Posts Tagged ‘healthy diets’

The next few posts will explore the role and important relationships of fat and oils  (together called lipids) in our bodies and our metabolism; what they are, where they’re located, what are “good” fats and what are “bad” fats, and some of the myths and misinformation relating to fats.  I’ll try and give you at least a short version of the skinny on fats.

There’s a story out there that fat is bad. It’s ugly, it’s nasty, it maims and kills, and nutritionally, we should stay as far away from it as we can. Well, guess what? All that’s not true. Fat is our friend  and we can’t live without it.  In fact, we’re “meant” to eat fat.

While water may be the most underutilized nutrient, fat is probably the most neglected, rejected and least understood.  So, why all the fuss about fat?  Because it’s involved in so many (dare I say most?) metabolic processes in some way, shape or form (and fat takes on all kinds of shapes and forms for being such a simple molecule).

For starters, most of our brain is fat (more than 50%), and our neurons could not function or fire without it.  About 75-80% of the myelin sheath that surrounds all of our nerve cells is made up of fatty acids.  Being a fat head is really a complement (to good health).

Fats are highly protective of our organs, giving cushioning and shock absorption to vulnerable tissues and cells.  With all of the jarring and jostling that our bodies take each day, fat softens the blows, making for happier, healthier organs.

Fats are the precursors and building blocks of many of our hormones, that complex chemical web of communication that tirelessly gives and receives messages for our myriad metabolic processes, like growth, reproduction, energy production and storage, construction and destruction of building blocks, fight and flight responses, pleasure, pain and on and on.  What would puberty be like without fat to get things stirring?

Fats are necessary for healthy liver function.  Both healthy cholesterol and bile are made from fat (cholesterol is found in nearly every cell of our body and is the main building block of most hormones).  Bile, which is made from fat, is also responsible for breaking down fats in our digestive processes, so that fats can be easily absorbed into our blood stream.  Bile is part of the great fat recycling system.

Fat is needed for the absorption of all of the “fat soluble” vitamins — A, E, D, and K.  These vitamins are instrumental in supporting healthy hair, teeth, bones, immune system function, calcium balance, cell growth, blood balance and clotting, antioxidant support and anti-aging qualities, amongst other things.

Fats are also imperative for managing anti-inflammatory responses.  The biochemical pathways for both inflammation and anti-inflammation start with good, healthy, and specific fatty acids.  Many practitioners see systemic and specific inflammation as the leading cause of many degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

Fats supply a slow and steady source of energy.  While carbohydrates burn quickly (like the kindling on a fire), fats burn at a more even pace (like a log on the fire), which gives a much more sustained form of energy (and therefore is more satiating).  Fats actually keep you from eating too much (unlike carbs).

Maybe the most important single characteristic of good fats is their role in the structure of every cell in our bodies.  Each of our 40-50 trillion cells has a membrane which serves as the brain and communication hub of the cell (much more important in many ways than the cell’s nucleus).  This cell membrane is made up of a phospholipid, or fat layer, that helps to protect and define the cell.  When we consume “bad” fats, such as hydrogenated oils, this membrane becomes compromised and the cell does not function effectively.

And, finally, fats  just plain taste good.  Humans have a natural attraction to fats (even though we’ve been told to avoid them like the plague, for the past 30 to 40 years).  Our hunting and gathering ancestors often went for the organ meats and fatty tissues first, and ate the lean meats as “leftovers” after making a kill.  Traditional societies still relish fats as the major nutrient in their diets.

Next time we’ll look at the many different types of fats, how they differ, and what makes a “good” fat and a “bad” fat.

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For this and the next few blog posts, I’m going to be exploring some of the stories and “tall-tales” that have crept up, been created (oftentimes intentionally) and/or have been rammed down the throats of nutritional consumers (yes, you and me).  I’ll be shining a bit of a light (sometimes a spotlight, sometimes a floodlight) on some of the biggest food (and phood) myths out there, with the idea of bringing some knowledge, balance and, perhaps, just a little bit of controversy to the table.

The number seven seems to be common when making lists in books, blogs, newsletters and other informational sources; so here goes: The Seven Myths and Stories about Food and Good Nutrition.  (However, note that when I get through these seven, there will certainly be more bits of misinformation that surface, and I hope that some of you send me some of your “favorite” myths that can be discussed in future posts).

1.  Fat is bad

This is a bad  myth because believing it deprives people of one of the most important sources of good nutrition and health and has created a “low fat” craze that has put millions at health risk and made millions for the food industry.  I’ll discuss what fats are and why they are so critical and why going “low-fat” can be so dangerous.

2. Saturated fats are even worse

This, in a way, is a corollary to number one, that has demonized and vilified saturated fats as “the really bad guys”, when, in fact, they are critical to so much of our natural, healthy functioning,  including good heart health.

3. Cholesterol is bad and causes heart attacks

This is one of the most insidious of medical/nutritional myths and lies, that is deeply ingrained in almost every part of our nutritional/health world these days.  Created, propagated and institutionalized by Big Food, Big Pharma and Big Government to the point where most people take it as “gospel.”  I’ll dig into the history and politics behind this one, and give you lots of sources to explore in great detail.

4. Soy is Good and Good for You 

This one goes right to the heart of the health food “industry” and health foodists and many folks who embrace an “alternative”, seemingly healthy lifestyle, and has been created, nurtured and promoted by Big Agriculture, to the point of being a multi-billion dollar industry.  We’ll look at the major downsides of a soy based diet.

5. Pasteurizing and homogenizing milk makes it healthier 

We’ll look at how Big Money, Big Brother and Big Agriculture have taken an extremely whole, vital, and balanced natural source of nutrition, and cooked, stirred and degraded it into an empty (and harmful) source of calories.

6. Vegetarian and vegan diets are healthy (sorry!)

This may be the hardest, and most controversial, of all the myths and stories for many to embrace.  I’ll talk about these relatively “new” nutritional lifestyles that leave many people deprived of the needed nutritional combinations for healthy funtioning.

7. You need to take antacids for high stomach acid

This one relates to one of the most common dysfunctional problems that I see in my practice.  Another example of how Big Corporations and Big Medicine reap the financial benefits of bad science, bad biology and greed.


So, here are seven big ideas that will be developed and expanded over the next several posts.  I’ll include links to articles and books and authors so that you can dig more deeply into each of these.

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Now that we’ve looked at how a digestive system should work, let’s  look at what is all-too-much the reality for most people in our culture today.  Some 60-70 million people in the US are affected by digestive diseases, (this does not count the millions of other digestive ailments that are not classified as disease).  14 million people are hospitalized each year for digestive problems (9% of all hospitilizations) and 6 million people go through digestive hospital diagnostic and therapeutic procedures (14 percent of all hospital procedures).  This is clearly no small or laughing matter (not even a belly laugh).     

antacids Perhaps the largest class of over-the-counter and prescriptions medications taken today are for digestive related ailments.  Just think of the tons of antacids, acid blockers, gas relievers, bloat relievers, anti-flatulance medications, etc. that are consumed each year (each day??).  And think of the millions of gastric and gut procedures that are done each year from endoscopies to colonoscopies to by-passes (see above).   Many(most??) of these should not be needed if we just knew how to care for our gut by choosing and properly preparing healthful nutrient dense foods that support good digestive functioning.

 So, what happens that creates such dismal digestive health for so many, and what can be done to improve matters – actually to improve things very significantly?  Most digestive problems start from years of abusing our “inner” tube with poor diet, poor eating habits, unconsciousness and stresses of all kinds.

 Remember that digestion starts in the mind/brain, even before we start to eat.  That means that a good place to start to heal digestive disorders is through our thoughts and actions, before a meal.  We have two parts to our autonomic, or “automatic” nervous system.  The first is our fight-or-flight, get ready for action system, called the sympathetic nervous system.  This one is related to stress, which amongst other things, greatly slows down our digestive processes.  The second is the parasympathetic system, which is activated when we are calm, relaxed, meditating, in prayer, etc.  When we get ready to eat, we want to be in parasympathetic mode – this is why so many pre-industrial cultures had customs and traditions that include prayer, slowing down, connecting with family and friends, etc.  It leads to good and healthy digestion.  As a culture, we are sympathetically stressed, eating quickly, swallowing without chewing, eating on the run, being unconscious about eating, and, of course, eating fast food. 

 If you don’t take the time to properly chew your food (about 30 seconds), the brain doesn’t get the message to trigger the proper digestive processes.   Adequate saliva production is not triggered, which affects enzyme production in the mouth affecting the initial breakdown of carbohydrates.  This really is the start of a chain reaction that goes all the way through the digestive system.  Lack of salivary enzymes can reduce the pancreatic enzyme amylase, so that starches are not completely broken down in the small intestine, leaving undigested starches that enter the colon, that can feed candida and other dysbiotic organisms farther down the digestive tract.  Sounds like a mess, doesn’t it?  Well…things can get even worse.

So, what about stomach acid?

 If you watch TV commercials, it would seems as if everyone in America has way too much stomach acid and we all need to do everything we can to bring it down to a reasonable level (and of course, so we can eat anything and everything we want to without ill effects).  In fact, as mentioned above, acid blockers and antacids are amongst the top prescription and over-the-counter medications taken today.

 But, in reality, the stomach is really all about acid; it should be highly acidic to function optimally, and there are all kinds of problems that are created if it isn’t acid enough.  The normal pH of a healthy stomach is between 1.5 and 3.0 (battery acid has a pH of about 0.8) and acid blockers and antacids will almost always bring that up to a higher or more alkaline level.   The problem with most Americans in this regard is not too much stomach acid, but rather, not enough.  Studies have shown that approximately 90 percent of Americans produce too little stomach acid, or HCl.  Dr. Jonathan Wright, MD, came to this conclusion using a small telemetric device dropped into the stomach of thousands of patients.  Dr. George Goodheart, DC, came to essentially the same conclusion using kinesiology and functional assessments.  Factors such as stress, excess carbohydrate consumption, nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and excess alcohol can inhibit HCl production.

 So, what happens if you do not produce enough HCl?

The gut, and particularly the stomach with a very high acid level, is our first line of physical defense against entering pathogenic microorganisms.  Lowering of HCl reduces or eliminates much of that defense.  Yeast, prions, viruses, parasites, etc., are all little proteins, and when the pH is correct in the stomach, pepsin (an enzyme) digests these little microorganisms and they become food.  When the pH is not correct, an environment is created in which these organisms thrive and raise havoc, not only in the stomach, but throughout the digestive system, and ultimately, throughout the body.

 If there is not enough acid in the stomach, foods do not get broken down (carbohydrates will ferment, fats rancidify and proteins will putrefy).  These maldigested foods cause a reflux, or backward flow, into the esophagus.  This is not caused from too much acid, as is commonly thought, and rammed down our throats (literally) by the pharmaceutical and much of the medical industry, but by not being acid enough.  Acid blockers and antacids just exacerbate the problem.  If the stomach acid were strong enough, the digestion would take place normally, and pass on into the small intestine without that constant feeling of indigestion, bloating, gas and nausea.  The reason the esophagus experiences the burning is because the partially digested foods do not transit properly, and then move back up toward the esophagus.  They are acid (maybe pH 4-5), but not acid enough for good digestion.

 Next time, we’ll look at the effect of maldigestion on the rest of the gut, from the small intestine to the colon, and discuss what can be done to bring the entire system back into balance.

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It is often said that the eyes are the window to the soul.  Well, in the same vein, I see that on the physical level, the mouth can be seen as the doorway to good health.  Almost everything that gets into our body, other than what we breathe, to nourish us — or that creates problems and dysfunctions — comes in through the mouth and digestive system.   It is said that we are what we eat, but it is much more accurate to say that we are what we assimilate.  What passes from our digestion into our blood stream and then into our cells is key to almost everything there is about good health. 

 It is estimated that we have somewhere between 40 and 75 trillion (that’s with a T) cells in our body; every one of them is dependent on good raw materials in the form of nutrients that we eat.  Simply put, if we don’t eat well and/or our digestive system is not functioning properly, our cells, and therefore our organs, and therefore we, can’t function as efficiently, as effectively and as healthfully as we are meant to.

Digestion is so important to good health  that I want to spend a little time going over what a properly functioning digestive system would look like and how it would function (even if you have a really good diet, if you aren’t digesting properly, you will still be malnourished).

 So, what is the pathway to good health?  Well, let’s start top-side, with the brain and mouth, and move south.

 Digestion doesn’t technically begin in the mouth, as most people would think – it actually begins in the brain when food is seen, smelled or even imagined.  A whole series of neural signals are sent out when food is even “on the menu”, so to speak.  Saliva creation is one of the first digestive processes that occur when we think about or imagine food – even if the food isn’t physically present.  Saliva contains enzymes that start the breakdown of simple carbohydrates and some fats while the food is still in the mouth. Mucous in the mouth helps to create a bolus, or “food packet” that makes it easier to swallow. 

Other neural signals are sent to the stomach, pancreas and small intestine to alert them that “food is on the way” and to prepare for the upcoming digestive processes. 

Chewing well is important – maybe even critical – to overall digestive health.  This is because chewing our food completely takes a big burden off of other parts of the digestive system (particularly the stomach and small intestine), allows time for proper mixing with the salivary enzymes and helps allow the body to go into a “parasympathetic” or relaxed state, which also greatly aids in good digestion and assimilation.  If your mom ever chided you for not chewing your food completely before you swallowed, this was yet again another time when she was right.

After the food is chewed well and swallowed, it passes from the mouth into the esophagus and then into the stomach.  It does so in a compact ball-like lump or packet called a bolus.  It enters the stomach through the upper valve, or sphincter into the cardiac chamber.  The stomach will swell in size according to the size of the meal and will knead or mechanically massage the bolus as secretions of enzymes and hydrochloric acid (HCl) begin in earnest to break down the nutrients into ever smaller fragments so that they can eventually be assimilated. 

The stomach has two main jobs – to store the food in a “holding area” until it is ready to pass into the small intestines, and to chemically mix the food with digestive enzymes and HCl, forming a thick fluid slurry called chyme.  Most of the digestion that occurs in the stomach works on proteins, which are the most complex and, in many ways, most difficult of all of the macro-nutrients to break down.  If we don’t produce enough HCl, then we can’t properly digest proteins while they are still in the stomach.  Too little HCl also effects the assimilation of other important nutrients, which I’ll discuss in future postings.

We’ve covered a lot of “territory” so far on our digestive journey, with still much more to go.  In the next posting we’ll follow the chyme through the intestinal pathway to see how food gets translated into nutrition.

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Imagine a time and a place when what we ate supported our natural and intrinsic health and vitality.  A place and a time where we (as a human population) were in balance with the nurturing products of nature in such a way that our physiological needs were essentially met; all of our biological systems (digestion, cardiovascular health, hormonal balances, fatty acid needs, etc.) were supplied with the correct nutrients for vital and long-lasting health.

For most of us, that time and place is hard to imagine; especially hard to imagine in a really personal and tangible way.  Our families, our peers, our cohorts and friends all seem to be touched (directly or indirectly) by one or more of the major maladies of modern culture – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic pain, digestive disorders, obesity, depression, anxiety, stress, etc., etc.  – to such a great extent that it seems to be part and parcel of our everyday lives.  It’s as if this were the “natural” condition.  And all of this, despite the fact that we “supposedly” have the most technologically advanced medical and health system the world has ever seen.  Most of us know that while we are told that “we are the greatest country in the world” over and over, and part of us actually believes it (or wants to), that there is something drastically wrong with the big picture; something askew between our supposed “abundance” and our ability to remain in balance with the sources of vital nutrition that are supposed to support us.

Now, imagine being blessed with all of the tools and techniques available that could quickly and easily determine the kinds of nutritional and physiological support that our bodies (and minds) need and want.  Tools such as the knowledge and connection with what our ancestors ate to remain in vital health and well being; methods of “asking” the body to give feedback as to what, specifically, is out of balance, and what kinds of nutritional support is required to re-balance it; tools that help us to tune into our behaviors, moods and emotional states in such as way as to determine, again, how to bring forth balance and vitality.  It’s my belief that we have all the tools (and then some) to move all of us into a better state of health and well being.

Part of the purpose of this blog is to explore the gap between the above first two paragraphs.  Was there a time when our ancestors were really in balance, nutritionally, with their environments in a long-term and sustainable way?  And if so, what has brought us to such a divergent outcome and what can we do to move back into balance?  Another purpose of this blog is to explore the resources we all have available to us to “turn things around” in our own lives and (hopefully) in the lives of those we are close to.

I would like to explore, partly, what brought us to where we are, and more importantly, to look at what we are able to change to “right the sinking ship” of poor health and dysfunctional physiological processes.  We’ll look at some of the major “myths”, stories and down-right lies about health and nutrition that have been created and perpetrated over time, at some of the specific tools that can help many to “rebalance” the ship, and at specific foods, herbs, supplements and “ways of eating” that can move us from dysfunction to wellness.

Please comment freely, ask questions and make specific requests for future topics.

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