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To cleanse or not to cleanse?

Sustainable Health Nutshell: Recently popularized fasts and cleanses are not healthy for most people because they shock the system unnecessarily. I recommend you simply eat local, mostly vegetables, take in as few toxins as possible (pesticides, drugs and alcohol, weird processed additives, etc), and if needed for your body type or imbalance, you can do an Ayurvedic fast regularly. Intense detoxification can be tough on your body and can actually work against you if done incorrectly, and should be overseen by a professional, so serious panchakarma should be discussed with your healthcare practitioner.

Cleanliness is in the eye of the beholder. Eating a typical western diet, it’s not surprising that a large number of people feel the need to ‘detoxify’ when they finally tune into their bodies. I’ll start by clearing up some misconceptions, and end with some simple ideas to help keep your digestion working swimmingly. If I don’t answer a question you have, please leave a comment or send an email! :)

Let’s start with a quick description of your digestive system. The intestines have 90% or more of your body’s seratonin, and are so connected to your emotions and thoughts some call the gut “a second brain.” This means if you have digestive issues, it’s 90% likely due to stress rather than an infection or ‘toxin buildup!’ It contains 70% or more of your immune system, and naturally has trillions of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi growing in it daily in balanced amounts (some of which are responsible for digesting food including lactose, and others help make vitamins K, D and B12!). Then there’s your liver, which is incredible and complicated and for now I’ll just say it deals with toxins and turns most of what we take in into useable bits for the rest of our bodies.

Another fun fact: your gut sheds it’s lining entirely every 1-7 days. Meaning it’s self-cleaning. I won’t go into the gritty details of why the theory behind typical cleansing is silly because this guy’s done it for me. Basically, if you drink bentonite and clay (or a number of other ‘natural’ substances), you will have interesting things come out of you. Stringy dark things. That look like clay and bentonite covered in… yes, that. You also never want to be rid of your healthy intestinal flora because you can’t live without them and you don’t want the wrong ones to grow instead and cause disease. The idea is to have a good balance of all different kinds of flora so that your immune system works at its best, and to have effective and efficient digestion so you can actually absorb and use the healthy food you take in.

The easiest way to make sure you’re always detoxifying is first to have adequate time between meals to completely digest what you eat normally (3-6 hours- if this feels too long you may have other digestive issues, which I’ll write about in a later post). The second easiest way is to drink freshly boiled water (with spices if needed for your particular imbalance) throughout the day. This stimulates digestion and keeps you hydrated- we’ve had people lose crazy amounts of weight just by replacing whatever they were drinking with this ‘spice water routine.’ Another way is to do an Ayurvedic “fast” weekly. This type of “fasting” makes sure your metabolism doesn’t slow down like it would if you actually stopped eating (why people who fast stop feeling hungry), and that the entire system isn’t weakened (the lining needs food moving through to regenerate itself efficiently and the good bacteria need food too!).

Guidelines for this type of fast are simple. One day a week, take liquid food at your normal meals. This allows your body to have enough easily digestible calories to keep you moving, but gives your digestion a break so it can focus on completely digesting what you take in as well as getting rid of toxins or anything backed up during the week. Fresh juices and briefly boiled milk are great, but thick hearty soups are good too if well cooked, made fresh, and blended fully. Even Dr Weil weighs in on cleanses and recommends an occasional day-long juice fast here.

Further specifics: If you are of thin build, exhausted, or have been told you have a ‘Vata’ imbalance, only one meal should be replaced with liquid. If you are of medium build, normal weight, or have been told you have a ‘Pitta’ imbalance, replace two meals with liquid. If you are of large build, overweight, or have been told you have a ‘Kapha’ imbalance or buildup of ‘ama’ you can replace all three meals with liquid. It’s best not to have cold or heavy liquids (like full strength yogurt or ice cream) or meat (including fish, even blended), during this day–animal proteins take about 2 days to move through your system, while vegetables and carbohydrates only take 24h or less generally. Basically you don’t want to take in something your body has to work hard to ‘cook.’ If you think your intestinal flora may be out of balance, it’s helpful to take lassi made with fresh yogurt and spices and 3-4 parts room temperature water, especially after a fast or panchakarma.

If you are very out of balance or overweight, or just generally feel unhealthy, other recommendations may help more, and I’d suggest you see an Ayurvedic practitioner near you, or shoot me an email if it’s a general question I can answer this way. Being mindful daily about what you take in will help keep you in tune with what your body truly needs, and eating fresh, local, pesticide-free produce will help both you and the environment!

Which came first?

Who cares?! Eggs are yummy! :) But seriously…

First, the Sustainable Health Nutshell: If you don’t have chickens of your own, find a neighbor or farmer close by who does. Make sure they pasture-raise them, and use organic feed if they purchase it elsewhere! Eat them fresh and not cooked at hotter temperatures than 220 degrees. {And if you’re willing to take some Ayurvedic advice, try not to mix them with milk, potatoes, or fruit- this may help your symptoms if you have food sensitivities, problems losing weight, or skin issues…**}

So, are eggs good for you or not? It depends, but in moderation, yes! Eggs have a lovely balance of concentrated nutrition that would end up being an entire baby chick if it was allowed- which means lots of perfectly balanced protein, fats (including cholesterol for brain development), minerals, and vitamins like B12 (necessary for those who don’t eat meat). The fats include Omega-3s (higher percentages in chickens allowed to pasture graze), but also 70% of the RDA of cholesterol… which means it has only 70% of what you need to eat in a day to be healthy- so if you eat a very healthy diet otherwise with little cholesterol, that’s fantastic and you can have two! :) But if your diet includes many other sources of fats, eating many eggs in addition certainly gives you an excess. [My cholesterol post debunks a few myths about cholesterol, which by itself isn’t really the problem, and egg cooking tips are in the last paragraph here- the point is moderation is the key regardless of what you do!]

The other issue many people don’t always connect with animal raising is antibiotic resistance. Overuse of antibiotics in people creates some resistance, but the continual use in animal feed has escalated the problem exponentially. The first resistant bacteria in our valley seen by the other doctor I work with was around 10 years ago. He noticed the patient’s resistance profile happened to be exactly the same as the list of antibiotics in the widely-used brand of non-organic chicken feed he was forced to buy that week when the small local feed store ran out of the organic version that only he and one other valley resident requested… The CDC has a great summary here of why one particular bacteria has become resistant, and the same applies to hemorrhagic e. coli, MRSA, and VRE… And thank goodness, a recent bill proposed would make the FDA ban the use of antibiotics in animals that are not sick (yikes that that’s necessary)! Organic feed and pasture for your chickens ensures no antibiotics are snuck in so the animals don’t develop resistant bacteria and pass it onto you, through themselves or in and on their eggs!

Now, how do you find great eggs? Supermarket eggs may be a bit confusing with all the green-washing, so look for the words “pasture-raised,” organic or sustainable, and go to the websites of the companies to see how they treat their chickens. Roaming chickens that get to eat bugs and grass in addition to grain-based feed have a much better nutrition profile, brighter yolks, and thicker stronger shells, which gives you a nice solid physical idea of how much better they are for you. Farmers markets usually have someone who is selling their eggs, so that’s even better because you can ask them in person! If you’d like to try your hand, check out Dare 2 Dream Farms (and buy their eggs if you live near the co-op in Isla Vista or near New Frontiers market in Solvang)! They have a great website that explains several different breeds of chickens if you’re wondering what type to keep for yourself, or if you wonder what types lay what colors and sizes of eggs! Personally I think I’d try the Russian Orloffs if I lived in a cold place (plus they’re endangered so breeding them is cool :) ), and Brahmas for this part of Cali… friendly and happy to be in a little yard sounds good for a first go at keeping chickens. Check that same site for tips on what exactly you need and how to do it (‘care guide’). Oh, and you don’t need a rooster to get your hens to lay (good news since those guys can be feisty and loud… think Kauai)- you only need one if you would like to breed or need your hens protected.

Eggs are a high-energy food, and should be treated as such. Eating just a few, only when you need the nourishment, and cooking them properly are key. My favorite way is to make a quick 20 second tarka of a little warmed olive oil and spices (including turmeric to help digest the cholesterol), add the egg, then put a little water around the edge of the egg, and cover the frying pan with a lid to lightly poach it. I cook them until the white is done and the water just steams off so the eggs don’t get too hot and oxidize the cholesterol, and I generally serve them over veggies I cooked in the same pan (not a dishes fan!). The temperature issue means that using egg substitutes (heated and processed), buying packaged foods with egg proteins added (usually heated to very high temperatures to make a powder that is added for texture or protein), and eating lots of baked goods with eggs in them isn’t such a great idea. Mindfulness + moderation= healthier you and healthier planet. :)


**Ayurvedic tip: Improper food combining can contribute to poor digestion and buildup of ama or toxins that can lead to health problems. Some of the most common symptoms of poor digestion in the US are experienced as food sensitivities and skin problems… eggs are very rich and full of prana/energy, so they are particularly prone to making things difficult for a stressed digestive system if not eaten mindfully, hence the advice above :) Questions? Add a comment or send an email! ;)

Fixing Milk’s Reputation

Sustainable Health Nutshell: The best way to take this highly nutritious food is to find a generous cow near you and get it right from the source… If that fails, find pastured, organic, and local non-skim milk, the least pasteurized version available, and drink it hot with spices! I know, that may sound odd… read on! :)

There is so much controversy surrounding such a basic substance! I’ll start by commenting on the top 3 arguments I’ve heard in my clinic and from friends, then I’ll answer other questions/comments that ya’ll might contribute. I’m not saying you should drink milk if you don’t, for whatever reason, but I will present some information you may not know that might change your mind.

1. Lactose intolerance. Most people that think they are lactose intolerant likely have a sensitivity and weakened digestion rather than milk being the actual problem (a post on digestive sensitivities and food intolerances and how to fix them coming soon!). While some people really do have a much smaller amount of the enzyme lactase needed to digest the lactose in milk, even most of those individuals can tolerate milk that’s been boiled briefly*, fresh yogurt (the bacteria eat the lactose and also produce extra lactase), traditionally made hard cheeses (also bacteria-consumed lactose and the whey is removed), and higher-fat milk products like cream and butter (less lactose present and no additional milk solids added for ‘sweetness’ generally). Interestingly, adding a small amount of lactose-containing products to the diet of a healthy person with lactose intolerance causes the bacteria in the intestine to produce lactase and thus get rid of the symptoms: the body and its helpful bacteria change based on what you take in! If your digestion is sketchy to begin with, then other things need to be done to strengthen it. Most people who stop dairy find that the symptoms return or change and more ‘food allergies’ are discovered: the uncomfortable digestive symptoms after taking milk products are likely not the fault of the milk at all.

2. Cows! So an objection I’ve heard strangely often is that people ‘weren’t meant to drink milk from another animal.’ {Which, really, given the interesting things people eat all over the world, including animals parts like eyes and brains and stomachs, not to mention all the bizarre chemical combinations processed and called ‘food’ out there, just makes it seem to me like a personal opinion, and a non-argument…} Milk is a highly energy-rich and nutritious food. It is absolutely necessary for babies, and human breast milk is all they need for their entire first 1-2 years. Milk from animals has been used for around ten thousand years, and entire cultures (such as those in Asian steppe countries like Tibet and Mongolia) depend on things like yak milk and butter (and meat) for survival in harsh regions. Milk is a great source of calcium, B12, protein, and other vitamins and minerals. The fat-soluble vitamin D is also abundant, conveniently along with enough healthy fat to aid its absorption. Since it is so energy-rich, the health of the living being that produces the milk is incredibly important: get your milk from healthy cows that live in a low-stress environment who eat healthy food (meaning primarily pasture grasses to ensure natural healthy fats and vitamins in the milk). If you can, find a cow near you so the milk is as fresh as possible and as local as possible. Fewer ‘food miles‘ is better for the environment, buying from a neighbor is better for the community you live in, and fresher non-processed milk is likely better for you too! Which leads to the 3rd issue…

3. The Raw milk vs Ultra-pasteurized milk battle. Raw milk, locally purchased from healthy, sustainable/organic grass-fed cows, and obtained from a clean and healthy dairy facility, is hands down a better choice, full of helpful probiotic bacteria and unadulterated fats, vitamins, proteins, and enzymes. And it tastes amazing. However, and this is a big however, it is illegal to sell in most places due to the difficulty regulating it, and buying it at the grocery store is prohibitively expensive. Pasteurization of milk by heating it to 161 degrees allows for longer transport and shelf life, but also sketchier dairy practices, hormone additions to keep milk volume high, and sick cows** that then need antibiotics. It kills most bacteria (beneficial ones especially), but not all, especially not the TB-related MAP bacteria (linked to Crohn’s disease), and others that survive pasteurization and cause milk to go ‘bad’ near it’s ‘expiration date’ instead of souring normally into something delicious like buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream, as raw milk would do if left to its own devices. Because large-scale dairy producers liked the idea of a longer shelf life from pasteurization (originally intended to try to keep wine and beer from souring. funny), ‘ultrapasteurization’ (heating milk to 275 degrees) has become popular more recently. It’s promoted by frightening people into thinking milk that isn’t ultra-pasteurized is somehow ‘infected’ and dangerous, but truly exists so that large-scale dairy producers can ship their products longer distances and have them stay questionably ‘good’ longer.

So, what to do? Here is a great list of where you can buy raw milk from cows that are pastured, as close to local as you can get at this point, unless you know a neighbor who has a cow! And by the way I totally encourage the barter system for that since it’s illegal to purchase it as yet… Just meet the cow, make sure it’s clean and the container you collect it in is clean, try a little first, and get your system used to real milk! If that isn’t happening for you yet, Organic Valley is the best brand I’ve found so far, and though they do have to pasteurize to legally cross state lines, it’s a co-op and the best company that’s widely available for now. One cool thing, in the NW they offer non-homogenized*** whole milk, so that’s another plus if you live up there. Here’s a website of a raw milk promoter, and while I can’t vouch for all of the information presented there, it’s a good resource with some helpful links.

Use milk wisely- it can be a meal in itself if you are too late for dinner or not so hungry at breakfast. Heating it with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger makes it more easily digestible (heat until it just foams once, don’t actually boil it; the casein proteins- not the whey with the lactose- will clump together and actually make it difficult to digest). Cold milk is constipating and slows overall digestion, but warm milk is a laxative, and with nutmeg becomes a sleep aid. Milk is one of the only complete foods that is produced without loss of life or suffering of the animal it comes from, and the positive energy that it carries when obtained ethically can enhance your liveliness and health and contribute to the sustainable farming practices. Choose wisely and enjoy. :)

*boiling milk very briefly irreversibly denatures the whey that the lactose is part of and allows the unwound protein to be accessed more easily by whatever small or large amount of lactase is present in your digestive system

**cows become sickened with mastitis from the constant high-volume milking, and also because they are usually fed corn which ruins their stomachs as well as the healthy fat profile you find in grass-fed cows’ milk– the antibiotics used in large-scale agriculture creates most of the recent new strains of drug-resistant bacteria that are found in milk and beef and even vegetables exposed to animal wastes

***Homogenized means to make sure it doesn’t separate, the milk is passed through a membrane that causes the normal fat globules (that would normally rise to the top and be easily skimmed) to be broken down into tinier bits, that then have more surface area… which also means they are more exposed to enzymes and proteins in the milk that would cause it to go rancid more quickly if the milk were not also pasteurized and the enzyme destroyed

Is Your Job Healthy? :)

Sustainable Health Nutshell: No matter what you do- take care of children or plants, sit at a computer or manage people, build things or write, play with math or animals, serve lunch or sell couches, care for people or make something in a lab… pay attention to your work and what it does to your health and to the planet’s health. Do work that fosters positive growth and fits you mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Everything will benefit, as well as your bank account. :)

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting everyone stop what they’re doing and save the world. Well, maybe I am. I mean, if you haven’t already… :) But the point is, if you feel less than fulfilled in what you do, change it. There is no law that says you need to continue to be unfulfilled. Even if you stay in the job you have, you can use the following tips to tweak the direction you’re going and create a healthier and more sustainable work environment for yourself. The idea is to pay more attention, become more conscious of absolutely everything, and make choices that create health on all levels– doing a job you love creates positive passionate vibes for you, your family and friends, your community, and by extension the whole planet. The butterfly effect, that’s what we’re going for.

No matter whether you’re in school, working, changing jobs, or unemployed and looking for work, before you go any further, may I suggest asking yourself the following: 1. Does the job I have (or want) challenge me intellectually and provide me with new stimulating things to learn frequently? 2. Do (or will) I leave most days with a sense of having accomplished something, helped someone, or in some small or large way made a positive difference in the world? 3. Do I work with people who have positive attitudes and is the work environment supportive? 4. Does the company have policies that consider the physical and mental health of employees and their families, and also policies that consider the health of the planet including the footprint left by the business? 5. Am I able to separate myself from my job and engage fully in the rest of my life in a healthy way?

Now, sometimes we all have to work in ways that feel less than totally fulfilling. It can be a matter of attitude and deciding to make a positive difference no matter what your job. My proposition is this: if the answer to any or all of those questions above isn’t a positive one that makes you smile, ask yourself why not? Then look for what you can do to make things different.

Even with all the current hesitancy in hiring and creating new jobs, there is an undercurrent of incredible desire for newness and change. Now is a gigantic opportunity to create the kind of job that would actually be fulfilling. Humans are incredibly creative and innovative, and although a good portion of our culture encourages conformity and finding recognizable jobs with recognizable requirements and paths to get to those jobs, those jobs are often not what someone wanted to do when they were, say 5 years old, or 12, or even 20. Remember that feeling of limitless possibilities, and you’ll be in a good place to start.

If right now you wrote down the top 10 important things in your life, and the top 10 things you like to do (passions, hobbies etc), then what you do daily in your job would be more likely to light you up if it integrated at least a few of those things. You can use those lists to figure out an entirely new direction or to shift what you’re currently doing. Use the links below to explore a new and exciting direction to aim yourself. :) Be passionate, be bright, be positive. No matter what job you need to do, be those things.

What is a “green-collar” job? Check out Time magazine’s take.

From Farmer to Policy Maker to Food Artisan… search Good Food Jobs: “satisfying the hunger for meaningful work.”

Another search engine for “green dream jobs” is here from Sustainable Business.

Learning more is a great idea! Search 1400 workshops, courses, and degree programs in over 30 countries here on the Green Degree Directory.

If you’re in the Santa Barbara area, my personal favorite way to become a yoga teacher is through my teacher Mary Kay West- here is her Pure Heart Yoga site. To become an ayurvedic practitioner, check out another of my teachers’ sites: New World Ayurveda. Then there’s Santa Barbara’s Earth Day, which brings so many great people together, and is a great weekend to learn and network.

Work is good. Work should be challenging and worthwhile. Do good work.