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Bacon and Sperm Quality

Bacon and sperm quality

The bacon world (yes, there is a bacon world) is buzzing with the results of a recent Harvard study that claims eating bacon lowers the quality of sperm.  As an outspoken nutritional defender of bacon, I had to put my two cents in here and caution people not to throw the bacon out with the bath water (hardy har har).  Most bacon on the market today is highly processed, full of nitrates, and sourced from pigs that have been raised in toxic confinement conditions requiring the use of antibiotics and fed a nutritionally deficient diet full of genetically modified and pesticide-rich soy.  There is no question in my mind that this type of bacon, and particularly the nitrates used to preserve it, would harm sperm quality.

However, if you are able to purchase bacon that is nitrate-free and sourced from healthy animals that have been raised on chemical-free pasture (grass), then your bacon may be supplying a shot of beneficial saturated fat, which is important for fertility.  Obviously you would need to also eat other foods that help normal cellular production and fertility such as vegetables and seafood.  That is just part of being a human being!  But “as part of a balanced breakfast”, bacon may still be a helpful thing to eat as long as it’s the right kind.

While doing some quick research to respond to this study, I came across an interesting tidbit on nitrates.  I believe it’s mostly the nitrates in processed meats (bacon, sausage, lunch meat) that are harmful to sperm because you need selenium (found in Brazil nuts and seafood) and vitamin E (found in olive oil and avocado) to detoxify nitrates.  Interestingly, selenium and vitamin E are both absolutely essential to producing healthy sperm.  I found an animal study which showed that testosterone levels (both in blood and semen) were significantly lowered in rabbits when their intake of nitrates was high…and I don’t want to know how they harvest semen from rabbits.  The interesting part of the study was that researchers were able to “significantly increase” testosterone and fertility – without reducing nitrate intake – by supplementing those animals with vitamin E, selenium, and vitamin C (found in citrus, broccoli, and organic red bell pepper).   My point here is not to say “keep eating low quality bacon, just take supplements with it” but to say that even if you have been eating nitrate-rich foods and are having fertility problems (I always say a prayer for Jared from Subway when I see those commercials and think of how many years he ate nitrate-filled cold cuts for a primary protein source), there is hope for you!  The human body is very smart and can recover from almost anything if we give it the right tools.  And I’m holding fast to the assertion that one of those tools is an occasional serving of high quality bacon.

October 16, 2013   8 Comments

The Best Way to Cook Bacon…is in Water???

My blog software has a function that tells me what search terms bring people to my website.  Despite the numerous entries I have written on health, children, pregnancy, and nutrition, the #1 search term that brings people to my site is still “the benefits of bacon”!!!  This tells me that even if I posted the cure for cancer, the answer for world peace, or the quantum formula for staying young forever naturally, you people would all just scroll down until you found more info on bacon.  And that is why I love you.  So, to give the people what they want I thought I should share with you the bizarre discovery that I made last night – the best way to cook bacon is in water!

I buy the natural, nitrate-free bacon in bulk at the Whole Foods butcher counter because it is $8.99/pound versus $8.99/ half-pound shrink-wrapped package in the cooler.  The only downside to this is that the butcher counter bacon is like 3 times thicker than normal bacon which means I either cook it for a ridiculously long time on low heat resulting in a not-burned but rock hard carbonized piece of bacon or I cook it at higher heat for less time which results in partially charred bacon with completely raw fat.  Neither of these options helps my reputation for burning food, which started in college when I set a piece of toast on fire in a friend’s toaster oven and which continues to current day with my toddler staring up at me with his big eyes and furrowed eyebrows while I cook, pointing at the pan and saying repeatedly, “Mommy it’s buh-ning, it’s buh-ning.”  Parenting is hard enough without the commentary, thank you very much!  So last night, planning BLT’s for dinner, I decided to get educated and googled “best way to cook bacon” while nursing my 6-month old (really, what did we do before smart phones?  Figure things out on our own?).  I found this video:

“Super Quick Video Tips: How to Make the Most Perfect Bacon Ever”

If you don’t have time for the 1-minute video or if you’re at work and shouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place let alone watching a video about bacon on company time, here’s the summary:

  • Put bacon in skillet, cover with water (like 1-2″ of water).
  • Heat on high until water boils, then turn down to medium high.
  • Once water has evaporated turn to medium low and keep cooking until bacon is to your liking.

The results were perfect! The bacon was crispy, not burned, and so good that my toddler and I ate almost all of it before my husband came home from work so I had to pretend like grass-fed hamburgers with bacon crumbles (made from the 1 piece of bacon left after our mother-son bacon rampage) were what I was planning for dinner all along.  Poor guy.

September 10, 2012   1 Comment

Are you a member of the cool club?

I don’t normally write posts like this, but I wanted to make sure all you lovely readers out there knew that for the rest of October the Weston A. Price Foundation is undergoing its yearly member drive.  The WAPF is a truly amazing organization that has impressed me over and over again for their ability to take biochemical truths and turn them into simple guidelines that make health available to people.  Plus, they scientifically support my innate love for butter and coconut!  If not for their impact on my life as a nutritionist, you might be stuck reading boring drivel about the benefits of a fat-free diet and why margarine is a great idea.  But instead, as my sister once told a well-meaning guy friend who pinched her side and pointed out a little embellishment to her curve – the fat is the flavor!  So, add some flavor to your life and support this foundation so they can keep getting the word out about the importance of clean food, healthy fat, and a traditional, nourishing diet.  For only $40 a year you get access to the members only section of their website, a copy of their annual shopping guide booklet, and a quarterly magazine that contains interesting and entertaining info and is great to read at the beach, on the train (or in the bathroom – wherever you do your heavy reading is your business).  If $40 is out of your budget, they actually have a discounted rate of $25 for people with lowered income due to disability or unemployment.  And I promise I am getting no commercial benefit or kickback from this – I just renewed my membership today under my new name and thought I would take the opportunity to let you all know about it also.  So join if you can, and if you can’t then at least check out their website, so that you can put on a Utopian white shirt and join the clip art circular group hug containing a disproportionate amount of Asians that is pictured above and know that you are now a member of the cool club.

October 21, 2011   No Comments

Man Meat: Foods to Increase Testosterone

I realized today that I’ve been writing so much lately about pregnancy, babies, and women’s health that I better balance it out and write about something manly lest this become a girls only blog!  Here are a few foods that balance testosterone levels and help to keep a manly man the way nature intended – you guessed it – manly.

  • Butter: Yes, I am famous for going on and on about the health benefits of butter and allowing my toddler to eat slices of butter like they’re candy but there’s a reason for that.  Butter from healthy cows that have been fed grass instead of grain is rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), the only trans fat found in nature and one of the most manly fatty acids out there.  In fact, if you take a break from reading this blog and do a search on CLA I bet you will come upon a host of bodybuilding websites, and what is more manly than a bunch of overly tan men, greased up with Crisco, dancing around on a stage and posing in tiny underpants?  But back to butter.  It contains CLA, which helps to balance levels of insulin, estrogen, and testosterone.  And this is why it’s a popular supplement for bodybuilders.  Butter also contains activated vitamin A, which is necessary for production of testosterone.
  • Grassfed beef: This is another great source of CLA and also a wonderful way to get plenty of protein and zinc – two precursors needed for testosterone production.  Please note that I am making a distinction here between grassfed meat and butter and regular commercial meat and butter.  Sadly, commercial cows are raised in feedlots, fed grain that lowers their levels of CLA (cows get CLA from the fermentation of grass in their gut done by bacteria that are killed off when feedlot cows are fed grain and antibiotics), and in some cases are even given doses of synthetic estrogen to make them grow faster and produce more milk.  These factors end up having the opposite effect on testosterone and they are the reason that foods containing saturated fat have such a bad reputation these days.
  • White button mushrooms: Aromatase is an enzyme that turns androgens (man hormones) into estrogens (lady hormones).  This is most important in the development of hormone dependent cancers, which is why foods that have anti-aromatase activity are heavily studied so that drug companies can figure out how to make drugs with the same activity.  White button mushrooms are one of the foods that you will find in these studies, though I suspect that most mushrooms have the same benefits (white buttons are just the cheapest, so probably they are the easiest to study in large amounts – that is purely my speculation though).  If you’re going to go off the deep end on eating mushrooms, make sure that you cook them first (in grassfed butter!).  Eating raw mushrooms in large amounts can expose you to a toxin inherent in mushrooms which is broken down when they are exposed to heat.
  • Cruciferous vegetables: This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, radish, turnip, and watercress.  Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur-based compounds including one called I3C (indole-3-carbinol) that help to balance hormone levels and detoxify excess estrogen.  These compounds are widely studied for their anti-cancer effects, and when I worked in a clinic we used to give men a supplement containing these sulfur-based compounds to help them with urinary frequency problems.  Some of them came back reporting an increase in function in the “love area”, which I’m guessing would be due to a balancing of their testosterone levels!
  • Pumpkin seeds: Rich in zinc (another important nutrient for balancing hormone levels), pumpkin seeds also contain phytochemicals that are especially nourishing to the prostate.  The two studies I read found that pumpkin seed oil effectively reduced prostate size in cases of BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia – also known as an enlarged prostate) that were caused by hormone imbalance.  And for all you coconut lovers out there – I found a study from Cuba that showed coconut oil to have the same benefits on BPH!

Ladies – I know the focus of this blog was more on men, but keep in mind that testosterone levels are important for women too!  In fact, testosterone is the single most important hormone related to sex drive for women.  So you may want to re-read this blog with that in mind :).

July 6, 2011   2 Comments

The Nutrition of Pie

For some reason, since adding the Ask Jessica feature to my website I have gotten an inordinate amount of questions regarding the nutritional benefits of pie.  I don’t know what it is about my website that attracts so many over-the-top pie lovers, but I’m thankful for the business!  Even if some of you are creepily serious about your pie questions.  Here’s one of my favorite pie-related questions so far.  And honestly, if I get any more questions about the nutrition of pie I’m going to have to open up an entirely new page on my website because it seems that my readers care way more about pie than they do about any health topic I could write about!

Q: What kind of pie should I make? Fruity, nutty, chocolatey or custardy?  Please assume all ingredients are organic, if that helps.

A: Each type of pie you have listed has its own benefits, so why don’t I help your decision making process by listing them out below.

  • Fruity: Fruit pies contain (you will never guess) – fruit.  And fruit, being a natural produce item, has plenty of health benefits depending on which type you use.  Blueberries have been found to contain antioxidants that protect the brain, cherries contain natural pain relieving compounds and may help promote a good night’s sleep due to their melatonin content (especially tart cherries), and apples have been shown in some studies to keep those pesky doctors away (and they also contain trace amounts of chromium, a mineral that helps to balance out the insulin your body is releasing in response to a huge slice of sugary pie).  The downside to fruit pies is that they normally require the use of cups and cups of sugar.  I have found that adding a pinch of salt and a few tablespoons of lemon juice helps reduce the amount of sugar you need to make the pie tasty.  You can also try substituting xylitol (natural sugar from birch trees) for all or part of the sugar in your recipe.  Just make sure that you work your way up to it – lots of xylitol in one sitting eaten by people who are not used to it may cause loose stool due to its laxative effect and may also cause a runny nose or general unwell feeling since it kills off excess yeast in the body, leading to detox reactions.  From personal experience, I have to warn you not to make a pure xylitol apple pie for your husband without telling him lest he dominate the ENTIRE pie in one sitting and then blame you for his explosive diarrhea the next day at work.
  • Nutty: Nuts contain healthy fats and also protein, both of which are very beneficial.  The downside with nut pies is that they require even more sugar than fruit pies to make them taste like a pie and not a 1970’s granola bar.  Most nut pie recipes (such as pecan pie) also require the addition of corn syrup which is not an ideal sweetener due to the fact that it mostly comes from genetically modified corn and if you have ever researched the subject or have seen the documentary King Corn, the idea of corn syrup would just give you the heebie jeebies.  You could try substituting stevia and/or honey for the sugar and corn syrup but I don’t know if that would crystallize properly.  At any rate, if you must make nut pie try using sucanat or another form of natural cane sugar that still contains the trace minerals and look for organic corn syrup, which actually does exist (Wholesome Sweeteners brand makes a variety).
  • Chocolatey:  I can only assume you are referring to a chocolate pudding type of pie here?  In that case, I would have to point to chocolate’s antioxidant properties which are highlighted over and over again especially in women’s health magazines since most writers rightly assume that the majority of women are addicted to chocolate.  My theory on this is that women especially crave chocolate because it is a source of magnesium (the mineral that balances out calcium levels) and most of us get a lot of calcium since we live in fear of bone loss but not quite enough magnesium to balance this out since there is not much press on the subject.  Magnesium is found in green vegetables, so somebody should start paying celebrities to pose for ads of them with green vegetable moustaches to bring more light to the fact that magnesium is just as important as calcium.  But back to your pie – the nice thing about pudding pies is that homemade pudding contains milk compounds and starches that have been shown to improve quality of sleep.  But if it’s chocolate pudding, the caffeine naturally present in chocolate may affect this a bit.
  • Custardy: Custard pies are made from eggs, the whites of which are an excellent source of protein and the yolks of which are an amazing storehouse of B vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and healthy cholesterol.  To get back to your original question, if I were to decide your pie fate I would pick a custard pie simply because eggs are so incredibly good for you.  Custard pies also contain milk, which may give you some of the milk pudding effect listed above.  And I would think that stevia, xylitol and/or sucanat would blend seamlessly into a custard pie.

June 13, 2011   2 Comments

Update on the Battle Against Stretch Marks and Hints for Losing Baby Weight

A few days ago I turned 30!  And I’m excited about being 30 for reasons I will explain in another post if Mr. Milk stays asleep long enough for me to enjoy some birthday week blogging.  Last year at this time I was very pregnant and wrote a blog on stretch marks.  I must admit here that I did not escape from pregnancy stretch-mark free – I do have a few souvenirs around my midriff to remind me that my little daredevil baby decided not to “drop” (the term used to describe when the baby moves from kicking you in the ribs constantly to a lower position in your pelvis which makes you waddle like a penguin and is usually a sign that they baby will be born in the coming weeks) until 8 hours before he was born.  So, rather than the gradual drop that most women get to enjoy a week or two before labor, I experienced rapid stretching of the skin as my little boy planned his great escape from my uterus which will cause some stretch marks no matter how much lotion it rubs on its skin.  But they are fading with time (and liberal application of coconut oil) so there is hope.

Stretch marks and all, I’m pleased to share that I’ve been happily sporting a bikini since my first trip to the beach a couple months after the boy was born.  And somehow I’ve managed to lose the baby weight well enough that I don’t have to wear my son as an accessory to explain to other beach goers “it’s baby weight, so stop wondering if I’m still pregnant”.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m no Heidi Klum – but I was able to get back down to my pre-pregnancy weight pretty quickly without turning into a fitness freak mom.  Here are some things that helped me, hopefully they can help you too!

  • If possible, breastfeed.  Breastmilk contains about 20 calories per ounce, and with Mr. Milk drinking an estimated 40 ounces of milk daily I’m burning 800 calories extra calories a day doing nothing but sitting on the couch!
  • Eat lots of healthy fat.  The term “lots” may mean different things to different people (gauge it by how you feel when you eat healthy fat) but to me this is about 6 tablespoons of extra fat daily in the form of butter, cream, coconut oil, avocado, and olive oil on top of a base diet of foods rich in healthy fat such as fatty fish, eggs, shellfish, organic cheese, and grassfed meat.  Eating healthy fat helps your body to get rid of extra fat pounds and has the added benefit of making sure your baby is getting all the good brain fats from your milk.
  • Eat enough protein.  This helps your body to build muscle mass, repair from birth, and keep your hormones at healthy levels to prevent postpartum depression.  A good general marker is to eat the number of grams that is equal to half your body weight in pounds.  For example, a woman who is 120 pounds should eat about 60 grams while someone who is 160 pounds should eat about 80 grams a day.  If you are under more stress or are very active you may need more protein to help conserve muscle mass.  Also, if you have kidney problems then you may need less protein (ask your doctor).  To give you an idea of the protein content of foods, an egg contains 7 grams of protein, a large chicken breast or hamburger patty contains about 30 grams, a 3 oz. piece of fish contains about 20 grams, and a cup of beans contains about 15 grams.
  • Eat small meals all day (and night, if you’re up and you’re hungry).  This one is easy to do with a newborn because unless you have a live-in nanny or your mom lives next door you probably won’t be sitting down to three big meals a day for a while!
  • Drink lots of water.  Again, amounts vary but drink enough that your urine is light yellow (even if it is fluorescent from vitamins) and your milk (if breastfeeding) flows freely.  It’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger and overeat the wrong kinds of foods as a response.  I have found that drinking out of a huge cup or quart-sized mason jar with a straw helps me drink enough water through the day to keep up with demand.
  • Take the baby for walks.  This was especially helpful for me in the weeks after Mr. Milk was born because I needed to get out of the house!

So that’s it!  It’s not rocket science but it worked (and was about all I could handle as a new mom figuring out how to care for my new creature).  If any of you have tips for losing baby weight please share them in the comments section!

September 27, 2010   3 Comments