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What’s hiding in your corn?

If you’ve seen the documentary King Corn, or other documentaries about our food supply, you are probably already a little suspicious of corn.  I personally am very allergic to most varieties of corn except for blue, which people think is funny since I lived in Iowa for almost a decade.  I had heard that corn contains mold (similar to the issue with peanuts) but had never taken the time to research it until someone who had gone gluten-free asked me if all the corn in gluten-free foods was worse for you (not to mention more expensive) than just eating gluten.  Great question!  I read through a few studies and then found an absolutely amazing research report on the subject by Charles M. Benbrook, PhD from the Organic Center. Below is what hit me in my own research from several sources but the bulk of the interesting stuff is from Dr. Benbrook’s review.  If you have time, I highly recommend reading the whole report!

  • Worldwide, pretty much all corn grown and then stored (vs. grown and then eaten fresh off the cob) contains mold.  However, the main concern is not the mold itself, but the presence of mycotoxins, which are toxins produced by mold.
  • Wheat, rice, peanuts, spoiled produce (especially apples used in apple juice), and milk and meat (because the animals are fed moldy corn) are also significant contributors of mycotoxins in our daily diets.
  • The key thing in all of this is looking at the type of mycotoxin found in the different foods.  Corn and peanuts contain the highest concentrations of Aflatoxin B, which is considered by many scientists to literally be “the most potent carcinogen known to man” because of its ability to cause intense liver damage and gene mutation.  This makes the mold in corn and peanuts a much higher priority to avoid than the mold in wheat or rice, though they all contain mold.
  • Aflatoxin is extremely stable and lasts for years.  Levels do decline slightly at temperatures above boiling temperatures.
  • The biggest factor in determining the quantity of aflatoxin present in a food is how wet the growing season was when the grain was budding.  So, it’s virtually impossible to trace through the food supply.  Drought stress (like the drought we had last year in the US) also causes an “aflatoxin bloom” when the mold produces more aflatoxin than normal.  So it’s safe to say that we should try to avoid all US grown corn and corn-fed animal products from last year.  Which again, is really hard to trace when you’re shopping at the store!
  • Studies comparing organic vs. commercial levels of aflatoxin in corn and other foods were inconclusive.  Some showed more in organic, some less, some the same, mostly depending on when and where the food was grown.  Monsanto and others have tried to propagate the idea that organic and non-GMO grains are a higher risk for aflatoxin because fungicides are not used.  However, when looking at the food as a whole, a person is much better able to effectively detoxify and prevent harm from aflatoxin exposure when it is not combined in the same mouthful with pesticides, fungicides, and foreign genetics.
  • On a side note, in 2011, 10% of the corn in our food supply was genetically modified.  Sweet corn was the first “vegetable” (because un-sweet corn is a grain, not a vegetable) that Monsanto modified for our food supply.
  • Organic farms also tend to be smaller operations, and they tend to have more “soil harmony” including use of compost tea which inoculates plants with healthier forms of bacteria and non-pathogenic molds that displace molds that produce aflatoxin.
  • Mold also produces higher levels of aflatoxin when exposed to excessive levels of nitrogen, such as those found in commercial fertilizers.
  • I did not find anything saying mold was more or less on blue corn vs. white and yellow.  However, it more likely contains less aflatoxin since it is open pollinated rather than hybridized so would have stronger resistance.
  • Several studies examined mycotoxin content exposure to our children and found that there is a serious concern for kids who eat a lot of wheat – including the wheat cereals for babies which contained some of the highest levels of mycotoxin of ALL foods studied – and for pregnant or nursing mothers who eat bread, breakfast cereals, cake, and liver pate from corn-fed animals (because the aflatoxin the animals are exposed to is concentrated in the liver).  Mycotoxins pass the placental barrier and are more concentrated in human breast milk than in milk from cows.  That’s a hard one for this nursing mother to read without wanting to cry!
  • Stress, disease, hunger, and inadequate protein intake make it more likely that aflatoxins will cause damage in the people eating them.  This makes mold exposure in developing countries a major global issue because some communities have to choose between moldy grain or no grain at all.
  • The USDA is sickeningly lenient when it comes to mycotoxin levels in our food supply.  On all types of mycotoxin (there are about 10 different ones that we keep track of) we have the highest allowed levels of any other nation that is developed enough to monitor this.  We allow 10 times more aflatoxin (the really bad one) than Europe and 2 times more than Japan in corn used for human consumption.  In corn used for animal consumption, we allow 15 times more aflatoxin than Europe and Japan.  For other mycotoxins such as those found in wheat, the US gives “guidelines” for levels but does not necessarily enforce them.

Now, before you turn off your computer and go hide in your closet, I wanted to share some practical points for navigating through this issue.

  • As much as possible, try to have your diet be protein (especially animal protein from grassfed animals or wildcaught seafood, or for vegetarians – minimally processed proteins such as whole raw nuts or dry beans) and fresh produce.  The more a food is processed, the more likely there will be items that contain aflatoxin.
  • When you do need to cook with corn products (as in tasty Mexican food!), try to buy organic or blue corn varieties.
  • If you regularly eat gluten-free pasta, I would suggest using zucchini cut into noodle-shape a mandolin as a first option or use the Andean Dreambrand which is a combo of rice and quinoa flour that cooks well enough that my “texturally particular” (my way of saying picky without imprinting on my son’s brain that he’s picky) toddler loves it.  Any grain will have some mycotoxin, but rice and quinoa tend show lower levels when tested (though rice does have its own issues, I will get into that at some point in the future).
  • Use sourdough as much as possible when having bread.  Lactic acid bacteria such as those found in yogurt and sourdough bind mycotoxins and prevent their absorption.  I recently started making my own kombucha and at some point want to make my own sauerkraut and sourdough bread if I can ever got over the concept that I have to make it the way my dad told me when I was a kid, which is that old miners in California would keep their sourdough starter in their armpits because it was the right temperature.  So from ages 8 to 16 I would not eat sourdough because I thought it all came from armpits.  (And I know the point of writing this blog is not analyzing my own psychology but I have to admit that subconsciously I still kind of think about armpits when I eat sourdough. )
  • Always serve beans (preferable whole black or pinto) or another high soluble fiber vegetable at Mexican meals containing corn.  The fiber in the beans helps to bind the aflatoxin.  As I write this I’m remembering that one of my favorite people in the world back in Iowa always wanted to eat apple sauce on his enchiladas, which seemed crazy but when I tried it, it was delicious!  Maybe he knew that apples are a good source of soluble fiber so they are a perfect complement to the corn in the enchilada :).
  • Eat more beets, which directly support the liver.  I don’t think I personally can practically avoid mycotoxins altogether (they are even in wine!) but I can eat foods that make my liver more able to handle them.  There are so many ways to enjoy beets – raw shredded beets are great in sandwiches, steamed beets taste wonderful in salads, and roasted beets are a delicious side dish.  And if you are new to eating beets, don’t think your kidneys exploded if your urine if pink or red after you eat them.  There is even a ridiculous Wikipedia explanation on the subject.
  • Ingesting bentonite clay is one of the most effective ways to bind aflatoxins in the gut, so much so that some feedlot farmers have considered adding bentonite to their feed to keep their animals from dying of liver cancer before slaughter from the constant exposure to aflatoxin in their feed.  In my private yet public blog confessional, this is the part where I confess that I have started sprinkling bentonite clay over popcorn (alongside the Celtic salt and butter) when my kids and husband eat it (I try to keep the blue corn popcornon hand).  I get the super fine bentonite clay and lightly dust it over the top, mostly to give me some peace of mind that it’s soaking up aflatoxins while they’re watching a movie.  Neurotic I know, but nobody has complained about their popcorn tasting like a face mask yet so don’t tell them :).

 

June 19, 2013   No Comments

My Homemade Kombucha Recipe

After 7 years of spending way too much money on GT Dave’s Kombucha (which is delicious, but in Hawaii is almost $5 per bottle), I decided to take the plunge and started brewing kombucha myself.  Kombucha offers an extensive list of health benefits including but not limited to hormone balance, cancer prevention, detoxification support, and even improvements to bone and tooth quality.  I personally drank it through both pregnancies to prevent nausea (which I never had, thank goodness!) and when not pregnant would drink it for the week prior to my period to prevent migraines and PMS during that time.  At $5 a bottle that really adds up!  To be brutally honest, I was resistant to brewing my own kombucha because in my mind the next step after entering the world of home fermentation is Birkenstocks and hairy armpits (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things!) but I realized I was being ridiculous and my resistance was costing me money that could instead be spent on practical, important items like stilettos and waxing (okay, now I’m really being ridiculous but I’m too hopped up on coffee and homemade kombucha today to have a filter and I’m perceiving myself as funnier than I actually am).  But back to the point – making kombucha at home was shockingly easy to do and my very first batch (pictured above) turned out well so I wanted to share the recipe with all of you who may also be skeptical of home brewing.  Here’s what you do:

  1. Find a SCOBY (the starter – stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast).  I recommend checking on Craigslist.org for someone in your area (just type in “SCOBY” or “Kombucha”) or contacting your local Weston Price chapter leader.  If you can’t get a SCOBY from either of these places, you can get them on Amazon, but this tends to be the most expensive option.  I found someone through Craigslist here on the North Shore of Oahu (relatively far from me) who referred me to their friend in Waimanalo (close to me) who was nice enough to meet up and gave me a free SCOBY.  Here’s what they look like:  While it may seem a little disturbing to meet up with a total stranger and leave with a ziplock baggie full of something that looks like an alien organ suspended in a solution of brown liquid, it is totally worth it.
  2. Get a half gallon glass jar (or gallon, or any size glass container really, but my recipe is for a half gallon because that’s the biggest jar I have), fill it with purified water, and then dump that water into a pot and bring it to a boil.  Stir in approximately 3/4 cup sugar, but don’t dump it in all at once or it might boil over.  White sugar is actually the best (and cheapest) but you can use any type of sugar you have on hand – white sugar, brown sugar, organic sugar, I’ve even heard of people using molasses.  The sugar is just to feed the fermentation so the bacteria and yeast should eat most (if not all) of it anyway. Just don’t use honey since it has antibacterial properties.
  3. Remove solution from heat and add 2 black tea bags (any type of black tea, I used plain old Lipton’s because I had it in the cabinet but since then have started using organic black tea from Vitacost).  Steep for 10 minutes to brew a strong tea.  (You can also use an equivalent amount of loose tea, you just have to strain it and that’s 5 seconds I’d rather spend doing something else.)
  4. Cool to room temp.  If you’re in a hurry you can throw in a few ice cubes and put it in the fridge to cool faster, just make sure you stir well to avoid any “hot spots” that might kill the bacteria in the SCOBY.
  5. Once the solution is cool enough, add your SCOBY along with 1-2 cups of kombucha from a prior brew (use storebought kombucha if you didn’t get liquid with your first SCOBY, or if storebought isn’t available add 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar to make the tea acidic enough for fermentation) and cover loosely with a cheesecloth or other breathe-able cloth (I used a thin dishcloth, but Gerber diaper cloths work well also) and secure with a rubber band.  Place this in an area where the temp is around or slightly warmer than room temp (between 74 and 84 degrees F) and leave it alone.  Here’s how my first brew looked:
  6. Depending on how sour or bubbly you like your kombucha, you can let it brew for a minimum of 3 days up to a month.  My first brew I fermented for 5 days (it was sour and tasty, but not too bubbly), my second brew I fermented for 2 weeks (more sour and tasty, and more bubbly) and my third brew is in the works now.  You can check the fermentation process by gently dipping a clean spoon into the mix and tasting to check how sour and bubbly it is.  Also, one of the fun things to notice as your kombucha is brewing is that the SCOBY “mother” produces a “daughter” which starts out as a thin, clear film on the top and eventually turns into a perfect little disc the exact shape of the top of your brewing container.  Mine looked like this:
  7. Once the kombucha has fermented to your liking, you can pour off what you want to drink and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to enjoy it!  Be sure to reserve at least 1-2 cups of your brew as the starter for the next batch, which you can store at room temp if you’re going to use it in the next few days or in the fridge if it’s going to be a while before your next batch.  You can drink the kombucha straight, or add juice or fruit for flavoring.  It is sweet on its own so doesn’t require additional sweetener but I find that it mellows nicely when you add something tart for balance, such as lemon juice or frozen berries (but I personally don’t recommend adding these to the fermentation unless you really know what you’re doing – I would wait until your brew is complete to add them to the final product).

Obviously, after 3 batches at home I don’t consider myself a kombucha expert but I did want to share this info with you to let you know that you don’t have to be an expert to make your own! For more practical tips, I recommend visiting the SustainabiliTEA site on kombucha.  I did not read the entire site (yet), but what I did read was very helpful and concise and explains some important issues such as how to avoid and detect mold.

TURD IN THE PUNCHBOWL ALERT: For the sake of full disclosure, I must confess that the frozen berry mix used in the beautiful picture of the finished kombucha at the beginning of this blog is the very same organic antioxidant mix that was recently recalled from Costco for containing pomegranate seeds from Turkey that were giving people Hepatitis A!!!  Luckily I only used it once to flavor that particular glass of kombucha.  I didn’t like the flavor (maybe my body could innately taste the Hepatitis A – but more realistically it’s because I didn’t like the flavor of the variety of cherries used in the mix) so it stayed in my freezer untouched until it ended up on the news.  Now it’s still in my freezer until I can take it back to Costco and exchange it for something with a little less communicable disease.  I don’t have any hepatitis symptoms and thankfully my kids and husband didn’t have any of the berry mix, but just to be safe I’m taking milk thistle herb (for liver support) and eating lots of coconut oil (for its anti-viral activity).  In the future I will try to stick to flavoring my kombucha with fresh fruit that I have washed myself.

June 5, 2013   9 Comments

Breast Cancer Nutrition

Lately it seems that I’m working with more and more otherwise healthy women who are battling breast cancer at younger and younger ages.  The purpose of this blog is to give some nutrition and lifestyle tips to aid the fight against breast cancer, but I have to start off by saying that if you are dealing with breast cancer it’s not your fault.  It’s not because you did or didn’t do something: many of us don’t exercise, eat a terrible diet, live a stressful lifestyle and don’t get breast cancer.  Of all cancers, breast cancer seems to be the most emotionally charged because it is so fundamentally wrong that the parts of us which help to make us visibly feminine and which may have nourished our infant children would now be capable of so much destruction.  So – in my very humble opinion – the first thing you have to recognize is that a breast cancer diagnosis is not your fault, but that there are things that you can do to help turn your hormonal chemistry back to health.

There are many nutrients involved in the biochemistry of cancer, but the two supplements I would immediately start taking if I were battling breast cancer would be:

  1. Iodine.  Iodine is a mineral that is concentrated in the thyroid, breasts, and ovaries.  It is found in seaweed, fish, egg yolks (as long as the chicken lived in an iodine-rich area), and organ meats.  Iodine deficiency is related to abnormal breast tissue growth (which is why many women with fibrocystic breasts find relief by increasing their iodine intake) and increased sensitivity to estrogen in breast tissue.  On the surface this increased sensitivity may not seem like a big deal, but when you factor in the amount of estrogen that our bodies are bombarded with on a daily basis (see lifestyle tips below) you can start to get a picture of why breast cancer is on the rise.  Signs that a person may have low levels of iodine include low body temperature (feeling cold when others are warm), fatigue, goiter, and slowed growth of body hair (meaning you have to pluck your eyebrows or shave your legs less often, but ladies please don’t intentionally deprive yourself of iodine just to save on your waxing bill :)!).  Despite the addition of iodine to salt, many Americans still have low levels of iodine.  In my opinion this is because of our rampant exposure to things that compete with iodine, namely chlorine, fluoride, and bromine.  Nerd alert – if you look at the periodic table of elements you will see that these elements are in the same column as iodine which means they have similar properties and may compete in the human body.  Chlorine can be found in tap water, pesticide residues, and as a breakdown product in Splenda (the artificial sweetener that “Tastes like sugar cause it’s made from sugar” or in my more accurate slogan which hasn’t been picked up by the manufacturers: “Tastes like sugar cause it’s made from poison”).  Fluoride is found in fluoridated tap water, toothpaste, and is a breakdown product of industrial fertilizers.  Bromine is found in some baked goods and in fire retardants (which is why my kids don’t sleep in pajamas treated with chemical fire retardants – bromine is linked to hyperactivity and with two already super active little boys, Lord knows we don’t need anything to increase their activity levels!).  You can see how the exposure to these elements from multiple sources on a daily basis helps to squash the small amount of iodine the average American gets in their diet.  A general dosage to restore iodine levels is around 25 mg of iodine (I like the forms in Iodoral brand the best) but if you plan to take iodine for any length of time it is best to have your levels evaluated with an iodine loading test, and of course consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner to make sure it doesn’t interfere with any medications you may be on.
  2. Sulforaphane Glucosinolate, abbreviated SGS.  This dietary compound, found in cruciferous vegetables (ie broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts), works at the epigenetic level – meaning that regardless of whether you have the so-called “gene for cancer”, it works at a deeper level that tells your genes how to express themselves.  Epigenetics is a huge and exciting area of research and I’m having a hard time not going on a 10-page rant about how it proves that we are not just victims of our genes so I will just save that for another blog!  Johns Hopkins has done extensive research on Sulforaphane and its specific role in preventing cancerous growth in the breast as well as in prompting breast cancer cells to commit apoptosis, or programmed cell suicide.  Broccoli sprouts are the richest dietary source of SGS and can be purchased at most health food stores or grown at home from broccoli seeds.  If sprouts aren’t your thing, SGS is also available in supplement form.  It’s important to note that SGS is not just for ladies – it has been found to prevent several forms of cancer and has similar anti-cancer effects in prostate cancer cells.

Lifestyle tips that may also help include:

  • Avoid environmental estrogen like the plague that it is.  Sources of environmental estrogen include plastic (especially any plastic with a smell, such as plastic shower liners – the smell means it’s off-gassing), new foam mattresses, hormones in meat and dairy products, pesticide residues on food, bis-phenol A found in plastic food storage containers and in the lining of canned foods, synthetic fragrances found in cosmetics and air fresheners (that’s right I’m talking about you, Glade Plug-ins), preservatives and sudsing agents in personal care products, chemicals and fragrances in commercial cleaning products, pharmaceutical and pesticide residues in tap water, adhesives in new carpet, fumes in paint, and dry cleaning chemicals. Now, before you banish yourself to your closet wearing a burlap sack and eating only air, realize that you can avoid most of the above by eating organic foods as much as possible, storing food and beverages in glass or stainless steel instead of plastic, drinking only filtered water, using natural cosmetics and personal care products, and being mindful of the chemical input of things in your home (i.e. choose a cloth shower curtain instead of plastic, look for VOC-free paint, consider a latex or wool mattress instead of foam).
  • Go to bed at or before 10 PM and sleep in a totally dark room.  This helps your brain to produce adequate amounts of melatonin, a hormone involved in sleep regulation that also has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.  The link between melatonin and breast cancer may partially explain why nurses and other night-shift workers have higher incidences of breast cancer than other populations.
  • Take time to nurture yourself.  Metaphysically speaking, the breasts are commonly linked to feelings of nurturing (or lack thereof).  Figure out what this means for you – maybe it’s getting a massage, taking a hot bath, eating a meal you really enjoy, going on a trip, scheduling a few minutes of “me time” into your day, planting a garden, reading a book, allowing yourself the time to exercise, or simply taking a nap!  Regardless of the treatment option you choose, taking the time to nurture yourself will help you on the road to healing.  For more info on this, see the excellent book Feelings Buried Alive Never Die by Karol Truman that discusses the link between specific emotions and the particular diseases they are associated with and gives practical steps for creating health in the link between mind and body.  For an overall look at emotions and women’s health, I recommend the book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, that is an amazing and practical read on learning to love our bodies – even when certain parts may be giving us a hard time.

One more thing that I would like to mention is that when choosing a treatment option, make sure you go with the option that is absolutely what you want to do.  I know I personally tend to have a more holistic approach, but in talking with oncologists through the years the one theme that remains constant is that people have the best outcome when they are confident in their treatment choice.  Whether you decide to go with chemotherapy, radiation, surgical options, natural options, experimental treatments, nutritional treatments, or no treatment make sure that you are doing it because you feel it’s the right choice for you. Every woman is different, every cancer is different, and finding the right treatment option for you – regardless of what your insurance company thinks – could be the key to getting you through this difficult step and on to the rest of your life.  Things may seem bleak right now, but in lectures I have given nationwide with cancer survivors, the thing I hear most often from these amazing women is that cancer changed their life for the better because they realized how strong they really were.  A cancer diagnosis was the catalyst that forced them to choose daily to replace fear and despair with love and celebration.  My sincere wish is that it does the same for you!

October 31, 2012   4 Comments

Nutrition for Night Shift Workers

My little sister – who happens to be the cutest nurse in the world and is the cover girl pictured above – is slated to start the dreaded thing that most, if not all, nurses must do at some point in their career: night shift.  Working nights has been linked to increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer in women, and prostate cancer in men.  The big sister in me wants to write a letter to my sister’s hospital detailing all these risks and asking that they keep her only on days for the duration of her career, but like most people who work nights, what she’s doing is important enough that it can’t wait until morning (she helps to deliver babies).  So, for those of you who work nights because you are doing important stuff that can’t be done during the day or – like my own mom – work nights for the noble purpose of being home during the day with your families…which means basically not sleeping for about 18 years…here are some tips that may help you:

  • The main hormone affected with working night shift is melatonin, the hormone produced by the brain that helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles.  Melatonin also has anti-cancer and anti-aging effects, so it’s really important to support your body’s production of this hormone.  Melatonin can be taken as a supplement, which I think is okay in the short-term (a few days to a few weeks) for people who are traveling across time zones or who have insomnia severe enough to warrant medication, but I don’t recommend it as a long-term fix (more than a few weeks at a time) because it affects the reproductive system and taking it long-term can reduce the amount that your body produces naturally.
  • To support melatonin production, try to set a regular bed time so that your brain can adjust to the new sleeping pattern.  This may be nearly impossible if your work shifts alternate between night and day, but even then you can try to set a schedule so that you are in bed 3 hours after your shift ends (or whatever makes sense for you) regardless of the time your shift actually ends.
  • Melatonin is produced in response to darkness, so even if the sun is blazing outside try to recreate gradual darkness as you wind down to bedtime.  For example, if you get off of work at 7 AM then once you get home do something that relaxes you such as taking a warm bath with the lights dimmed or reading a book with the curtains drawn.  Then go to sleep in a completely dark room (use black-out curtains or a sleep mask if you need to).
  • Foods that may help to increase melatonin production because they contain small amounts of melatonin include olive oil, tomatoes, grape skins, walnuts, oats, and rice.  Tryptophan and Vitamin B6 are also needed to produce melatonin.  Foods rich in tryptophan include chicken, tuna, fatty fish such as salmon or halibut, and of course turkey!  Foods rich in vitamin B6 include chickpeas, tuna, beef, and turkey.
  • Another major reason that night shift may be hard on your health is that it’s unnatural for the body to produce significant amounts of insulin during the night hours, when the body is normally focused on growth and repair.  Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to carbohydrates.  In small amounts, complex carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, whole grains) actually help to make tryptophan available to the brain, but eating large amounts of simple carbohydrates (basically everything in the snack machine) causes surges of insulin to be released which encourages fat gain, accelerates aging, and can further disrupt sleep patterns.
  • To keep insulin levels in a healthy range while working nights, it’s absolutely vital to plan ahead and take snacks with you to work!  Try to eat a small amount of food every 2-3 hours (skipping meals causes insulin levels to become unbalanced also) and focus on foods containing protein along with healthy fats and/or complex carbohydrates.
  • To save you the time of figuring out snack ideas for work, here are some ideas that you can prep on your day off and have ready to grab when you leave for work:
    • Celery sticks with tuna salad (look for skipjack or chunk light, which are lower in mercury).
    • Salmon salad (same as tuna salad but made with canned wild salmon) and raw veggie sticks or crackers.
    • Baby carrots and garbanzo bean hummus.
    • Apple slices and almond butter.
    • Caprese salad made with diced fresh tomatoes, diced fresh mozzarella (buy at any grocery store), diced red or sweet onion, and torn fresh basil, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
    • Sprouts rolled up inside turkey slices.  Or turkey slices straight out of the package if you’re busy!  Just look for nitrate-free turkey, since nitrates are linked to stomach cancer and erectile dysfunction in men (how’s that for a motivator to eat healthier?).  I usually buy freshly sliced turkey from the deli counter at the local health food store.  They have lots of different nitrate-free options and it’s cheaper and fresher than buying the pre-packaged kind.
    • Smoked salmon, cream cheese, and capers rolled up in a sheet of nori sushi paper (or a whole grain tortilla if you don’t like nori)
    • Cook an extra portion of chicken, steak, wild salmon, or halibut with dinner during the week, slice it and serve it cold over a green salad or a small bed of wild rice while you’re at work.
    • Chickpea salad made with 1 can rinsed canned chickpeas, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1/2 diced red onion, a handful of chopped fresh parsley or dill (whichever flavor you prefer), a handful of crumbled feta, Italian salad dressing (if you use the bottled kind then pour the oil portion off and replace with olive oil) and salt and black pepper to season.
    • Spinach salad with red grapes, chopped walnuts, crumbled feta, diced chicken or wild salmon, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dressing.
    • Chicken and rice soup made with chicken broth, diced chicken (make extra at dinner), diced carrots, diced celery, chopped onion and garlic, and brown or wild rice.
    • Sliced pears and fancy cheese (whatever kind you like as long as it’s real cheese…American cheese does not count as fancy cheese!) or a handful of raw walnuts or almonds
    • Fresh sauerkraut (in the refrigerated section of health food stores, will say “live active cultures” on the label or if you are truly amazing you can make your own sauerkraut) rolled up in roast beef deli slices with spicy mustard – or served on a slice of whole grain sourdough bread if a roll-up is too messy.  If your coworkers complain about the smell of the sauerkraut you can let them know that it’s balancing your hormones while replenishing levels of healthy bacteria in your gut so stop whining.
    • Fruit salad made with fresh fruit of your choice (whatever is in season in your area), frozen berries, chopped walnuts, and diced unsweetened coconut.  One of my great friends in Iowa who used to always get into passionate discussions with me about whether cheese or butter was tastier (guess which side I was on) told me that putting a tiny bit of fresh mint in fruit salad “elevates” the flavors (her dad is a chef and her mom is a Flamenco dancer, so she can’t help saying words like “elevate” while making hand gestures like an Italian pastry chef) of any fruit salad.  She was right and to this day I grow mint in the backyard because of her!
    • Fresh oatmeal with chopped nuts.  Cook it in a tiny crockpot if you have one!
    • Smoothies made with coconut or almond milk, frozen fruit, nuts or seeds, and yogurt or your protein powder of choice.
    • Eggs in basically any form.  Deviled, egg salad, hard boiled, soft boiled, sunny side up, poached…just try to avoid scrambled because frying the yolk at high heat destroys some of the nutrients that are so nourishing to the brain.
  • One more really important thing to remember is to stay hydrated!  One of worst things you could do while working night shift is to drink caffeinated beverages and neglect to drink enough water.  I didn’t find any studies to back it up, but my personal theory is that some of the health problems associated with working night shift are compounded by long-term dehydration because people forget to drink water when their schedules are flipped.  Staying hydrated also prevents fatigue which will make it less likely that you will need to depend on caffeine during your shift.  Some caffeine is okay – and probably necessary for most of us – just be sure to limit caffeine consumption to the first half of your shift so you will sleep easier once you get home and can rest.  I know it’s especially hard for people on night shift to drink enough water because they tend to be in fast-paced jobs such as medicine, security, or factory production and can’t take a lot of bathroom breaks.  I have found in my practice that clients who are especially concerned about urinary frequency actually find that they need fewer bathroom breaks when they are more hydrated because their bladder starts to empty more efficiently.  To stay hydrated, I suggest bringing a large container of water to work (either a large water bottle, or my favorite: a glass quart-sized Mason jar with a lid and a straw – very classy) and keep if full at your work station so that whenever you are near it you can take a few big gulps that would ideally add up to about 8 ounces for each hour of your shift (or whatever you need to stay hydrated).

If anyone out there has tips for staying healthy while working night shift please share them in the comments section!

July 18, 2012   2 Comments

Airport Scanner Safety

It’s summer, which for many people means it’s time to travel.  I’ve had a lot of questions from people regarding the issue of whether full-body airport scanners (the big space elevator-looking things parked at more and more airport security lines) are safe, especially for people who may be more susceptible to radiation such as those who are pregnant or have a history of cancer.  Of course there is a HUGE amount of controversy surrounding this subject ranging from an individual’s right to privacy to the issue of national security to the health risks of radiation exposure.  There is an excellent excerpt from the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association titled “Pandora’s Boxes: Questions Unleashed in the Airport Scanner Debate” that sums up the health-related issues pretty well.  If you have time to read the entire text I really recommend it.  If you don’t have time (because you’re at the airport frantically deciding which security line to stand in) here is my 5-second summary:

  • The type of radiation used in most of these machines is likely to be carcinogenic (meaning it may cause cancer, probably by damaging DNA), but the doses are supposedly very low.  This is still not very reassuring to me since I am already exposed to small doses of daily radiation from my cell phone, wireless laptop, etc. and radiation exposure is cumulative.
  • The common estimate is that it would take 1,000 scans in an airport scanner to equal the amount of radiation you would receive in 1 chest x-ray.  However, the methods used to calculate this estimate have been questioned by studies including several performed by scientists at the University of California San Francisco.
  • The authors of the text were unable to find any large-scale studies done on humans or animals using this technology.  That is not a good sign – especially for something that is being placed in airports nationwide!

Another tidbit that I found in other articles was that scientists are questioning the safety of radiation that appears to only penetrate skin-deep and how that could lead to skin cancer in individuals who are predisposed.  To put it in perspective, airport scanners are not exposing people to enough radiation to cause skin to burn the way that prolonged exposure to UV radiation (sunlight) would but it is something to consider when looking at overall radiation exposure over a lifetime.

With all that said, here is what I do when I’m heading through airport security:

  • I decline the airport scanner line and instead ask for the standard metal detector/pat down treatment.  Many people don’t realize that this is a perfectly legal option and will not put you on the “suspicious activities” list!  You have a right to refuse to walk through something of questionable safety.  The pat down takes an extra 5-10 minutes so plan accordingly in your travel timing.  If you think this is a crazy and extreme thing to do, you can be encouraged by the fact that when I recently flew while still pregnant and refused the scanner line, the female TSA agent who did my pat down quietly said to me “Good for you honey, and good for your baby.  You should refuse this every time, pregnant or not.  These scanners are not good.  I don’t like working around them all day.”
  • I try to remember to take a dose of a good multivitamin and eat a few Brazil nuts prior to travel.  The multivitamin will supply zinc and B vitamins including folate and the nuts supply selenium. Zinc, B vitamins (especially folate), and selenium are three very important nutrients for DNA repair.  Even if you refuse the full-body scanner line, there is still exposure to radiation simply from the altitude at which the plane is flying.
  • Do what you can to support the immune system which is your surveillance system to help track down and destroy any pre-cancerous cells (not to mention bacteria and viruses you may be exposed to while traveling).  Things you can do to support your immune system include: drinking water, avoiding sugar, eating protein, getting sufficient rest, taking vitamin C and/or zinc lozenges, and utilizing immune-boosting herbs such as echinacea and elderberry.  One thing I DON’T recommend is taking Airborne products for travel.  The packaging is cute and it’s a nice idea but the last time I checked they all contained Splenda, an artificial sweetener that contains chlorine, as well as another artificial sweetener called Acesulfame Potassium.

Most importantly, I would say not to stress out too much about the whole issue!  Traveling in and of itself is stressful and overly stressing out about exposure to small amounts of radiation can also cause damage to DNA.  If you’re reading this after your thousandth trip through the full-body airport scanner and are worried your skin is going to mutate into its own person and walk away, please take comfort in the fact that the body is very smart and if you supply it with what it needs, it knows how to repair itself, all the way down to your DNA.

June 27, 2012   No Comments