Category Archives: health

This Sugar Infographic is Timely Because of the Movie “Fed Up”

This infographic on sugar consumption in the United States is from OnlineNursingProgram.com and it is timely because of the release of the movie “Fed Up” – a movie about obesity and too much sugar in the average American diet.

Nursing Your Sweet Tooth

• Since 1990, sugar intake has increased by 40 pounds a year, and the obesity rate has increased by 20 percent.

• The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9.5 teaspoons of sugar a day. The average adult consumes 22 teaspoons, while the average child takes in 32 teaspoons.

• The average American will consume 3,500 pounds of sugar in his lifetime, or about 3 pounds a week. (That’s close to two tons of sugar in a lifetime.)

Also, sugar has been shown to be a major risk factor in cardiac disease.

Sugar is addictive. I can speak from personal experience. I eliminated it from my diet a few years ago and now I find that the less I have, the less I want. Please join me in eliminating simple sugars from your diet – if you haven’t already.

Finally, the trailer for the movie “Fed Up” is below:

Hardy Perennial Plant Suggestions for your Acreage or Small Farm

There is a very remarkable nursery in Northeastern Nebraska, near the farm where I grew up, called HH Wild Plums Inc. It was founded by the famous (but not as famous as he should be) horticulturalist plant finder, Harlan Hamernik. He passed away tragically in 2012, and I wrote up a brief tribute to him here.

Though Hamernik introduced many new plants to the gardeners across the U.S. over his lifetime, he focused in his later years on neutraceuticals, or, healthy edibles and medicinals, some of which were used by Native Plains Indians. Especially, this interest was from those sources which were in the form of perennials, shrubs, and trees – something the Midwest is not known for in our current day and age, but were key to the health of the nomadic tribes which preceded us.

Today, I interviewed Tammy Melcher of “HH Wild Plums” to get an update on this nursery which was founded by Harlan Hamernik for the purpose of promoting sales and the popularity of these hardy edible plants which he studied and discovered. She and plant propagator-grower, Lori Pfeifer, are instrumental in their small operation.

My impression of Harlan from personal experience, was that he was an incredibly intuitive plantsman, so readers, pay attention.

First, I asked Tammy to list five plants and a couple of trees that she would recommend to farmers/landowners who would like to incorporate edible or medicinal perennials into their farm, either as a hobby, or as a value-added crop or food product. Note that this list works in Nebraska, but most of these plants are extremely hardy and would grow well in much of the U.S., especially the Midwest and Upper Midwest.

Here is her list:
1. Aronia (8-10′ shrub)
2. Crandall’s Clove Currant (6×6′ shrub)
3. Redleaf Rose (7×7′ shrub)
4. Elderberry (7×7′ shrub)
5. Serviceberry (10×10′ shrub)
6. Tree: American Hazelnut (18′ tall)
7. Tree: Dwarf Chinkapin Oak (10-15′ tall)

There was no doubt that Tammy was most enthused about the Aronia plant which produces the common named “chokeberry”. She’d just returned from an Aronia conference in Omaha, and the awareness of this plant is catching on a bit, but, she said, “ninety percent of the public doesn’t know about it.” In general, the dark blue, purple and black berries contain high levels of antioxidants, making them superberries, or superfoods. We all know that blueberries are a superfood, but, according to Tammy, the Aronia berry contains three times the amount of antioxidants that blueberries do. (Note there is a current question about the benefits of antioxidants in this past year’s news and studies.) Indians used these berries as an ingredient in Pemmican. High tannin levels make these berries tart, thus the name “chokeberry”. The bright side of this is that birds tend to leave them alone, as opposed to other berries which you need to cover with netting, or pick before the birds do.

Incidentally, Tammy was not aware of sending Aronia plants to Colorado, and thought they would do very well here on the front range, so Colorado readers take note.

Three varieties of Aronia which Tammy recommends are Black Aronias: Aronia melanocarpa ‘Galicjanka’; Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’; and, Aronia melanocarpa ‘McKenzie’. ‘Galicjanka’ is a cultivar from Poland which tolerates drier soil conditions; ‘Viking’ is from Scandinavia and produces very large fruits; and, ‘McKenzie’ was produced at North Dakota State which has extra-large berries, and is drought and cold tolerant. These shrubs need chill hours so don’t grow in the South. They are drought tolerant once established, and they produce beautiful fall color.

Aronia berries are used in smoothies, salsas, jellies, breads and muffins, and for wine. A supplement form is available which uses a powder to create an extract. A company in Omaha, named “Superberries” owned by Kenny Sailors, uses Aronia berries to make products such as gummy chews, frozen berries, and concentrate. Also, according to Tammy, the Black Squirrel Winery in Council Bluffs, Iowa, makes a great wine using Aronia berries.

The next shrub on Tammy’s list is Crandall’s Clove Currant, or Ribes odoratum ‘Crandall’. This shrub also produces a black medicinal berry which is high in antioxidants and polyphenols. This grows in rich well-drained clay soil to plant hardiness zone 4.

The Redleaf rose is a beautiful hardy shrub rose producing a hip rich in Vitamin C. I have personally grown this in my yard and love the iridescent blue-green sheen to its leaves. If you grow it, as an added bonus you will occasionally have a volunteer pop up in your yard. Also, Rosa Pomifera, or the apple rose, is a good hardy choice which produces good fruit. One can make tea from the rose hips of either plant.

Elderberries, or Sambucus species, are another hardy shrub which produces a black berry that is high in Vitamin C and antioxidants. These grew wild when I was a child and I used to help my grandmother pick them to make jelly. I’ve personally picked them from road ditches to make a pretty darn good pie, if you don’t mind the seeds. Even better, you can make a combination berry pie such as elderberry-cherry. Elderberries grow across the U.S., but are less drought-tolerant.

The Serviceberry, or Amelanchier canadensis, produces large black berries that are loved by both humans and birds. They make delicious jams and pies. A good variety is alnifolia ‘Parkhill’ which is a dwarf.

Next, the two trees on Tammy’s list.

The American Hazlenut is formally named Corylus Americana. It is a small tree which produces an edible nut. It likes afternoon shade and requires two trees for nut production.

The Dwarf Chinkapin Oak is a great native shrub oak. By 3-4 years of age, it produces a nut which is valued by wildlife. These nut producers are about 15-18 feet tall, but can be trained shorter. Hamernik would collect this tree’s seeds from the wild, as is true of many of the plants which Wild Plums sells.

HH Wild Plums Inc. has a great catalogue online plus, they will be happy to send you a nice spiral bound hardcopy, such as the one I have lying next to my computer as I type this. There are many, many more varieties of trees and shrubs, along with unusual varieties of perennials, annuals, and vines available from their nursery.

If you have a favorite hardy native edible, please let us know about it in the comments.

Photo credit: Purple Aronia berries, by Konjica.

World Food Day: Eat and Act Like a Coloradan

Today is named “World Food Day” and numerous online and hard copy publishers have their version of a story about wiping out hunger, what is wrong with the food and agriculture system, and how to fix it.

This is becoming a well-worn story, now that everyone’s come to the realization that there is more than enough food in the world and that hunger stems from other problems such as political mismanagement, economics of individuals and individual nations, waste, storage, distribution, infrastructure deficiencies, requires regional solutions, and the like.

In addition, each day more and more NGOs and institutions announce that they’ve set out to solve the “how to feed the world in the future” problem, as their newly appointed goal, which, while this is a noble cause for those of us suffering of plenty, often the wheel just ends up getting reinvented.

So, I shall go against the mainstream approach to this Food Day 2013 by talking about obesity, which is equally unhealthy for humans.

Since obesity is the number one food problem in America and much of the world, my Boulderite version of World Food Day is to present a newly released book explaining why Coloradans are consistently the thinnest in the nation. The book, “State of Slim: Fix Your Metabolism and Drop 20 Pounds in 8 Weeks on the Colorado Diet” is by James O. Hill and Holly R. Wyatt.

It’s all about lifestyle, activity level, and exercise, says co-author, Dr. James Hill. Add a mind-set to eat healthily, and we’ve got a winning combination of daily values here in Colorado that really works.

The authors advocate adopting the Colorado lifestyle, which means doing physical activity 70 minutes a day, six days a week — for the rest of your life, far more than the CDC’s current recommendation of 150 minutes per week. This, they say, will reset your body’s metabolism.

Since I live in Boulder, and am typical in this lifestyle practice that he’s advocating, I say that this amount of exercise each week simply expends more calories than sitting, and promotes an emotionally healthy attitude which carries over to the way we eat. It’s an overall consistent value system. I also don’t see this amount of exercise or activity as being a punishment; it is one of the highlights of my day.

People living elsewhere who are thin have also adopted this same “Colorado” active lifestyle, the authors conclude.

Sometimes, it seems like media decries personal responsibility when it comes to obesity. While it is an undeniable problem that big-food knows how to create addictive foods rewarding our brains through using too much salt, fat, and sugar; and, food eaten away from home supplies way too many calories per portion, Hill’s book suggests that by adopting an active lifestyle the rest will follow; and, that there are no easy avenues to weight loss.

Unfortunately, the reality is, for those of us living in the industrialized world, to the great detriment of our health, we’ve engineered activity out of our daily lives. We must now work at engineering it back in, and that is my wish and hope for all of us on this “World Food Day.”

The Editors of Scientific American Take a Stance Against GMO Food Labeling

The September issue of Scientific American is all about food. I’m a subscriber, but unfortunately my issue hasn’t arrived, yet. With article titles like Processed Food: A 2-Million-Year History, Return of the Natives: How Wild Bees Will Save Our Agricultural System, The Truth about Genetically Modified Food, Science Reveals Why Calorie Counts Are All Wrong, and Invasive Species Menu of a World-Class Chef (about eating bugs), needless to say, I’m looking forward to reading my hard copy.

It is a significant development in the world of GMO awareness and journalism, that the Sci-Am editors have written “Labels for GMO Foods Are a Bad Idea – Mandatory labels for genetically modified foods are a bad idea”, telling us that 20-some states now have the issue on ballots. Below, I’ve chosen some excerpts.

Instead of providing people with useful information, mandatory GMO labels would only intensify the misconception that so-called Frankenfoods endanger people’s health [see “The Truth about Genetically Modified Food”]. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization and the exceptionally vigilant European Union agree that GMOs are just as safe as other foods. Compared with conventional breeding techniques—which swap giant chunks of DNA between one plant and another—genetic engineering is far more precise and, in most cases, is less likely to produce an unexpected result. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tested all the GMOs on the market to determine whether they are toxic or allergenic. They are not. (The GMO-fearing can seek out “100 Percent Organic” products, indicating that a food contains no genetically modified ingredients, among other requirements.) … Americans who oppose genetically modified foods would celebrate a similar exclusion. Everyone else would pay a price. Because conventional crops often require morewater and pesticides than GMOs do, the former are usually more expensive. Consequently, we would all have to pay a premium on non-GMO foods—and for a questionable return. … Antagonism toward GMO foods also strengthens the stigma against a technology that has delivered enormous benefits to people in developing countries and promises far more.

Buying GMO free food is easy enough to do already without requiring the industry to label it GMO-Free. Just buy organically labeled food, buy from your favorite local organic farmer, or grow your own.

This Sci-Am article is one more nail in the coffin of those who are anti-GMO activists. In one of the Sci-Am articles, plant molecular biologist Robert Goldberg expresses despair at the fact that the arguments against GM haven’t changed in forty years.

GM activists are anti-science. They are anti- the rest of us. They are the anti-, anti-, anti- crowd in general. Often, they do not understand what they oppose. Genetic modification is the issue that separates the food production illusory idealists from those of us grounded in the real world of economics and science and most important of all, from the actual producer’s level.

One can support the science of GM and still want to see biodiversity, bee health, and farm methods which preserve our soil and keep our water clean.Those are separate issues. Those issues often rely upon policy choices or special interests, but please don’t blame GM science for that.

Some of the formerly religious on this issue are turning around, are starting to get it. We all know the Mark Lynas story, still less than a year old. I was quite surprised to see the prominent environmental site, Grist, recently hire Nathanael Johnson to ease the Grist readers into opening their minds about the debate, and he’s doing a nice job. But disappointingly, just this week I saw NYTs food writer, Mark Bittman, embrace the ongoing anti-, anti- of Tom Phillpot who writes anti- for Mother Jones. Not to be left behind by Grist, Philpott says that he’ll make an exception for using GMOs for oranges (only), following the widely read NYTs piece, “A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA” related to citrus greening, a disease wiping out our U.S. orange crops. And, Michael Pollan continues to reinforce the anti-science thinking of these two influential writers (Philpott and Bittman) via Twitter.

Well, guess what? Citrus greening isn’t the only disease or pest threatening crops that feed humans. New threats surface constantly and they are quietly dealt with by our scientists, too often unappreciated and taken for granted by the vast majority of us.

Let’s face it. Most of us are spoiled rotten when it comes to getting food, as compared to any other age in human history. Most of us are no longer hands on when it comes to growing food. We just drive to the store, make our selection from the infinite choices we find there, come home and prepare it, or eat what others prepare for us. And we like it that way. Yet, somehow we feel entitled to go after the real-world producers who do the sweaty work and take on the countless risks involved that are required to actually grow our food.

Oppose this technology and there is blood on your hands. Science without GM lacks the potential to feed as many people, and feed them as nutritiously. We need to look no further than the very unfortunate Philippines story from two weeks ago, when activists destroyed the GM rice trials of Golden Rice, a rice modified to produce Vitamin A to prevent blindness and death of children in vulnerable populations.

GM technology is advancing rapidly and can help solve food growing challenges such as weather resilience, improved nutrition, yields, pest and disease resilience.

Good environmentalists should support genetic modification. And why should the rest of us pay higher food prices because activists oppose this important science and want GM labeling?

ALSO SEE: Biotech Crop Adoption Around the World and a Statement about GM Activism, and Synthetic Biology – What Does it Mean for Agriculture?

The Importance of Vitamin K2


See the rich gold yolk color in this farm raised egg.
Photo: Flickr CC via snowpea&bokchoi.

Have you ever noticed that farm fresh eggs from free ranging chickens have a deep golden-orange yolk color? Well, if you have, save that thought, because we’re going to come back to it later.

First, let’s review the fairly recent understanding of the importance of Vitamin D, which is quite a remarkable story, in fact, I’d go so far as to say that it is the most valuable information we’ve learned in holistic medicine in recent years.

Vitamin D is normally manufactured by our skin when exposed to sunlight, but in our modern society many of us spend our days indoors, lacking the opportunity to make healthy levels of it. Or, we wear sunscreens which prevent us from making it.

Back in 2005, psychiatrist Dr. John Cannell noticed that a select group of inmates who were receiving Vitamin D supplements all avoided a prison flu epidemic. He noted that low Vitamin D levels, which are prevalent in the wintertime due to lack of sun exposure, also happen to coincide with the influenza season. Because of its known role in healthy immune cell function, the vitamin may very well play an important protective role against infections like influenza.

In our diets, Vitamin D is found in relatively few foods, like mackerel and other fatty fish. As a supplement, it can be taken in the form of D3 gelcaps, or cod liver oil. It gets added as a nutritive supplement to whole milk, labeled Vitamin D milk.

Low levels of Vitamin D are thought to contribute to many diseases, including cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, depression, cardiovascular, autoimmune disorders, increased infections, and more.

“Strong biological and mechanistic bases indicate that vitamin D plays a role in the prevention of colon, prostate, and breast cancers.”—NIH

We now know that many of us have inadequate Vitamin D levels and that the vitamin is so much more important to our health than was previously realized. Having adequate levels means better health, and even longevity.

While most readers here are already well aware of the Vitamin D story, there is a lesser known, but important, part two to that story.

That part two is K2.

It is now understood that Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 work together. Vitamin K2 regulates how Vitamin D works in our bodies. It is K2 that directs calcium into our bones, but prevents it from being deposited into our organs, joints and arteries. It aids in the synthesis of important fats involved in brain metabolism.

Vitamin K2 is also thought to help with blood sugar stability, gene activation, heart and brain health. It plays a preventative role against osteoporosis, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

Inadequate K2 levels are worsened by eating low fat diets which many espouse today, because Vitamin K2 is highest in organ meats, egg yolks, cheese, dairy, and some fermented foods. In addition to diet choices, modern industrialized agriculture, too, plays a role in contributing to this vitamin deficiency.

Industrialized meat systems rely upon grain instead of grass for feeding poultry and cattle. These animals are generally capable of converting K1 into the K2 that we need if raised on a diet of grass, but this conversion doesn’t take place when fed only grain. For example, we know that chickens in the Netherlands are kept outdoors and raised on grass and insects, and eggs from there have twice the amount of K2 as compared to eggs here in the U.S. where they are mostly raised in industrial conditions.

Now, back to that thought you saved about egg yolks.

It is the beta-carotene in butter and egg yolks which is produced by pasture fed animals that gives them a healthy deep golden-orange color. More beta-carotene in the yolk translates to more K2, since it serves as an indicator for how the chicken was raised.

But, before you indulge in eating a golden colored egg yolk to get your healthy K2 vitamin, there is one more thing you need to know. A trick used by industrial poultry is the addition of synthetic dyes such as carotenoids, apoester, and canthaxanthin to chicken feed to make pale egg yolks appear darker in color.

So, just as with the Vitamin D story, you may have to get your K2 in the form of a supplement. It is recommended that you get tested to see whether your levels are low or in the recommended range before and during supplementation. Because both Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 are fat soluble vitamins, we need to be aware that too much supplementation can lead to toxicity.

It’s no wonder that the farmers of yesteryear who received sun exposure as they worked outdoors, and ate diets from their farms with pasture raised animals, including eggs, butter, and all of the organ meats, surprised us by their longevity.

They didn’t sit much, either, did they?

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Additional reading:
Epidemic Influenza And Vitamin D

NIH (National Institutes of Health) Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D

Could K2 be the next vitamin D?