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The Meat Issue

The Sustainable Health Nutshell is at the bottom this time! So scroll down if you can’t wait. :)

First, thank you SO much to all of you that came to my presentation! I felt so loved, and it went really well for a first public speaking experiment, 100% because of your great questions and attention! Thank you. Next time will be even better, promise. ;)

Here are a few interesting facts that people who lobby for corn fed cows don’t really want you to know: 1 cup of lentils has as much iron as 4oz of steak… Vegans have the same occurrence of iron-deficiency anemia as the general population (Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1999)… The average person only needs about 10% of calories from protein to be healthy, and more than 40% can cause severe illness (National Research Council in the Journal of Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 2006)… B12 deficiency is not actually inevitable for vegetarians and is not common… Vegetarians have less osteoporosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and obesity (I can get you the refs if you like :) )… Vegetarian athletes can win triathlons (Dave Scott actually won 6 Ironman Triathlons as a vegan)… Current widely consumed animal breeds genetically have higher levels of hormones than ever before even without injecting them, since they have been bred to have increased muscle size and therefore available ‘meat…’ It is really hard not to get the basic amount of protein needed from non-animal foods if you eat enough calories. Even rice has some protein for heaven’s sake.

This post isn’t saying vegetarianism or veganism is for everyone. Every individual is different. Eating meat isn’t ‘evil’ or anything of that sort. And eating only vegetable foods means having to mindfully eat combinations of foods to get adequate nutrition (adding eggs and milk products makes it worlds easier of course). Something with so much concentrated energy as an animal can be thought of as medicinal, and can be consumed helpfully by people living in harsh environments and by people that have been depleted by trauma, surgery, illness, or intense suffering. One thing is certain, though. The western diet, with large amounts of corn-fed animal protein eaten daily (cows, pigs, and even farmed salmon are forced to eat corn now), is definitely not healthy for anyone, and is terrible for the health of the planet.

For instance, cows are built to eat grass, but feeding them corn makes them fat quickly (“finishing” in feedlots and “marbling” in steak). It also makes them very sick quickly and changes healthy Omega 3 fats to more inflammatory Omega 6 and 9 fats. The same happens to farmed corn-fed salmon (who clearly didn’t evolve to ingest corn). Michael Pollan has done a lovely review of the corn issue in his books and commentaries so I won’t belabor that point here.

As for the wider environmental impacts, consider that 40% of the world’s agriculture output is currently devoted to livestock production, with 33% of arable land going to produce feed- not for people, but for animals we intend to eat. Imagine if instead of doubling that production as expected, we cut those numbers, say, in half (by consuming less meat), and actually used the land to grow food for people. That would certainly make the worry about feeding the growing population much less overwhelming. And sustainable animal consumption would mean decreasing all of the following: water over-consumption, pollution of the oceans, rivers, and groundwater with petroleum-sourced fertilizers of nitrogen and phosphorus, the destruction of coral reefs, and of course rainforest deforestation…

I propose starting to think about what you eat. Which includes the land, water, fertilizer, pesticides, runoff, soil loss and degradation, and oil-driven transport of the grain that goes into making a cow (about 10 pounds of grain to 1 pound of cow muscle). Think of the concentration of hormones and of pesticides from all that grain the cow ate that now sit in that lovely Omega 6 corn marbling (those are largely fat-soluble, remember from my cholesterol post?). Think about an animal that was miserable the last few months of its life (if not its entire life in the case of most chickens) and how that might effect the energy that you’re making part of yourself when you eat that animal. How about thinking of this idea instead: animals living on a farm close to where you live, eating and going about their lives as they instinctively know how to behave… cared for by farmers who sustainably use the land and resources… perhaps someone like Joel Salatin.

That brings me to the Sustainable Health Nutshell: Treat meat as a treat! If you must eat it, choose pastured and local cow, pig, chicken, eggs, milk, etc. Find heirloom varieties if you can (some can even reproduce by themselves still, and most can fight off illness better and may have fewer extra hormones running through them). If you eat meat at most meals now, consider starting by taking it out of your menu one day per week and replacing it with something else interesting from the wealth of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks, websites, and farmers’ market options out there. Eventually aim to eat it once a week or once a month or only on special occasions. These are mindful decisions that will improve both your health and the planet’s.

Smaller Footprints (= more sustainable… and cuter!)

Sustainable Health Nutshell – make health decisions that are also socially impactful: Think about the mess that will be left before you buy something! Nutshell examples: buy local, buy in bulk, use reusable bags and plastic-/BPA-free containers (especially for water and hot liquids!), compost or greenwaste what you can, recycle what’s left, throw away as little as possible, and avoid plastic (and therefore petroleum)!

You may want to start by learning a little about where things go when you throw them away, so check out “the story of stuff” if you haven’t seen it :) Fabulous info. Gotta love Annie Leonard!

burning trash piles in haiti

Clearly the earthquake made the issues more in-our-face in Haiti, but it happens in lots of places, including in the Philippines. There are even giant places in the ocean called gyres that are huge wheels of tiny plastic particles that are devoid of life. Taking plastic trash and turning it directly into oil is a fantastic idea- the little machine in that video could seriously revolutionize how trash is dealt with, especially in places like Haiti that have extremely scarce resources of their own. Which brings me to the economic injustice of plastic- something most people don’t know or think about- check out the video in that link of Van Jones talking about that at TED. Making plastic hurts people and the environment, using plastic hurts us directly (BPA and hormones etc), recycling plastic hurts people and the environment, and throwing it away isn’t a viable option at all- we need to pick it all back up actually and get it out of the environment.

Now, our total footprint involves our waste in general, and food itself is wasted to the point where a statistic I read recently states that 1/2 of the food produced in the US is thrown away. Imagine- “the Department of Agriculture estimates that recovering 25 percent of wasted food would feed 20 million people”- check out this link from the New York Times with some good stats and examples. Support food rescue organizations! Be mindful and pay attention when buying food- the goal should be to eat all of what you buy.

Waste of all kinds in the amounts we’re currently creating is not sustainable, especially waste that doesn’t break down by the time we throw away more of it (like plastic). I believe in stopping the problem at its source in our own lives while we find solutions to clean up the previous mess– making plastic-less choices, reusing packaging, thinking before we buy and not throwing away so much of everything. Check out this story on a family that produces nearly ZERO waste! We need to think about our neighbors around the world that can be hurt or helped with our decisions, and spread those positive ideas around. Our spiritual and mental health depend on thinking of ourselves in the context of others and making responsible decisions that help everyone.


Cholesterol: the myths, the truths, the eco-info :)

Sustainable Health Nutshell: use Unrefined Local-as-possible Organic-as-possible olive oil or ghee (clarified butter) for cooking, and add water to your cooking- especially roasting or sauteeing, so the oil you use and the food itself stays below 250 degrees and is therefore less likely to become oxidized and contribute to artery damage and cholesterol plaque buildup (cooking tip: let the 1/4 c or so of water boil off and remove from heat just after to retain the good flavors from the oil and spices you used too!). Avoiding refined and non-organic oils and high temperature cooking (including most processed food) helps save your health and the planet’s at the same time! Read on for the details! :)

Here’s a quick review of the basic info western medicine has to offer. Cholesterol is necessary for life (brain cell development, hormone construction, bile acids, cell walls, etc), but in above-average amounts cholesterol is correlated with heart disease, ‘fatty liver’ disease, and more. Stiff plaques are found in arteries of patients with heart disease and angina, strokes, claudication and certain types of kidney disease. Then there’s the breakdown of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol and triglycerides… We are taught by doctors, the government health agencies, and pharmaceutical companies that if we just lower the bad numbers and increase the good numbers with ‘lifestyle modification’ or drugs (like aspirin and simvastatin), we won’t get those diseases listed above. Well, we might not get them. Well, we might be less likely to get them. Sometimes. Depending on other risk factors. So, no, it’s not a sure thing. Not at all, actually.

Aspirin and Statins both help decrease inflammation in vessel walls that is the main cause of cholesterol plaques first sticking, then growing, then breaking off and clogging a downstream artery with blood clots that tried to repair the damage, thus killing the downstream tissue (this is what’s known as a heart attack). But what causes the inflammation in the first place? Tissue damage (from wear and tear, stress, infection, free radicals, etc) causes the blood vessel wall to send out inflammatory markers, which causes immune cells to come repair the damage. The cholesterol there gets eaten like the rest of the debris from the damage in a regulated manner by the white blood cells. However, if the cholesterol is oxidized the macrophages can’t regulate their uptake, become over-stuffed “foam cells,” and die, leaving an icky yellow streak on the wall of the damaged vessel, and releasing their insides that further break down the vessel wall, causing a thicker scar or ‘atheroma.’ The picture on the previous link gives you an idea of how this can block flow and you can imagine what happens if it gets too big or a piece breaks off and flows down to a thinner part of the artery. Yuck.

Oxidization and free radicals seem to be big keys in all kinds of inflammation (stress-induced, infection, auto-immune, etc). Free radicals are caused by many many things (including our own normally functioning cells), and are typically taken care of by our bodies and are not an issue unless the amount overwhelms our normal processes. Leaving infection and stress aside for the moment, what are our biggest sources of oxidized cholesterol we put into our bodies? Refined foods (that contain oils including trans fats, dairy, or other animal protein processed at high temperatures), charred food (yes, grilled meat… it’s burnt, and the carbohydrates turn to burnt sugar + fat = caramel= yum!= ama/toxins), and oils/fats cooked to high temperature. So what to do? The simplest thing is to stop intaking so much oxidized cholesterol- your body has enough free radicals all by itself to deal with without you overwhelming it. Then there is eating more vegetables, stress-reduction, exercise… today’s post is focusing on oil, though, so here’s the last puzzle piece for making real changes: Cook with water! Anti-climactic, I realize. But by simply adding water to cooking, for example in roasting pans, eggs (poaching), and to stir-fry cooking, you can help prevent the food and oil from overheating and oxidizing and overloading your immune system with extra free radicals.

Yay! But we’re not done. There is actually another piece. This blog is about the environment as well (and yes, you can use used cooking oil for biodiesel, but really we shouldn’t be frying often for the above reasons…), so the type of oil you choose to use, and the type of fats you eat in general are as important as how you use them. Fat is amazing stuff. It holds onto fat-soluble things- like hormones (PCOS and type 2 diabetes), and vitamins, but also things like pesticides. It also tends to concentrate and hold on to those things for a very long time.

So first, imagine a large animal (like a cow) eating a huge amount of non-organic corn, storing all that pesticide residue in its fat (which is mostly of the less healthy types Omega-6 and -9, and which it has more of than normal since cows weren’t built to eat so much carbohydrate at a time, much like people!)… and if you eat a piece of that well-marbled cow’s muscle, including the fat that’s been further oxidized and likely charred on that grill… It’s not so great for your arteries. Food for thought. But what about vegetable oils? Aren’t those “good for you?”

Imagine a field of, say, rapeseed (which originally was too toxic for human consumption until bred out to be lower in acid), even possibly “M” company’s Canadian GMO rapeseed (called ‘canola‘ which rhymes with granola, and sounds quite healthy!). Maybe the field was sprayed with pesticides. The seeds were harvested, cooked to crack the seeds, then pressed, creating more heat, to squeeze more oil out. If it was to be “refined,” then gasoline (hexane or heptane) was put on it to get the rest of the oil out of the seeds. It was then heated again to boil off the gasoline, then heated with phosphoric acid and water to ‘de-gum’ it, and then it was refined with sodium hydroxide (yep, drain cleaner!). Wow. Ok, still not done- in order to bleach it, it was passed through acid which creates peroxides, and finally to deodorize all the oxidization, it was steam distilled up to 518 degrees. Talk about high temperatures. Ew.

So, no, all vegetable oils aren’t necessarily good for you. Basically I’d like you to think about this when you’re choosing what to put in your body- think about not only the potential damage to arteries, but also the pesticides and potential GMO issues in crops used for both animal feed and cooking oil production (corn, soy, and other vegetable oils), and, of course, the petroleum used to bring that oil to you (in the fertilizer of non-organic crops, moving animals around and processing them, and flying the oil to you,… even EVOO from Italy. Jet fuel isn’t so good for the environment either and we have delicious olives right here in California! Arguably still far from, say, Maine… but I’m sure you have cows for making butter and ghee closer! :) ).

Slow down, think, and allow yourself and the planet better health with your choices.

Michael Pollan came to SB again!

Last night I had the chance to hear Michael Pollan interviewed by NPR‘s Renee Montagne at the Granada theater in Santa Barbara, which was great, of course! I took lots of notes, and this morning I woke up with three thoughts to share…

First: When you learn something new, one of the most important things that happens is a realization that there is so much you don’t know and have yet to learn. I’m at that point with both Ayurvedic Medicine and this project… and I’d love to sit down with Mr Pollan and brainstorm about how to get this rolling! :)

Second: There are multiple references to what I’m calling ‘sustainable health’ but still no one is directly going after the health-environment connection… my favorite quote was from the s’Cool Food slideshow at the beginning of the presentation: “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food” -Hippocrates. This is equivalent to a quote from my Ayurveda class: “without proper diet, herbs (medicines) are ineffective… with proper diet, herbs (medicines) are unnecessary.” A doctor in the audience and Michael Pollan both took aim at doctors, saying nutrition isn’t taught in medical school and doctors aren’t trained to pay attention to food… which is largely true… but those of us who ARE paying attention need to educate the rest so we can build up more power behind the food movement that Michelle and Barack Obama (and the rest of us) need in order to start actively dismantling the huge agribusiness construct that currently controls the majority of our food (and farming, and even basic knowledge about food) and food culture. Which brings me to my third thought:

It begins with each of us. For me, this means learning Ayurveda (which so far I find worlds more helpful than the western medicine I am currently trained in), largely in order to make myself a good example and good doctor first- which always reminds me of the quote: ‘Physician heal thyself’ -Luke 4:23 (that’s a bible quote? I seriously thought it was from that second old Star Trek movie when I was little. Geek? Yes. Still a great quote. :) ). Beyond that, I’m working on spreading this information around, and quickly. Not just to my patients and friends here in California either, but eventually this little enterprise will disseminate information widely, and become an educational center for this new movement in healthcare: Sustainable Health.

Saving the world can start with changing our own individual health; vote with your forks, and change will come fast and beautiful!

Testing… Testing…

So I’m trying this out to see what it looks like… and to put up a little signpost that says “hi there everybody! how are you?” ;) This site is one of the ones that promotes saving the world… and I think we have an interesting new angle, so it’ll be interesting to see if it catches on… To give ya’ll a little teaser: what if we could create healthy people and a healthy planet at the same time? If things like diabetes and depression and plastic gyres and petroleum spills weren’t inevitable and could actually be fixed AND prevented? Infinite possibilities exist… and this blog will be the first part of a website that helps us all share information so we can heal ourselves and the planet together, which you’ll see is much faster than doing either one separately… Stoked to start. Stay tuned, good things are afoot.