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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

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.