Forbes Nutrional Services

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

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

Finally, a Purpose for Ridiculously Tiny Crockpots!

As a person who can never turn down free kitchen gadgets from friends who are moving or trying to get rid of clutter, I have assembled a collection of those 16 ounce “Little Dipper” crockpots for ants that come free with the normal size crockpots.  Each time I accept another free tiny crockpot, it is wrapped in the original packaging, which means that my friend never used it in all the years they had it in their possession.  Despite this, I get visions in my head of an amazing Mexican-themed dinner party with several flavors of homemade cheese dip being kept warm in the little baby crockpots, all snuggled in a row.  Well, after 2 years of storing a family of tiny crockpots still in their original packaging in my cabinet, I have finally come up with a daily use for them – making oatmeal!

My husband leaves for work pretty early and I always want to send him off with a warm breakfast (especially during the winter when it gets down below 70 degrees here in Honolulu at night – freezing!) but there’s no way that this pregnant lady with a toddler is going to get up early enough to make something fresh for my hard working honey.  He really loves oatmeal and it’s actually quite a healthy and filling breakfast if it’s prepared properly by soaking before cooking to reduce levels of phytic acid (a nutrient blocker that makes grain difficult to digest).  Here’s what I do:

  • Place 1/4 to 1/2 cup of oats in the crockpot and add twice as much water.  I like to use steel cut Irish oatmeal but just get whatever you can find at the store that seems the least processed.  If you are a gluten-free person make sure the oats are labeled as “gluten free” because many times, oats and gluten-containing grains are processed on the same equipment so there is cross-contamination.    Gauge how much you soak based on how much cooked oatmeal you want – using 1/4 cup of oats will expand to about a cup cooked, and 1/2 cup will expand to about 2 cups.  If you have time, let this soak for a few hours.  I like to put this on before I make dinner since I’m in the kitchen anyway.  Once in a while I don’t have time for this step so I skip right to the next one and my husband seems to survive okay!
  • After the initial soak, dump out this water and then add about 3 parts of water to 1 part of soaked oats.  You can also add a dash of buttermilk or whey if you have it to help make the oats even more digestible.  I add a pinch of Celtic salt at this stage to increase the mineral content, and a dash of cinnamon so the kitchen smells warm and comforting when my husband wakes up to eat.
  • Plug in your tiny crockpot and let cook overnight!
  • In the morning, mix with any toppings that make you happy to be awake: butter from grassfed cows, coconut milk, minimally processed cow’s milk or cream, chopped raw nuts, raisins, dried cranberries, raw honey, shredded unsweetened coconut, chopped dates, apple sauce, protein powder – whatever your heart desires.  If you’re more of a savory person, you can also mix an egg and some bacon or sausage in for a salty pudding reminiscent of a big hairy Irish man.
  • Fill crockpot with water to soak so it’s easy to clean up and use for the next day, unless you’re like me and have several tiny crockpots that can be switched out so there’s no hurry to clean up the used one and it can just sit on the counter taking up space and waiting to be washed.  Not that I ever do that.

If any of you readers out there have uses for tiny crockpots (other than cheese dip, I figured that one out already) please share them in the comments section!  I love finding new and exciting uses for all my kitchen gadgets.

December 7, 2011   2 Comments

The Health Benefits of Capers

Nothing says “I’m better than you” like cooking with capers.  Most people either love or hate the flavor of those salty little green pellets, but no matter what, if you serve them at a dinner party and someone complains about it you can very aristocratically say “That’s okay, not everyone has refined enough tastes to enjoy the delicate nuances of capers” while gracefully adjusting your tiara.  This is especially helpful when the dinner party consists only of you, your  husband (who does not appreciate capers, by the way), and your toddler.  Here are just a few of the health benefits to justify cooking like a princess:

  • Stachydrine, a phytochemical found in capers, has been found to be a “potent anti-metastatic agent” in regards to prostate cancer and seems to work at the genetic level to keep prostate cancer cells from reproducing.  So you are actually cooking with capers to keep all the prostates at the dinner table healthy!
  • Bioflavonoids from capers have been found to inhibit NF-kappa B activation.  Who cares?  Even if you don’t, the drug companies do.  NF-kappa B is a major target for drug research because this factor has been found to be chronically activated in disease states such as cancer, arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and even acne.
  • Extracts from caper plants have been found to lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels.  Of course, if your hypertension is due to salt sensitivity then eating salty capers by the bucketful is probably not the best option.
  • The anti-arthritic components in capers seem to be most concentrated when extracted into alcohol.  This justifies cooking any sort of protein (fish, chicken, lobster) in a white wine, butter, and caper sauce!
  • Capers are a rich source of rutin, a bioflavonoid that is sometimes taken in supplement form to prevent and treat varicose veins.
  • Capers have been found to have “important antimicrobial, anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory and antiviral properties“.  This study firmly proves that if I left anything out in my list above, you can use the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon game (health version of course) to relate whatever ailment your dinner guest may have to something that capers can help with.

December 5, 2011   1 Comment

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