early in the day when digestive fire is at its best, we honor our body’s natural clock and support body chemistry.


Flexibility:   Try not to lock yourself into rigid rules and declarations.  Grand dieting pronouncements might be off-putting to friends who have chosen different paths.   Perhaps more importantly, each one of us has physical needs and taste preferences that may change over the years.  A strict vegetarian, for example, may feel fit and fine for a time, but might someday want to incorporate traditional animal fats and easy-to-assimilate animal proteins for a more well-rounded approach to good health.  Any strict diet—Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, low-fat, low-carb, etc.—can lock us in and, when we veer off course, make us feel we have failed, when, in fact, we may simply be honoring our body’s natural cravings for balance and missing essential nutrients.


If you are trying to eliminate something like coffee or sugar, you may need to be strict for a period of time to get your body to the point that it no longer has cravings.  Later on, when your tastes have changed and your body is in a different place, a little sugar or coffee can be handled on occasion.


Preventive eating:  When you crowd out unhealthy temptations with nutrient-dense calories, you are on your way.  I call this “preventive eating.”  Eat a hard-boiled egg or similar sustaining snack before you go to a cocktail party/dinner.  It will satisfy you so that you can better gauge how much food and drink you really need.  Go to social events to be filled with good times and fun with friends, making food and drinks a side dish.


Preventive cooking:  Preventive eating is rooted in “preventive cooking,”—cooking in advance so you have plenty of healthy snacks on hand and foods that can be combined quickly into meals in five minutes or less.   Planning is the most important part of this strategy.  Then shop and cook when you have windows of time, choosing to prepare foods that require little supervision.


In conclusion, the ultimate test is to ask ourselves how we feel.   Do we have energy to carry out our life’s work while having fun along the way?  Attention to our waist might be better placed on our waste and on our environmental footprint.  Trying to shrink our footprint for the benefit of future generations can be empowering; it can make us feel good; and in its tracks, we may find that weight loss is a hidden benefit.

When we switch from counting calories and obsessing about weight to preserving our health and the health of the planet, we have won a battle.


Reading Resources:

Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., Food and Healing; and

Wholistic Nutrition:  From Biochemistry to Chaos, Complexity, and Quantum Physics–Applying

Some Concepts from Contemporary Science to a New Understanding of How Food Affects Health.


Appendix:  Triggers to Overeating


Food/Physical Factors:

  • Too many fractured foods
  • Too many refined carbohydrates
  • Too much sugar
  • Too many sweetened drinks
  • Too many diet drinks; artificial sweeteners
  • Too much MSG; “natural flavorings” and food additives
  • Too much mental activity; too much thinking (the brain runs on glucose)
  • Juicing ; Late-night eating; alcohol (the body cannot gauge satiety)
  • Too much protein (requires expansive sugars to boost energy)
  • Not enough calories
  • Not enough nutrients
  • Not enough protein
  • Not enough healthy fats
  • Not enough complex carbohydrates
  • Not enough water
  • Not enough fiber
  • Not enough chewing
  • Not enough exercise
  • Not enough sleep (sets up cravings for carbohydrates)
  • Mindless eating; eating on the run; eating in front of screens

Emotional/Lifestyle Factors:

  • Too much stress; too little relaxation
  • Taking on too much; or too little
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Anger and frustration
  • Guilt/self-blame/self-hatred
  • Lack of connection/loneliness/boredom
  • Too little gratitude
  1. Example from Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., to whom I am also indebted for the mind/body diagram; the concept of dieting and guilt; as well as food mistakes as neutral information. []
  2. See the work of Marc David; J. Furness and J. Bornstein; T.E. Adrian and S. R. Bloom, as well as Michael Gerson’s The Second Brain. []

January/February 2013: New Year’s and Growing… Older… Better

To read this newsletter in an easy pdf format, click here to download New Year’s and Growing…Older…Better



The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.

— Madeleine L’Engle


We step into New Year’s with another year tacked to our age, but no matter our circumstance, it is never too early or too late to lay the groundwork for better health.  What you can do now may help you prevent future chronic disease and a reliance on suppressive, synthetic drugs that tax the liver and kidneys.


This newsletter outlines strategies for maintaining health throughout the life span, so it applies to all ages, but it also gives special emphasis to issues that affect people as they age.  The opening paragraphs explore some of the advantages of aging, particularly today when there are many healthy food and lifestyle options available to help preserve and improve health throughout the lifespan.


Enjoying the Later Years


When I was growing up, New Year’s Day was bittersweet, because it marked the end of winter vacation and the imminent return to the constraints of school, schedules, and homework demands.   But now in my early “retirement” years, time has transformed my sense of New Year’s dread into a feeling of anticipation for the freedom, growth, and adventure presented by the freshness of a new year.   No longer with the demands of a 24/7 career and childrearing, I love January and the return to “ordinary time.”  To me it symbolizes choice and an energizing sense of possibility.


For those of us who have entered the golden fall/winter season of life and are free from past demands, each New Year brings greater flexibility—the ability to say “no” when before we may have had to say “yes;” to choose our friends and how we spend our time; and to transition more and more from life’s phase of “doing, moving, and shaking” to “being,” a period when we can act as a resource for others.  At this season of life and in contrast perhaps to our earlier years when we may have relied on the benevolence of others to help us along the way, we are better able to extend our own mentoring, helping hand, with all the gratification and joy that comes in assisting those in need.


With more unstructured time, we can engage in relationships and activities that we find rewarding.  It may be the first time that we can plumb our deepest talents and explore our true interests, those that the demands of life previously shunted to the sidelines.


With many of our critical life choices set, the older life chapters may feel less stressful, since having to make key life-altering decisions itself creates worry and stress.  And, in our later years when life does send challenges and traumas our way, we are better able to view them through a tempered lens, well- honed by time, seasoning, wisdom, and perspective.


As we age, it is true that time may have sapped some of our youthful vitality, but as a partial offset, our energy may be less fractured by outside demands.  No longer so scattered by the pressures of daily life, we can focus our inner strength to be perhaps even more effective in the end.  We may also find that we are able to “cast away stones” and  simplify our lives; we need fewer things; we can streamline and devote energy where it can be best spent.  The gift of more unstructured time and greater vision means that in these later life chapters we can endow our lives with greater meaning; we can try new activities; we can make new contributions; and we can continue to grow in the process.



Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
– Mark Twain


Growing, Older, Better: Some General Comments


No matter our genetic endowment and our past dietary and lifestyle history, there are many ways that we can support our future health.  Some require time—whether shopping and cooking healthy meals; exercising for aerobic endurance and strength; finding ways to reduce stress; or bolstering the immune system via a good night’s sleep.  Others require money—to buy nutrient-dense foods; high-quality fats and oils to curb inflammation and pain; and, perhaps some natural dietary supplements and professional services/healing modalities provided by a physical trainer or licensed acupuncturist.


Investing time and money in good health and prevention throughout the life span is empowering and may save us time, money, and productivity in the end.  Hardly “selfish,” these are good investments if they also save our loved ones, who might otherwise be burdened by our care needs.


Of course, everyone comes with their own genetic heritage and life history.  In the autumn/winter phase of life, our body’s weakest links surface and begin to scream for attention.  Because we are only as good as our weakest links, developing awareness and taking time to support our weak systems is an important element in maintaining general health.


The Mind-Body-Spirit Trilogy.  When we think of preserving vitality, we usually think of food and exercise, but they are not the only ingredients in good health.  Mental and emotional states alter body chemistry and disrupt the natural flow of energy throughout the organ systems of the body, factors that can lead to pain and disease.  Healing modalities, such as acupuncture, QiGong, Reiki, and aromatherapy can address our own unique issues and weaknesses.   Healing arts in combination with food and exercise are powerful tools to support vitality and health.


Food and Nutrition.  Whole foods are complex systems of vitamins, minerals, water, fiber, and life force energy that grow in a magical kaleidoscope of fractal patterns.  As systems, whole foods are uniquely designed to feed the body, which is also a system.  An apple or a whole grain oat grown sustainably in nutrient-rich soil is quite different, both in nutrition and life force energy, from commercial, pesticide-laden apple juice or a fractured, puffed oat made into a Cheerio.


Foods that agree with ua depend somewhat on genetics, age, lifestyle, and what a person has eaten previously.  For example, a raw foods diet might work well for someone who has lived on heavy meats and fats and/or fast foods, but only for so long.


Because “digestive fire” weakens with age, over time raw foods may needed to be replaced more and more with cooked food, since cooking is a form of “pre-digestion.”  Cooked foods are easier to assimilate and require less energy to process:  a raw carrot, for example, has fewer calories than one that is cooked, because more calorie energy is required for its digestion.


No diet will forever serve a person well.  Throughout life, it is important to continue to pay attention to the information we gain everyday from our food choices and make adjustments.


Growing, Older, Better: Specific Strategies


  • When Possible, Consume Whole Foods, Grown Locally, Seasonally, With All Their Edible Parts.  As mentioned above, the body is programmed to assimilate whole foods, which are balanced, complex packages of vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, phyto-nutrients, water, and fiber that work synergistically in the body.  In addition, whole foods, with their life force energy, feed and restore the body’s own energy in ways that fractured, denatured, calorie-laden commercial foods created for a long shelf life cannot.  Fractured foods do not satisfy in the same way as whole foods:  they leave us craving for the missing parts.
  • Portion Control,  Think Thirds and Quarters:  Try to balance meals in thirds, 1/3 protein; 1/3 healthy fats; and 1/3 carbohydrate, consuming proteins and fats first to avoid metabolic stress/blood sugar spikes, insulin resistance, and inflammation associated with eating only carbohydrates.  Also, think of balancing your plate in quarters, generous quarter servings of vegetables and fruits, with scant quarters of proteins and carbohydrates.  Multi-colored vegetables and fruits provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for good health.
  • Avoid Inflammatory Foods:  refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, refined vegetable oils, and refined flour.   Inflammation underpins pain and chronic disease.  Many inflammatory foods, such as corn and grain derivatives, are also genetically modified (GMOs).   Avoid GMOs; most corn and soy products are GMOs.  Also avoid food additives like MSG which can upset metabolism and contribute to weight gain.

“Nothing from a box” is a good guideline.  Foods in a box or package created for a long shelf life such as refined sugar, refined flour, breakfast cereals, and finger snacks are stripped of life force energy, vital oils and nutrients to prevent rancidity.  These are fractured, unbalanced foods that can leave us feeling unsatisfied, searching for more.  Read food labels for preservatives and additives.  Processed foods that taste too good to be true probably are.

  • Consume Healthy Fats, for Brain Health and Mental Activity, Metabolism and Weight Control, Hormonal Health, and to Control Inflammation.  Good fats are important at any age, but especially for older people entering the “winter,” drying out phase of life.  Traditional fats are moisturizing; they satisfy hunger; help the body assimilate minerals such as calcium and magnesium; and provide warmth and boost metabolism to help regulate the body thermostat as we age.   A blend of natural saturated and unsaturated fats and oils provide the body with materials for proper cell membrane permeability, an important factor for appropriate cell functioning and replication.  Avoid refined, denatured omega-6 vegetable oils which are inflammatory and feed chronic disease.  Instead, include a healthy mix of fish oils and natural, saturated fats:
    • Omega-3 Oils, which fight inflammation and, with their double-bond “hot spots,” provide fuel for proper  and effective neurological activity;
    • Fermented Cod Liver Oil for vitamin D, with complementary vitamin A.  Science tells us that there is a vitamin D receptor on every cell of the body.  Adequate vitamin D helps to fight depression and “winter blues,” osteoporosis, and a variety of chronic diseases.
    • Unrefined, Virgin Coconut Oil, a cholesterol-free saturated fat that can withstand the heat of cooking.  Coconut oil is a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA), high in anti-microbial lauric acid.  As a MCFA, coconut oil is metabolized quickly to provide warmth and energy.  By boosting metabolism and providing satiety, it can assist in weight loss, unlike long-chain vegetable oils that stay in the blood stream longer and whose calories are more likely to be stored as fat.  Coconut oil has also been linked to the prevention of dementia.  [Unrefined coconut oil should be distinguished from hydrogenated coconut and palm oil as food additives.  These were an invention of the food industry to extend product shelf life… something that gave coconut oil a bad name.]
    • Butter from Grass-Fed Animals, for a healthy 1:1 balance of omega-3:omega-6 fatty acids, as well as vitamins A and K.  Vitamins A and K pair with vitamin D for balanced nutrition, particularly to support healthy bones and teeth.
  • Protect The Digestive System, for Good Nutrient Absorption/Assimilation.   Have you ever stopped to think about natures’ amazing protective shield–the skin, a layer covering our outside that transitions in continuous fashion inside to the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, and the digestive system?  Nature intended for nothing to enter the body without passing through these porous sentries.  (Modern science, of course, overrides these protections with vacations, IVs, etc.)

Just as we protect our skin from the sun and wind, we want to protect our digestive system to assure that we are assimilating nutrients from the foods that we eat.  This is particularly true as we age, a time when we have exhausted much of our vital store of digestive enzymes.   Protecting the mucous lining of our digestive system can help prevent “leaking gut” syndrome, something linked to inflammatory and autoimmune issues.  To safeguard the delicate digestive system and encourage a welcoming environment for healthy intestinal bacteria:

    • Consider supplementing your diet with probiotics and prebiotic foods.  Fermented foods provide enzymes and support good intestinal flora.
    • Chew well, something especiallyimportant for the proper digestion of carbohydrates.  Starches are broken down and mixed with digestive juices in the mouth; they then lay dormant in the stomach until they pass further along to digestion by the intestinal tract.
  • Preserve Kidney Essence, the store of energy endowed at birth.  The kidney, much like a dry cell battery, represents the backup store of reserve energy to help us run from danger; meet emergencies; and deal with stress.  Stress hormones and stimulants like caffeine and tobacco allow us to tap this store, but often with the longer-term price of adrenal fatigue and weakened kidneys.  We need to be suspicious of “something for nothing:”  coffee and cigarettes may get people through the work day when there is little time to eat, but there is a long-term price.

The kidney and adrenals are associated with the element water; the season winter; and with the ears and hearing; bones, marrow, and teeth; and head hair.  By the winter season of life, our dry cell, our store of kidney essence is depleted—we may experience this not only in weakened adrenal vitality and a general lack of energy compared to our youth, but also in a loss of hearing, bone strength and dental health, and a graying and thinning of the hair on our head.

As we age, we can protect our kidney essence by covering our ears on cold, windy days and by keeping the small of our back, where the kidneys are located, protected against the cold.  Have you noticed how exposing your lower back to cold seems to penetrate deep into your bones.

On cold winter nights, I like sleeping with a hot water bottle warming my lower back, and in cold weather, I make sure to I cover my ears.  We can also protect our kidneys by consuming nutrient-dense, nourishing foods, especially bone stocks and organ meats; and we can add marrow bones to soups and stews.

  • Reduce Stress.  Without the boundless energy stores of our youth, preserving strength becomes more important as we age.  Try saying “no” to non-essentials so that you have strength to handle the unexpected.   Program downtime into the week to reduce stress and cortisol, which encourages belly fat.   And take time for aerobic exercise and relaxation in whatever forms you find enjoyable.  High cholesterol and belly fat (linked to the stress hormone cortisol) are both associated with chronic stress.
  • Exercise and Lift Weights, to Build Aerobic Capacity and Strength.   Choose an aerobic exercise, but make sure that it is one you enjoy:  Exercise that you dislike and find stressful can make weight-loss difficult.  Moderate, enjoyable exercise helps mental focus, relieves stress, and boosts metabolism.

Develop a weight-lifting routine to prevent the muscle atrophy normally associated with aging:  The average person loses 30% of their muscle mass between age 20 and age 70, but this need not happen:  Someone aged 70 can regain as much muscle mass, measured in percentage terms, as a young person in their 20s.  Because muscle requires more calories than fat cells, strength-training can help burn calories throughout the day, even while a person is at rest.  Weight-training also builds bone strength and helps prevent falls and broken bones:    Lifting weights stresses both muscle and bones, thus building not only muscle but also bone strength.  In addition, weight-training directed to the lower extremities improves balance, builds leg strength and diminishes the risk of falls.

  • Allow Time for Sleep.  Sleep restores the body, the mind, and the immune system.  It preserves the body’s natural balance of hormones that helps us wake in the morning with spring in our step, while it also helps us focus and feel alert all day.   Adequate sleep not only keeps us well; it can also prevent weight gain associated with sugar cravings that nag us when we are tired.  Also, to sleep well avoid consuming “fire foods” at night—alcohol; caffeinated drinks; and chocolate.  And, to sleep well and avoid acid reflux, try to eat your last meal a good three hours before going to bed.
  • Limit Alcohol.  Alcohol interferes with sleep, particularly as we age.  It is hard for older people to drink and feel good, because the number of nephrons (filters that compose the kidneys) decreases with age.  With fewer nephrons, the kidneys shrink in size and begin to lose function, so that extra fluid and wastes are no longer filtered and efficiently excreted from the body as before.  If we drink too much, we may wake between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. and have trouble returning to sleep.  This is when the liver goes to work each night to cleanse and filter the blood.  It is an indication of how drinking alcohol unnecessarily taxes our system.

Crowd out alcohol, and sugar for that matter, by getting enough sleep and eating nutrient-dense foods.  You will crave less the temporary lift provided by these expansive fall-backs.

  • Avoid Food Mistakes.  We all make food mistakes—these provide information for adjusting our behavior—but mistakes cost more with time.   Age weakens our digestive fire and our body’s filtering/excreting system, so our body becomes less forgiving and more sensitive to poor treatment.  Instead of living on coffee and snacks, saving up for a big meal at night, we may find that we need to eat smaller, more frequent meals, earlier in the day to catch the peak of our digestive power.  Eating little during the day and saving up for a big evening meal taxes digestion, which is at its lowest ebb at night; it throws off metabolism and hormones, especially cortisol; and prevents us from gauging how much food in a 24-hour period we really need.   Food mistakes are best prevented by planning ahead and by eating “upside-down.”
    • Planning:  Think about shopping and cooking ahead, on weekends, and over breakfast or dinner.  This is easier than you think.  Root vegetables can be oven roasted and grains or beans can be cooked on the stove, virtually unattended, when you go about your morning or evening chores.  Buy a slow cooker and let meals cook overnight or during the day when you are out of the house.  A rice cooker can cook grains and hot cereals.  It can be set at night, so that a piping hot bowl of oats awaits you in the morning.  What is required most is simply the planning to prepare ingredients that can be combined in infinite combinations to create “instant” healthy meals.
    • Take time to shop; soak beans and grains overnight in advance of cooking; steam or sauté greens to be kept on hand in the refrigerator; roast winter round and root vegetables in their own skins; stew dried fruits with cinnamon sticks.  Grains and beans are versatile; they can be added to soups, salads, served as side dishes, or made into dips; and they last for days in the refrigerator.  Let an inexpensive rice or slow cooker come to your rescue.  To repeat, it is far easier than you may think.
    • Eating “Upside-Down” to synchronize the body to digestive energy and the “cortisol body clock.”   Eating early—with a good breakfast that includes quality protein and fats—and throughout the day when you are hungry supports metabolism, hormones such as cortisol, and helps regulate the body’s thermostat.  Eating early and frequently also feeds a steady stream of glucose to the brain and allows us to better gauge how much we really need to eat, so we often eat less in a 24-hour period.  And, by eating early, we take advantage of our peak noon-time digestive fire and have a better chance to prevent acid reflux.  [These ideas are repeated for emphasis.]

One of the best ways to enjoy front-loading meals is to shop and cook ahead so that you have delicious food on hand.  Create a favorite breakfast for yourself.  Breakfast is now my favorite meal and the thought of enjoying eggs or soup with artisanal sourdough bread and butter, makes the extra piece of pie over dinner less enticing.   [How often do we tell ourselves at dinner that we can eat the extra sweet and make up for it by skipping breakfast the next day?]

One of the best ways to break the habit of late-night over-eating is to allow enough time to eat a good breakfast every morning.  More than 80% of retirees eat breakfast, presumably because they have time and appreciate its importance.

  • Nourish Gratitude and a Spiritual Life.  Gratitude and a spiritual life, in whatever form you choose, are important ingredients of health.  This is true for everyone, no matter what age, but it rightfully comes to the fore in our later years when material considerations fade and we must ponder the legacy to society that we will leave behind.

In our early years, perhaps we could balance like a bicycle, peddling fast with mind/body pursuits, but as we age and are forced to slowdown and look inward, we need a third wheel, the stability offered by a spiritual component.  Gratitude and a the ballast afforded by a spiritual life can help us stay centered and content in the golden, winter years, as we continue to grow in new, meaningful, and better ways.


Reading Resources


Healing Modalities:

  • Fundamentals of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, Marc S. Micozzi


Food as Systems:

  • Food and Healing, and Wholist Nutrition, Doctoral Dissertation, Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.
  • Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley




Fats and Oils:


The Body Clock:





Recipes: Marrow Bones


Bone marrow can be roasted or used to thicken and enhance the nutrition of soups, stews, and sauces.  Throughout time, cultures have used bone marrow to support nutrition and health.  Marrow is easy to digest and assimilate and is a rich source of protein, healthy, monounsaturated fat, and minerals.  Buy marrow bones from grass-fed, hormone-free animals.  Bones keep several days in the refrigerator and are best rinsed and soaked in salt water before using.


See February and March 2010 Newsletters for discussion of the health benefits of bone stocks and cooking with bones,






or, think about the following quick ideas from Livestrong.com:


Roast marrow bones in a 450 F oven until the marrow begins to sizzle inside the bones. Serve the hot marrow bones alongside toasted bread. Scoop the marrow out of the bone and onto the bread with a tiny spoon and top the marrow with salt, fresh herbs of your choice and lemon juice.


Add raw marrow-filled bones to a pot of soup to infuse the final dish with flavor and protein. Cook the bones in the soup while it simmers, until the marrow melts and escapes from the bones. Remove and discard the bones before serving the soup.  Or, from one reader’s suggestion—Put marrow bones in the pot when making navy bean and barley soup.  Add dill, black pepper, and sea salt.


And, from the Relucant Gourmet:


Roasted Bone Marrow Crostini

1 baguette or other long, thin loaf of bread

Extra virgin olive oil

Beef marrow bones, cut to approximately two inches.

Salt and pepper, to taste


Lemon juice, (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Slice the bread into thin rounds.  Arrange them on a baking sheet and generously drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil.  Place them in the oven and toast until golden and crisp.
  • Remove the crostini and raise the oven temperature to 450.  Make sure it is fully heated before adding the bones.
  • Rinse the marrow bones and pat dry with paper towels.  Lay them flat on a baking sheet or roasting pan.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Place them in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
  • Remove the bone and allow them to cool somewhat.  Remove the marrow, add salt, pepper, and parsley and mash with a fork.  Spread the mixture on the crostini.


Copyright 2012 Pathways4Health.org