Eating Seasonally

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Copyright 2010


We all know to eat a good breakfast: Breakfast gives a good start to the day and honors the body’s natural bio-rhythms and bio-chemistry (see November and December 2010 newsletters). But, somehow life takes over and breakfast is generally the meal that a busy schedule crowds out. Most people eat lunch because lunch hour is programmed in by schools and the workplace. Dinner becomes the major meal because it can be enjoyed without the time pressures of immediate commitments. Evening is often the only time to savor food with family and friends. So, it is only natural to eat the majority of calories in the evening when we are not rushed. And, it is only natural to eat an extra helping at night when we tell ourselves that we will make up for it by skipping breakfast the next morning.


What is a “good” breakfast? It is anything that sustains you throughout the morning. The test of a good breakfast is…How do you feel at 10-11 o’clock? If you do heavy outdoor physical labor, you may need relatively more carbohydrates (and fats in winter) than if you sit at a desk, where you may need slower-burning, sustaining whole grains, proteins and fats. In general, a good rule of thumb for any meal, including breakfast, is to aim for one-third of all calories to be spread evenly over the three macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, and (traditional) fats.


Eating “Upside-Down”
Planning to eat a good breakfast really begins the night before. We sow the seeds of a good breakfast when we eat early enough and lightly enough in the evening so that we wake up hungry. We also sow the seeds of a good breakfast when we retire 30-60 minutes earlier than we might otherwise so that we can use this time at daybreak for breakfast. Think of it as an investment in morning productivity. The fact that more than 80% of retired people eat breakfast suggests that many more of us would eat breakfast if we allocated the time to do so.


Eating a good breakfast also starts with planning in advance, perhaps the day or evening or weekend before, to have something delicious to wake up to. This could be any balanced protein/fat/carbohydrate combination that appeals to you– piping hot whole-grain porridge with dried fruits and nuts and butter/cream/milk; lentil or split pea soup with hearty whole grains or accompanied with whole grain bread, organic peanut butter muffins, or banana-nut oatmeal treats; a chicken sandwich on sourdough bread; a can of wild sockeye salmon mixed with whole grains and leftover soup or vegetables; or, of course, eggs fixed in any way to suit your fancy. Egg custard, a favorite of many children, can be breakfast with a whole grain muffin. One of my own favorites is to have a bowl of steel cut oats with a couple of poached eggs mixed in. Eggs are nutritious and the combination of protein and fat provides real staying power. Baking muffins and preparing soups can be done on weekends; whole grain hot cereals can be cooked overnight in a rice cooker or even in a thermos…thermos oatmeal…to be taken with you. If you are trying to cut back on coffee, think savory rather than sweet foods. A sweet muffin demands coffee far more than a bowl of lentil soup or a chicken sandwich. [See recipes that follow.]


Crowding out Breakfast
Skipping breakfast was rarely an issue a century ago when women worked at home caring for children and when homemaking was seen to have value. The tendency to skip meals traces the entry of women and mothers into the labor force. According to the most recent data from 2008, 60% of all women are in the labor force. Mothers with children under 18 have the highest participation rate of any broad group (71%), and of subgroups of working mothers, the highest rate by far (78%) is by mothers with children aged 6-17. [The next highest at 63% is by mothers with children under 6. The lowest rate, 53%, of any group is by women with no children under 18 in the household.]


Today, time-squeezed two-income households as well as the ready availability of boxed breakfast cereals, prepared breakfast snacks such as Pop-Tarts, and fast-food breakfast options help explain the movement of modern households away from the family breakfast table to a morning “grab and go” or just “go” lifestyle. Over 40% of Americans aged 18-54 regularly skip breakfast, and more than half of all adults view breakfast as a mere mini-meal, snack, or simply a beverage. Surveys also suggest that one-third of all teens and one-fifth of all children regularly skip breakfast, while half of all children report that they sometimes skip breakfast. Children are inclined to skip breakfast if their parents do. (Breakfast Research and Statistics).


Breakfast matters…for adults. Skipping breakfast is associated with eating more fat-rich, high-energy calories throughout the rest of the day. A Harvard Study suggests that people who skip breakfast are four times more likely to become obese. Avoiding breakfast is associated not only with weight-gain, but also with higher cholesterol and elevated insulin (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study), and even cancer (Cancer Research UK).

Breakfast matters…for children. Skipping breakfast is particularly hard on children, who cannot “limp” like adults through the morning on coffee. A Reading University study of 12-year-olds found that skipping breakfast caused reaction times to drop to the level of a typical 70-year old. On the positive side, a Harvard/Mass General study of school children in Baltimore and Philadelphia found that children who ate breakfast received better grades, were more focused, and showed improved psycho-social behaviors compared to children who rarely ate breakfast.

What do Americans typically eat for breakfast? For those adults who eat breakfast at home, coffee, boxed cereals (three-quarters of which are high in sugar), and fruit juice (75%- 80% sugar) head the list of products consumed most frequently (Breakfast Research and Statistics). For 6-12 year-olds who eat breakfast, three-quarters choose what they eat, with 90% regularly consuming ready-to-eat (RTE) cereals. According to a Yale University study, RTE cereal companies spend more than $160 million a year marketing breakfast cereals to children, who typically view 642 television cereal advertisements a year. The Yale study found that boxed breakfast cereals marketed to children have 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber, and 60 percent more sodium than those advertised to adults.


Clearly it is not enough just to eat breakfast, if by breakfast we mean stimulants and sugar in the form of coffee, cold cereal, and juice. Such a breakfast does not meet the 10-11 o’clock test criteria of a “good” breakfast: Research indicates that a high-glycemic breakfast such as a bagel, cold cereal, or instant oatmeal creates a blood sugar spike, followed by a sharp drop in blood sugar, a kind of hyper-/hypoglycemic rollercoaster. The body’s hyper-insulin response to the surge in glucose from a high-glycemic breakfast leaves blood sugar actually lower two hours after breakfast than at the fasting/waking level prior to eating breakfast (Lioger, et al., 2009). In other words, eating a high-glycemic breakfast can leave you hungrier by mid-morning than when you woke up, thus creating the desire for a high-energy mid-morning snack. Lioger found that subjects consuming a standard high-glycemic breakfast cereal consumed 53% more calories over the rest of the day compared to subjects who ate a whole-grain breakfast. Put simply, high-glycemic breakfasts lead to snacking and the tendency to over-eat at the next meal.


Boxed Breakfast Cereal—Century-Ago Good Intentions, a Modern Day Mixed Blessing
As often happens in life, innovative products developed for one problem can contribute to another. In 1863, Dr. James C. Jackson who managed the Sanitarium in Dansville, NY developed “Grandula,” the forerunner of our modern RTE cereal. A dense nodule of bran made edible only by overnight soaking, it was designed to relieve the gastrointestinal problems brought about by the low-fiber beef and pork breakfasts typically consumed by our ancestors more than a century ago.


In the years following the development of Grandula, the Kellogg brothers serving at the Battle Creek, Michigan Sanitarium worked on their own grain-based breakfast options. In 1896, they discovered a cereal flaking process and a cereal that Will Kellogg patented (1906) with its new name Corn Flakes. Soon thereafter came pasteurized milk and the development of waxed-paper box liners. With these, both Kellogg and competitor C.W. Post (Grape-nuts and Post Toasties) had the essentials to grow and expand the RTE breakfast cereal market into what we know today—a booming $10 billion business with a cereal for just about any taste and with expansive grocery store shelf space to dwarf most any other product category, with the occasional exception of cookies and soft drinks.


High-Glycemic Boxed Cereals…Blame not just Sugar, but also the Botanical Degradation of Grains
The problem with many RTE breakfast cereals is that because they are readily digestible, they inherently contribute blood sugar issues—and, elevated blood sugar over time can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. Because RTE cereals generally lack protein and traditional fats they may be questioned as the building block of a sustaining breakfast, especially for children. The Center of Disease Control estimates that one of every three Caucasian children and one of every two children who are Black, Hispanic, Native-American, or Asian-American born in the United States after the year 2000 will develop diabetes. Boxed cereal can put children at risk of mid-morning hunger and fatigue and set the stage for caffeinated soft drinks and overeating later in the day.


The glycemic index (GI) is one way to assess RTE cereals. It was developed by D.J. Jenkins in 1981 to measure (on a scale of 0 to 100+, with glucose=100) the rise of blood sugar after ingesting a specific food. The glycemic index of a low-sugar breakfast cereal can exceed many of the high-sugar varieties: What elevates blood sugar is not just the sugar content of a cereal but also how the grains are processed to make them more quickly digestible. Rolling, flaking, puffing, and cooking (as in gelatinized oatmeal flakes) makes the starch in grains readily accessible to digestive enzymes and thus quickly digestible. Starch converts to simple glucose molecules more rapidly than fructose/glucose sugar.


Many favorite low-sugar cereals have high glycemic indices, which means that eaten alone, they can elevate blood sugar to leave behind hunger,hypoglycemia, and fatigue. This is because any process that alters the botanical structure of whole grains—rolling, flaking, puffing, milling, and cooking (as in the gelatinization of oat flakes)—renders carbohydrates more digestible. In so doing, the digestive system is called upon to do less work and expend relatively less energy in processing food, so glucose enters the blood stream with greater speed. This is why the blood sugar impact of a breakfast cereal cannot be gauged by its sugar content alone. Puffing oats for Cheerios or rice for Rice Krispies and Rice Chex; flaking corn for Corn Flakes; and shredding wheat for Shredded Wheat are all examples. Several ideas are illustrated in the table below: (1) low-sugar cereals, the first column, can have higher GIs than sugar-laden varieties listed, center; (2) aside from sugar, the degree of botanical degradation of a grain, in this case oats, (the first three cells of the right-most portion of the table), affects GI; and (3) simply puffing brown rice for rice cakes can increase the GI by 60% (last two table entries). The key idea is that just because a RTE cereal is low in sugar does not mean it will have a moderate effect on blood sugar.


Cheerios741Frosted Flakes5511Steel-Cut Oats420
Rice Krispies823Raisin Bran6620Old-Fash. Oats500
Corn Flakes922Fruit Loops6913Instant Oatmeal660
Shredded Wheat840Coco Pops7711Rice Cakes800
Rice Chex892Corn Pops8014Brown Rice500

Cooking also affects the GI of rolled grains such as rolled oats. Raw rolled oats (used in cookies) have a lower GI than when cooked. This is because, while starch granules are not water soluble, they easily absorb water and swell when heated. The structure is then altered in a process known as gelatinization. When gelatinized, as when raw rolled oats are transformed by water and heat into gelatinous oatmeal, the surface area of starch granules becomes greatly exposed to digestive enzymes. This increases the speed of digestion and absorption, resulting in an elevated glycemic response. Oatmeal is best topped with butter, a poached egg, cream, milk, nuts…any protein/fat combination of your choosing that will contain the blood sugar effect so that you are not left hungry by mid-morning.


Copyright 2011

Barcodes to Fight Obesity

Why not use barcodes to shift preferences away from unhealthy, processed foods toward whole food choices?  We eat what is cheap.  Barcodes could change this, just as we tax alcohol and cigarettes.  Barcodes could be used to tax unhealthy food choices with revenues recycled to local farmers growing foods in a sustainable manner.


With modern technology and the current composition of agriculture—still heavily weighted toward small family farms that earn only modest agricultural receipts—we do have in place the tools and the agricultural profile to implement, without major dislocation, many of these ideas.




Barcodes, whose initial digits already code the country of origin, could be made to code the environmental and health “footprint” of a product.  The glycemic index as well as the amount of sugar, transfats, chemical ingredients, and GMOs could be coded, with products taxed accordingly.  We eat what is cheap.  Taxing to make products that foster diabetes, metabolic stress, and chronic disease less attractive would discourage demand.  It would also shift more and more purchasing power toward healthier whole-food choices, particularly if ways could be found to reduce the cost of organic, whole-foods.  One way that this could be achieved is to direct the tax revenue from barcode-levied unhealthy processed foods, recycling these funds to subsidize organic, sustainable farming.


Agricultural Profile…The Reason Barcodes Could Work. When we think of U.S. agriculture, we may think of the vast acreage tied up in modern agri-business and commercial farming efforts.   While it is true that much of our food today is produced on these mega-farms, small family farms are still the bedrock of our agricultural system.  According to the latest Census of Agriculture (2007, released 4 Feb, 2009), 90% of all farms are still owned by individual farmers.  In addition, farm receipts for the majority of farms total less than $10,000 annually.1  This profile suggests that most U.S. farms are small, rather flexible production units.  With the backing of federal subsidies and shifts in consumer demand, this broad network of small, individual farmers might adjust rather quickly and well to a growing demand for organic, sustainable, locally-grown foods.


Measuring GDP to value “product” in the home. Support for sustainable organic foods and humane animal husbandry does not reach far enough.  We need also to teach cooking skills and give value to home cooking.  The government’s GDP may measure earned, reported income and product, but it imputes nothing for quality of life or the value added to goods that are associated with man-hours contributed at home.  The GDP adds no value for foods grown in family gardens or prepared in home kitchens [nor the hours that parents spend on providing childcare, for that matter2 ].  Growing food, buying from local organic farmers, and taking time to cook meals at home mean that we gain the added value of knowing where our food comes from.  And, the kitchen gives us a creative outlet right in our own homes (see The Gift of the Kitchen, January, 2010).  We need government statistics to measure quality of life behaviors that encourage connection to food, family and better health.


“Fairness.” We like to pride ourselves on our free market economy, but in reality we live in an agricultural system that is neither “free” nor a real market.3  The government not only uses tax revenues from individuals to pay farmers not to produce, but also offers subsides to (GMO) grain and soybean farmers to compensate them for depressed market prices .   It seems to me that the government is really subsidizing, through our commercial food system, our own medical system. Aren’t our tax dollars supporting a “double-dip” structure that benefits medical care—through subsides that allow for cheap food that fosters chronic disease AND through our subsidized national health care system?  Is it any wonder that medical care is the prime growth sector in today’s otherwise lackluster economy?


Projected upon this canvas, the thought of using barcode-taxing to shift incentives away from fractured, commercial foods toward whole foods grown sustainably is hardly a wild proposal.  Given the lobby-generated bias in Washington that creates an “upside-down” Food Pyramid, as well as subsides for GMO crops and school lunch programs saturated with processed foods, attempts to shift demand and production toward healthier choices seem both reasonable and justified.   Barcodes can be used to educate consumers, shifting demand toward healthier food choices.  And, our vast network of small family farmers, far from intractable, seems more than able—if led by the nurturing hand of government— to shift more and more of our natural and human resources to the production of “real” food.


Copyright 2011


  1. []
  2. Because we live in a service-based economy, parents are really in the capital investment business.  The quality of childcare determines the quality of our future capital stock. []
  3.  See Joan Dye Gussow, Growing, Older []

Strategies to Avoid Fatty Liver Disease

To read this newsletter in its .pdf  form, click here to download the file: June 2011 Newsletter. Thank you.


As a sequel to my April and May 2011 newsletters on blood sugar and metabolic stress, this a short June piece on the liver. Spring and summer are the perfect seasons to think of revitalizing the liver. Spring brings bitter greens to cleanse the liver following the rich heavy meals of winter. Meanwhile, summer provides antidotes to detoxify and de-stress the liver with its vast array of rainbow-colored fresh, nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits. It is these nutrient-laden whole foods that provide the liver with the tools—vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients—needed to convert toxins for their safe elimination from the body. Because summer also brings a more leisurely pace of living, there is perhaps no better time to alter dietary and lifestyle habits for a healthier liver.

A well-functioning liver is vital to good health because of the many important functions it performs in the body. Among its jobs, the liver helps to regulate blood sugar and the burning of fat; and, it processes and helps the body discard many toxins—drugs, pesticides, food additives and chemicals, environmental toxins, caffeine, alcohol, and toxic metals. Thus, it is the liver that bears the brunt of many of our modern dietary and lifestyle habits.


Over the past weeks in researching blood sugar and reading the lead article in the Spring 2011 Weston A. Price Foundation Journal on fatty liver disease, I think of one primary theme to emphasize in this newsletter—we need to think of the impact of processed foods on the liver.  The key idea to take away from this letter I would summarize as follows:



Our modern diet that relies upon refined carbohydrates and refined vegetable oils—so often consumed in convenience foods—takes a heavy toll on the liver. Refined carbohydrates and omega-6 vegetable oils such as corn, soy, and canola provide concentrated, inflammatory, empty calories but without the fiber (to slow and assist digestion) and essential neutralizing phytonutrient cofactors to allow the liver to do its job well. The speed with which empty calories are consumed—particularly from the sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in soft drinks—exerts an enormously heavy burden on the liver. It is the calorie load, the speed, and the lack of nutritional cofactors needed by the liver to effectively process toxins that underlie the current epidemic of fatty liver disease.


Fatty Liver Diseases

Current research suggests that fatty liver disease is not just a disease troubling alcoholics. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease affects more than 70 million Americans and is fostered by the modern American diet. The following factors are worth enumerating and repeating again. All are particularly detrimental to the liver…


  1. Refined carbohydrates such as sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), especially when consumed as soft drinks. These high-glycemic carbohydrates tax the liver because of the speed with which the liver is forced to deal with the rapid-metabolizing calories and because they lack the nutritional co-factors required by the liver for their processing.
  2. Refined vegetable oils such as corn, soy, safflower, and canola. These are polyunsaturated, inflammatory oils that are subject to oxidative stress/free-radical damage due to their fragile double bonds. As in the case of refined carbohydrates, processing strips refined oils of their natural protective antioxidants.
  3. The relative absence of choline in the modern diet. Choline, found in egg yolks, liver, and organ meats, is necessary for the proper transport of fats from the liver.


The dynamics of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is clearly explained in A Silent Epidemic of Nutritional Balance from the Spring 2011 WAPF Journal, which is available on line at If you do not have time or the inclination to read it in its entirety, much of the flavor is captured in the following excerpts:


Over seventy million Americans may have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The disease begins with the accumulation of fat within the cells of the liver, but can progress to inflammation, the development of scar tissue, and in some cases death from liver failure or cancer.

Simple accumulation of fat within the liver generally proceeds without producing any overt symptoms, but it is not necessarily harmless. The liver regulates blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels, plays a critical role in burning fat for fuel, helps eliminate excess nitrogen, contributes to the metabolism of endocrine hormones, stores vitamin A, protects against infections, and detoxifies drugs and environmental toxins.

Any damage to the liver is thus likely to impact whole-body health. Indeed, fatty liver disease increases the risk of cardiovascular disease three-fold in men, fourteen-fold in women, and seven- to ten-fold in type one diabetics. Fatty liver is thus a dangerous silent epidemic, and… it is likely caused by the overabundance of calorie-rich, nutrient-poor refined foods and the banishment of traditional sources of choline like liver and egg yolks from the modern American menu.

…numerous studies have confirmed the relation between fatty liver, obesity and diabetes…the disease is present in up to three-quarters of obese people. Similar studies have shown that 45 percent of type-one diabetics and 70-85 percent of type-two diabetics have fatty liver. Moreover, even in the absence of diabetes and obesity, those with the lowest insulin sensitivity have the highest accumulation of liver fat.

…fatty liver disease occurs in two distinct stages. In the first…fat accumulates within the cells of the liver. In the second, inflammation, the proliferation of fibrous connective tissue (fibrosis), and eventually the formation of scar tissue (cirrhosis) ensue.

The totality of the evidence suggests that the initial accumulation of fat in the liver is triggered by nutritional imbalance…fatty liver seems to occur as a result of too much energy flowing through the liver without sufficient nutrients to process it. The accumulation of delicate fats, especially polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) [like corn, soy, safflower, and canola oils]increases the vulnerability of the liver to oxidative and inflammatory insults in the form of infections, toxins, or poor metabolism. These insults launch the progression from the first stage of simple fat accumulation to the second stage of inflammation.

The key culprits, then, are nutrient-poor refined foods, choline deficiency and polyunsaturated oils.

…dietary protein, methionine, and choline …protect against sucrose-induced fatty liver disease. [This suggests, just as protein “anchors” alcohol to prevent a hangover, it is also a necessary component when we eat sugar. See May 2009 Newsletter on sugar cravings].

…unrefined foods supply a wide variety of interacting vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional substances that aided in the metabolism of the sugar, helping the liver to burn it for energy, store much of the excess as glycogen, and export any fat made from it into the bloodstream… supplying extra choline in the diet provides powerful protection again fatty liver, whether induced by sugar, alcohol, or fat.

…while there are special roles of including egg yolks, liver, and other organ meats, and spinach in the diet, as well as avoiding polyunsaturated oils and refined foods—especially sugar—there is likely to be a wide range of different diets that can promote liver health. What they all have in common is that they are ancestral diets, rich in nutrient-dense foods that we are well-adapted to…The emergence of fatty liver as a silent epidemic in the modern era is a call to nourish our livers with age-old traditional wisdom as we pursue the vibrant health of our ancestors.

Strategies for a Healthy Liver


The primary way to support the liver is through a diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods. Bitter greens, now in season, are especially effective in cleansing the liver. Other strategies to support the liver include consuming fresh, organic (to avoid pesticides) fruits and vegetables and organic animal proteins rich in choline, while avoiding sugar, HFCS, refined vegetable oils and other refined, processed foods. So, too, will eating hearty meals early in the day, with a light supper consumed at least several hours before bedtime time. The liver cleanses the blood between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. when it is at its peak activity. Late-night eating prevents the liver from doing its job efficiently and well (see November 2010 newsletter, The Body Clock).


Another aspect of liver health involves avoiding modern environment and lifestyle toxins. Do we give sufficient thought to how convenience foods combine with drugs and medications compound, creating an ever greater toxic load for the liver? Layer upon layer, toxins that burden the liver are everywhere—from synthetic prescription drugs, over-to-counter medications such as Tylenol and Nyquil, caffeine, alcohol, food additives and food colorings, pesticides in foods, and chemicals in cleaning agents.


Summer provides a time to pause, take stock, and alter dietary and lifestyle habits. Try to read labels and think of the factors in your present lifestyle that might be placing an unnecessary load on your liver. If you do not eat them already, try some cleansing bitter greens and think of shopping for fresh, organic food at a local farmers’ market. For sustainably grown foods, see and to find a local farmers’ market, go to


June Recipe: Watercress Bisque


  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 parsnip, chopped fine
  • 8 cups filtered water or rich vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 bunches watercress with stems, washed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons light miso or umeboshi vinegar, to taste


Simmer onion and parsnip in stock 20-30 minutes, covered, until very tender. Add watercress and simmer 3-5 minutes, uncovered. Add miso and puree with an immersion wand or in a blender. Serve with favorite garnishes. This is delicious topped with a broiled or poached fillet of fish.
(For a thicker soup, add some cooked grain with the miso and puree. Or, add 4 T. agar flakes when cooking, for increased mineral nutrition.)

Source: Pathways4Health, derived from Elson Haas.

Reading Resources



Copyright 2011,




Omega-6/Omega-3 Ratios of Nut and Seed Oils

Nut and seed oils with a high omega-6/omega-3 ratio are inflammatory.  If you are suffering from pain and inflammation, you may want to consider cutting back on your intake of refined vegetable oils, refined flour, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup.  See “Managing Inflammation” on the Food and Health tab.

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

Unsaturated Oils: Structure and Food Sources

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

Composition of Nut and Seed Oils


Nut or Seed:


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

May 2009: Sugar Cravings

To read this newsletter in pdf, click   May09

Kicking the Sugar Habit

Change ultimately, at least, brings with it a renewed sense of hope. Fortunately, at least one viable way we can change and exert control is to spend more time in the kitchen preparing wholesome meals that can nourish both our body and our creative spirit. We can make shopping and cooking an adventure; we can make a conscious effort to read food labels and make better choices; we can tap into the glories of a local farmer’s market or CSA; and, we can explore ways to cut back on our consumption of sugar. Because sugar fosters depression and anxiety, suppresses the immune system, and leads to a host of acute and chronic diseases, if we do little else to help ourselves in today’s world, thinking of ways to cut back on sugar can help us feel better and improve our health. Continue reading »

Apr’09: Sugar, A Depleting Chemical

The first thing to do in the face of any health trouble
—in the realm of food—
Eliminate white sugar and dairy….Annemarie Colbin, PhD

Part 1…Sugar, A Borrowing, Depleting “Food”

Systems theory…Every part is vital to the whole;
The whole is greater than the sums of the parts.

If you are a seasoned reader of this newsletter, you know well by now that whole foods are systems and that the human body is also a system. You also know that whole foods as systems nurture and complement the system that is the human body.

Families, too, are systems. Have you ever noticed when one family member is absent, the dynamics change? The energy feels different.

Pets also play a key role in a family system. A puppy or a kitten becomes an integral personality, bringing its own charm, warmth, and playful energy. Pets elevate our spirits. They give us company, companionship, and even an attuned sense of understanding. We get used to their cheery presence and come to rely upon them for the comfort they bring.

Sadly, when they pass on and are no longer with us, we miss their vital energy. No longer to be greeted at the door, nor to be trailed with admiration and anticipation throughout the house, we feel empty and hollow. We suffer pangs of loneliness. We grieve. With time, we mourn less and less. We crave their special companionship less and less. We acclimatize, we heal.

Inviting sugar into our lives is a bit like falling in love with and coming to rely upon a pet: Sugar lifts our spirits, brings us comfort, calms1 our anxieties, and adds its own extra energy to life. We like it. It makes us feel good no matter what trials we face each day. Similarly, when it is no longer in our diet, we feel empty: we crave its instant energy, its calming effect, and the “feel good” lift that it brings to our brain and to our digestive core-emotional center. When we give up sugar, our body keeps looking for it. Then, it begins gradually to adjust to life without it. Along the way, we may suffer some healing reactions as we try to acclimatize, ultimately feeling comfortable in its absence.

Sorting out Sugar
Sugar has a long and fascinating history, first as an early “medicine” and later as a major commercial force that helped shape naval trade routes, colonialism, and the growth of empires. Sugar’s colorful history makes for delicious reading, replete with romantic and gallant stories of greed, imperialism, human sacrifice, and conquest.2

Sugar is a powerful force—something we might guess from its history—and a fact that modern science can verify. Nancy Appleton, Ph. D, has compiled and documented a thorough and creative list of 146 ways that sugar is injurious to our health ( While her well-documented summary is instructive and commendable for its depth and breadth, if you are anything like me, you will not remember it, nor will you be inspired to change your behavior or sugar eating habits from a single cursory reading.

If we are lucky, we might remember a few general concepts… that sugar can alter our DNA3 and upset our brain chemistry. Sugar can also set the stage for a variety of acute and chronic diseases because it disrupts the body’s immune,4 digestive, and endocrine systems. These systems work synergistically and interdependently to support each other, but to operate efficiently they require the proper balance of minerals. Sugar creates an acidic condition in the body and undermines the mineral relationships that are required for good health.

But, as I contemplate sugar, what interests me most and draws me to write about it are not facts like these but rather the bigger-picture questions: Why do we crave sugar? Why, after its initial “high,” does it leave us feeling depressed and hollow? What is it about sugar—this powerful force that altered the course of history and for which some 20 million people, mostly slaves, perished in its early days of harvesting and refining—that makes the still-Herculean efforts to grow, process, and refine it seem so worthwhile? And, why is it detrimental to our health?

For me, perhaps most intriguing of all is this question: Why does it (like dairy) cause a physical reaction when we stop using it? When we suffer headaches, skin eruptions, tiredness, fever, or mucus discharges, yet at our core, still feel generally all right with the world, what is our body trying to tell us?

Nature’s Gifts of Whole Foods and the Sweet Taste
Whole foods nurture us. “Whole,” “health,” and “holy” all stem from the same word root. Whole foods are benevolent. They surrender to us their mysterious life force energy, along with vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, fiber, and water. And, they provide our senses with delectable fragrances, tastes, and textures. Sugar cane, with its fiber, vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients and water offer the same complement for people living in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Nature seems to have packaged sugar in the form of a tough fiber-cane (where 17 feet of cane are required to make just one cup of sugar!) in order to insure it would be used sparingly by people in tropical zones as an occasional and pleasant treat. Because cane is perishable and cannot weather long days of travel, it seems doubtful sugar was intended for people in the northern latitudes.5 Plants are the first to adapt to a climate and climate change. By eating local, seasonal foods, plants help us stay attuned to our environment. (See Resources tab: Plants as Adaptogens, providing anti-oxidants and phyto-nutrients).

Nature also had our best interests at heart by endowing us with a plethora of sweet taste buds. We might suspect She intended by this gift to steer us not only toward non-poisonous foods in our environment, since sweet foods are generally not poisonous, but also toward sweet foods to nurture our powers of digestion and assimilation (the Earth/Spleen-Stomach/Sweet Phase of Chinese 5-Phase theory6 ). But, Nature’s beautifully-devised plan to safe-guard our interests through the taste sweet began to unravel under our own human ingenuity as we devised ways to process cane juice into refined white sugar. With time, sugar became affordable for most people throughout the developed world. As we learned to out-smart Nature, did we, in fact, outsmart ourselves?

Only Capital and Industrial Precision Can Turn Whole Cane to White Crystals
Driven by a sweet tooth and the “good feeling” sugar brings, creative entrepreneurs found ways to satisfy our cravings for sweets by producing refined sugar in great quantities. Beginning in the 17th century, major sugar-cane planting efforts on large plantation farms and elaborate boiling houses were initiated in tropical growing areas, which, with slave labor, began to turn sugarcane juice into raw sugar. It was a capital-intensive, arduous, and risky process, requiring armies of field laborers; massive mill stones for grinding the cane; lime and animal blood and bones for skimming and refining; and skilled technicians for the boiling and filtering process. To make sugar required precise cooking times as well as exacting temperatures, which were difficult to control given the crude methods of the time. Because good cane required just the right amount of rainfall to grow but not mold and because cane was so perishable once harvested, successful sugar refining on the early tropical plantations took on the flavor of the most sophisticated of modern assembly lines. The process was time-sensitive, required discipline, and demanded teams of skilled and unskilled laborers that worked in teams or “gangs.” Even in its earliest 17th century stage, the sugar plantation was an “industrial process” that separated production from consumption and worker from his tools.7

Now, even with today’s up-to-date technology seen in the modern sugar mill, sugar refining is a complicated process that involves revolving shredding knives, massive rollers, lime filtration, multiple-effect evaporators, vacuum pans, a centrifuge, and then final-stage evaporation and bleaching with sulfur dioxide. Whether by old or new technologies, sugar making is far from a backyard/cottage industry.

What remains of the original cane is a pulverized, refined, bleached simple chemical, sucrose. Sucrose, C12-H22-O11, stripped of 90% of its original cane nutritive essence, offers only calories. Without human tinkering and innovation, we would never have sugar, a preservative8 and cheap energy source, so integrated and entrenched at our dining table and in our processed foods of today.

So, what is wrong with sugar? Refined sugar breaks Nature’s rules. It is probably the furthest thing from a whole food that we could ever imagine. It violates the whole-foods concept and the major criteria for food selection: fresh, natural, real, seasonal, local, balanced, and in harmony with tradition. Refined sugar is really a highly concentrated anti-food, and the epitome of non-wholeness. It fosters acute disease by depressing the immune system, and it fosters chronic disease by upsetting the delicate interplay and intricate balancing of the endocrine-immune-digestive/assimilation systems of the body. Sugar is so powerful that its chronic use can also alter DNA. Sugar addiction is now thought to be a “gateway” to alcohol and other intoxicating drugs.9

So, Why Do We Love Sugar?
The simple answer is that we like the taste and that sugar makes us feel good. And, it appears to do this in far more powerful ways than by simply elevating our blood sugar/energy levels.10 Sugar feeds a glucose “shot” to the brain that alters brain chemistry, creating the sugar “high.” The military has long taken advantage of this, by feeding sugar to soldiers before battle. Sugar so powerfully affects body-brain chemistry that, with time, it can create addiction similar to a narcotic.11

And, I believe yet another, clue about why we desire sugar relates to where in the body we “digest” it. The small intestine, a key emotional center, is where sugar is ultimately absorbed by the digestive system. Sugar, sucrose, is essentially a pre-digested substance. It requires no chewing or real digestion, so it travels quickly to the intestines, “the organ most similar to the brain” in terms of its neurotransmitters and hormones.12 Here, as sugar is absorbed through the intestinal wall, the “gut-brain” gives “happy, calming” messages to the central nervous system and the brain. Many scientists now believe our “gut-brain,” with its elaborate interactive network of some 100 million neurons, carries even greater weight than our “head brain” in determining our moods. Interestingly, the gut produces psychoactive benzodiazepines, which are types of chemicals that are the active ingredients in the drugs Valium and Xanax.13
As we consider sugar and health, in a broad and general context, sugar’s link to disease relates to its “non-wholeness” and its concentrated nature. Sugar acts as a shock to the system. Its glucose is absorbed through the intestinal wall into the blood stream, which requires a critically balanced chemistry to protect the brain and to sustain life. Nature did not foresee sugar; she did not equip us adequately for the long-term “emergency” efforts required to “right” our blood chemistry after a large sugar dose. Neither the pancreas, maker of insulin, nor other detoxifying and elimination systems of the body were designed to deal over time with “sugar overload.” The body’s limited and over-taxed emergency systems will eventually tire, paving the way for chronic diseases linked to sugar. Fortunately, the body has an inherent and remarkable ability to renew, repair, and restore itself, through what is traditionally called a “healing crisis.” (Discussion, pp.6-7).

Considering specific ways that sugar fosters disease, we can name at least three:

First, sugar’s empty calories “crowd out” and displace real natural, nutrient-dense whole foods.

Second and even more harmful is the fact that, unlike whole foods that lend their nutrients, sugar borrows from the body’s stores of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients just to metabolize its concentrated empty calories. Sugar is so depleting, in fact, that people survive longer on a fast with no food at all than on a diet limited just to sugar.14

Third, sugar is so ingrained within our food system that it allows us to keep up a fast pace in a way that can undermine traditional forms of emotional connection. In this way, a sugar-charged life can be both physically15 and emotionally depleting. Sugar, as an easy pre-digested source of calories that needs no chewing, allows us to eat on the run, in our car, at our desk…any place. We never have to stop. When our energy flags, we can reach for sugar. It provides empty energy that keeps us going, but in an artificial way.

Just think how easy it is to obtain calories throughout the course of the day at any take-out, vendor, or even a newsstand. Sugar is everywhere. With sugar at our ready call, it is not necessary to return home to refuel with family or friends around the dining table. Sugar satisfies our calorie needs but it may not recharge our emotional battery.

Ironically, if the modern on-the-go lifestyle makes us feel frazzled, less “centered” and connected, and emotionally depleted, we will naturally crave a sugar “fix.” We can rely on it for its momentary calming effect, its “feel-good” vibration registered by the “head-brain,” and its soothing effects on our “gut-brain” emotional center. Because sugar provides a quick, easy, inexpensive, and multi-dimensional lift to the mind/body, the sugar habit is easily entrenched and difficult to “kick.”

The “Healing Crisis:” The Body’s Effort To Eliminate Sugar’s Toxins
When we alter our diet to eliminate sugar (or alcohol, coffee, tobacco, dairy, or heavy proteins)16 the body, when sufficiently strong, will begin to cleanse itself. Reactions to expect once sugar is cut out of the diet may last up to five days and may include fatigue, sleepiness, and/or depression.

Healing reactions are a positive sign. It is the hand of healing, not disease, that is at work. The key idea is to recognize these symptoms as a constructive healing effort, when the body is trying to cleanse itself of internal toxins: “A healing crises is an acute reaction resulting from the ascendancy of nature’s healing forces over disease conditions. Its tendency is toward recovery…in conformity to nature’s constructive principle.”17 To support the healing/cleansing effort, requires patience. It also requires understanding and willpower to resist sugar, as well as any attempt to suppress symptoms through the use of medications.

Interestingly, it is only when the body is sufficiently strengthened by supportive foods and a healthy lifestyle that it is able to undertake the job of expelling toxins and residues left from sugar. Therefore, when sugar is eliminated, healing reactions may not be immediate.

How can we know symptoms relate to healing and not disease? Symptoms are a sign of healing (as to opposed illness) if, before the symptoms begin, you feel strong and if, during the reaction, you feel a positive inner sense of well-being that you are all right deep within the core of your body.18

The severity and duration of a healing crisis will depend in part on the length of time and the amount of sugar that was consumed. It will also depend upon the speed with which sugar is cut from the diet, whether you go “cold turkey” or use a more gradual approach.

If I cut out sugar, what happens after a momentary splurge? Fortunately, we do not have to fear the birthday celebration, the holiday feast, or the wedding cake. Once a strong and vital system is restored and the organs of elimination are functioning well, a day or two of deviation will not trigger a healing reaction. The worst that can happen…you may crave sugar for a day or two afterward.19

Resources for Further Reading:
Peter Macinnis, Bittersweet: The Story of Sugar.
Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History.
William Dufty, Sugar Blues.
Judith J. Wurtman, Managing Your Mind and Mood Through Food.
Marc David, The Slow-Down Diet.
Annemarie Colbin, Food and Healing
Henry Lindlahr, Philosophy of Natural Therapeutics
Paul Pitchford, Healing With Whole Foods

Next month, Part Two: Strategies for Kicking the Sugar Habit.

April Recipes: Sugar-Free Sweet Treats

Coconut-Covered Date/Nut Balls
2 cups medjool dates (pitted and soaked 30 minutes)
1 cup almonds, pecans, or walnuts, soaked in 2 cups water overnight, drained
1 ½ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 t. cinnamon
½ t. vanilla

In a food processor, add drained dates and nuts and pulse until finely chopped.
Add 1 cup coconut along with the cinnamon, and vanilla and pulse until mixed.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and kneed. Roll ball to desired size. Roll in extra coconut.
Keeps well in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Source: Raw Living Foods

Copyright 2009

  1. Judith Wurthman, Managing Your Mind and Mood Through Food. []
  2. See Resource Readings, at end. []
  3. “Human genes remember a sugar hit for two weeks, with prolonged poor eating habits capable of permanently altering DNA.” Bad Eating Habits Can Alter DNA,, 1.19.09. “Human genes remember a sugar hit for two weeks, with prolonged poor eating habits capable of permanently altering DNA.” Bad Eating Habits Can Alter DNA,, 1.19.09. []
  4. A bottle of soda can depress the immune system for up to six hours. []
  5. We go against nature, too, when we in northern climates consume tropical foods during the dead of winter: According to John Matsen, N.D., tropical fruits depress the body’s efforts to make its own vitamin D and calcium because the combination of sugar and potassium in tropical fruits signals the body that there is plentiful vitamin D available from abundant sunshine. Besides their cooling nature, this offers yet another reason to avoid tropical foods in the dreary months of winter. []
  6. See February09 Newsletter []
  7. Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power, 52. []
  8. Refined sugar is so denatured, there is nothing to spoil or go rancid. []
  9. Professor Bart Hoebel, Princeton University, December 4, 2008. []
  10. “…for the vast majority of people, changes in brain chemistry are far more important in their food/mind/mood response than changes in blood sugar.” Judith J. Wurtman, Ph.D., “Food for Thought (And Mood)”, New Age Journal, March/April 1987. []
  11. William Dufty, Sugar Blues, 43. []
  12. Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz, You: The Owner’s Manual, 188. []
  13. Marc David, The Slow-Down Diet, 72 []
  14. Dufty, 138. []
  15. We might begin to rely on sugar’s convenience as a crutch, a bit like we do with antibiotics. Sugar and antibiotics both allow us to keep going at an unnaturally fast pace, while postponing rest and sleep. []
  16. Symptoms of healing when these other factors are eliminated from the diet may include general fatigue; aches and pains; fever and chills; headache; excessive perspiration; and/or mucus discharges. []
  17. Lindlahr, Philosophy of Natural Therapeutics, 154. []
  18. John Garvy, quoted in Food and Healing, 218. []
  19. For further reading, see Annemarie Colbin, Henry Lindlahr, and Paul Pitchford, the Resources list. []