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10 Surprising Ways Food Affects Health

Everyone knows that junk food is bad for you. And we all know that eating more fruits, veggies and whole grains is good for you. But there are many basic facts about food choices that affect how we feel and how well we live that everyone should know, but that few do.

Broadly speaking, our health culture is plagued by myths, falsehoods and ignorance about the respective roles of genetics, food, exercise and drugs.

These gaps in our knowledge help explain why just about everyone is unhealthy in one way or another, why so many people take frequent pain relief and other drugs and why people can't bring themselves to eat right or exercise.

So let's clear this up. Here are 10 surprising things you need to know about the relationship between genetics, food, exercise and drugs.

1. Most common aches and pains are caused by diet.

Sluggishness, fogginess, headaches, upset stomachs, indigestion and general lethargy after eating heavy, processed and fat laden meals is common, and even considered "normal." Constipation, sleeplessness, irritability, fatigue -- all these symptoms and more are commonly relieved by over-the-counter products. But they're all eliminated by eating healthy foods instead of fatty, greasy, meaty foods, empty-calorie foods and junk foods. My health counseling clients always express astonishment at how good they feel after adopting healthy foods.

2. Most genetic diseases are affected by diet.

Some people are genetically predisposed to some cancers, heart disease or diabetes. But it's usually bad diet that "triggers" the genetic predisposition to kick in and realize the disease itself. The most obvious example is the genetic predisposition to alcoholism. You can't be an alcoholic if you don't drink alcohol, no matter what your genes are up to. Similarly, you're very unlikely to get heart disease or cancer if you eat a healthy diet and avoid fatty or carcinogenic foods. Gluten intolerance, which is associated with Celiac disease, causes our immune system to react abnormally to gluten found in wheat and other grains. This is considered a genetic disease, but carriers can protect against it by eating a healthy diet and leading an active lifestyle.

3. Most contagious diseases are affected by diet.

Recovery from any disease or bodily damage results from the body repairing itself. Surgery, drugs and other interventions can merely assist the body's recovery or reduce symptoms, but only the body can actually heal itself. This healing system -- in fact a large number of interconnected systems -- is called the immune system. Its capacity to heal is affected directly by diet and lifestyle. So even contagious afflictions like the common cold are made better or worse, longer or shorter by food choices.

4. Food quality affects allergies.

Allergies result from a very wide range of factors. It's likely that allergies arise from the quality of foods we eat combined with other factors including poor nutrition and lifestyle habits and the timing with which people are introduced to some foods. (For example, the diet of a mother during pregnancy can affect later allergies in the baby.) As the quality of foods has increasingly declined over the past 50 years, sensitivities and allergies have augmented. Food intolerances and allergies can be triggered by lack of healthy and varied foods, lack of sleep, pollution, over-the-counter and prescription drugs -- even state of mind, stress and lack of exercise.

5. Prescription drugs can't make you healthy.

In many circumstances, some prescription drugs can save your life, or can make bad health manageable or tolerable. Some drugs can compensate for something lacking in your genetic makeup. But the overwhelming majority of drugs are prescribed to counter pain and discomfort or prevent sickness and death, which often results from poor diet or lack of exercise. And far too often the drugs taken to treat a condition exacerbate the problem once the drugs are stopped, or they cause imbalances or problems elsewhere, making the side effects of drug treatments worse than the illness itself. In battling health conditions, prevention is best. But once a condition develops, getting to the root of it often begins and ends with food and lifestyle choices.

6. Diet-related illnesses take unpredictable amounts of time to develop.

Over time, the cumulative effects of a poor diet can manifest as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimerís disease and cancer to name a few. Most chronic illnesses are caused or triggered by poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle. But what you really need to know is that these diseases are almost always progressing long before any symptoms occur. For example, young children who eat a lot of fast foods are likely to already have advancing cardiovascular disease including atherosclerosis. They already have the disease, even without the symptoms.

7. Good diet alone cannot make you healthy.

Many benefits of healthy foods occur in the body only in conjunction with exercise, sunshine and other factors. One small example: You can eat foods rich in calcium -- figs, beans, broccoli and collard greens -- but your body can't use that calcium unless Vitamin D is also present. Vitamin D is manufactured as a response to exposure to sunlight. Plenty of exercise is also vital in order to enjoy the full health benefits of a healthy diet.

8. One problem with junk food is that it displaces nutritional foods.

Good health requires that every calorie consumed has nutritional benefit. Many are aware that the contents of junk food -- things like trans fats, white sugar, artificial color, preservatives and others -- cause direct harm to the body. But those empty calories also "displace" nutritional calories. Every 1,000 "empty" calories eaten means that 1,000 calories worth of nutritional food is not eaten. Taken to an extreme, junk food gives you poison and malnutrition at the same time. And many of the ill health effects of junk food results from nutritional deficiencies, which leads to a weak immune system and, in turn, disease.

9. "Natural" does not mean "healthy."

Many food companies like to use the word "natural" to sell their products. It's a perfectly vague term, and in general tells you nothing about how healthy something is. For example, sulfites, which occur naturally during the fermentation of wine -- and which are used also as food preservatives in dried fruits, juices, dairy products and many other foods -- can be deadly to people with Asthma. Natural, but potentially deadly.

10. Even fresh fruits and vegetables can be "junk food"

We tend to think categorically about foods (meat vs. vegetables) rather than qualitatively (conventional vs. organic). Most people don't realize that industrial agriculture has radically transformed the quality of produce. The corn and tomatoes and wheat used in conventional food products bears little nutritional resemblance to the same foods eaten by your parents and grandparents. Food scientists are constantly pushing the boundaries of how foods are grown, using genetically modified seeds and industrial fertilizers and pesticides in order to maximize yield -- always at the expense of food quality. That's why it's vital to buy organic produce, and preferably from your local farmer's market.


In order to foster optimum health, it's essential to eat a variety of healthy foods including fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, raw nuts and seeds and variety of beans. Avoid alcohol. If you do drink, try to drink only red wine and never more than one glass per week. Get plenty of rest and exercise daily. And eat foods as close as possible to their natural state: whole, raw, naturally grown and free of pesticides. Given the chance, the body cannot only do its job at keeping disease at bay, but can even undo or reverse ailments caused by diet and lifestyle related illnesses. Itís never too late to adopt a healthy diet and lifestyle -- but the sooner you do it the better!

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READER Q&A
Cultivating Cookware

Q: I've been wanting new pans for probably two years now. I bought the 6 piece Le Creuset cookware set tonight (5 1/2 qt. round French oven, 2 1/4 qt. saucier pan, 10 1/4" square skillet grill, and 8 x 11 3/4" roaster). I read the booklets that came with them and I read a little on their website before buying. I know you have said you prefer the enameled lined cast iron pans. Are there any TIPS you can share with me so I will enjoy them and use them properly. I have never cooked with enameled lined cast iron or regular cast iron before. Have you had any chip? I hope I can learn some things so I use them right.

What are the safest utensils to use on the pans and yet safe for our health. Wooden spoons? Bamboo ones ok? I see Le Creuset sells silicone utensils - are those safe for our health? I've never bought any worried they weren't good for our bodies.

I have five kids and I am worried about the scratchy lid. It goes right around the enamel coating on the inside of the pan - won't it scratch that enamel? My kids won't be careful putting on and taking off lids.

I also worry about our stove heating elements - although it says you can use them on any heating type - I am worried the smooth "paint" for lack of a better word will get scratched off by putting them on and off our round old type of burner.

Do you hand wash or dishwasher your Le Creuset pans?

Is the enamel lining safe for our health? I couldn't find anything on that while researching. I did see that Le Creuset had cadmium in the outside coloring (I read that in their FAQ section on their website) - what made me look is Emeril's line (by All Clad) enameled cast iron stated 100% lead and cadmium free in an ad. Should I have purchased that instead?

Are there any non-aluminum stainless steel pans out there? I see the 5-ply All Clad copper core pans consist of: stainless steel, aluminum, copper, aluminum, stainless steel. So two layers of aluminum. At $900 per 10-piece set. I saw the Emeril line which is 3-ply and is stainless steel, aluminum and copper but I couldn't find specifics on it while researching on-line. At $189 per 10 piece set by All Clad. I want what is healthy for my family and I want something that will last so I don't have to go through all this researching again. :) Can you offer any help?

Sincerely,
Paula from Guam

A: Congratulations on your new investment! Le Creuset enameled cast iron cookware costs a lot, but itís the best in terms of craftsmanship and durability.

I've owned mine for years and use them every day. They have endured abuse from friends and relatives unaware of proper care. Some used metal utensils to scrape food out of them. Recently my mother washed a pot with an abrasive scouring cleaning pad.

The good news is that despite the abuse, my pots are still in great shape -- and so far have no chips. Although the vitreous enamel can chip and become dull, it's durable. So don't worry about putting them on your burners or having your kids chip them. Besides, even if they chip they can still perform well. I would be more concerned about the kids dropping them and hurting themselves if theyíre not careful handling the lids, as they are heavy.

As a grizzled veteran using Le Creuset pots, Iím happy to share some tips on how to properly care for your new cookware to make them last a lifetime:

1. Don't stack them.

2. Never use metal utensils. Wooden and bamboo utensils work well. Silicone rubber utensils are supposed to be safe -- they don't react with, or leach into, food, as theyíre chemically inert and stable. They can be recycled but are not biodegradable.

3. If food sticks when cooking, add water, not oil, to unstuck the food.

4. Never use high heat. Although theyíre designed to withstand high temperature on stovetop, broilers and up to 375įF in the oven, itís best, healthiest and safest to cook over low to medium heat, both to prevent food from burning and to retain more nutrients.

5. The cookware is supposed to be dishwasher safe. I prefer to hand-wash, as soon as they have cooled down, to prevent food from sticking. I had a small saucepan that my husband used to put in the automatic dishwasher, and it got a little rusty around the edges.

6. Use only nylon or non-abrasive cleaning pads (no metallic or abrasive pads) to wash them.

7. To wash pans or pots that have burnt food or food residues, boil water in a tea kettle, then pour it in to cover the affected area. Let it stand for 20 minutes. Wash and dry as usual.

8. Don't let the exposed metal parts on pot rims and lids stay wet.

9. Dry immediately after washing, and make sure they are fully dry before putting lids back on and storing.

10. Don't immerse pots in cold water when hot.

Enamel lining on the cookware is safe. Vitreous enamel is perfectly non-reactive, clean and impermeable. That's why you can marinate foods right in your pots and pans or store food in them after cooking in the refrigerator.

Regarding cadmium: Yes, it's a known carcinogen and Le Creuset uses it. But itís used only on the exterior of the pots for color (such as the cherry, yellow or flame-colored ones) in a way that it will not react or leach. The majority of the exterior colors they use are cadmium-free, including chestnut, cobalt blue, dune, kiwi and Caribbean.

I know little about Emerilís line of enameled cast iron cookware by All Clad. But I do know it's made in China (unlike other All Clad bonded products). Health and safety standards are at best spotty in China, and it's a good idea to err on the side of caution when buying Chinese-made cookware and Chinese-produced foods. Le Creuset products, on the other hand, are handcrafted in France and have been considered the best quality for decades.

All Clad stainless steel products are high quality and made in the U.S. The best stainless steel pots consist of bonded five-ply bottom layer construction with copper cores and 18/10 stainless steel surfaces. Unfortunately, they're expensive. Bottom layers that combine aluminum and copper are safe for use, but not ideal in terms of heat distribution. Bottom cores constructed of layers of all aluminum will make heat conduction inferior to those made with all copper layers. Itís also good to make sure that they are oven safe to at least 500F degrees. 2 ply is not great for heat conductivity but okay to use. As long as they are polished with 18/10 stainless they wonít react with food.


WORDS OF WISDOM
To Give Is to Connect

ďGiving connects two people, the giver and the receiver, and this connection gives birth to a new sense of belonging.Ē

-- Deepak Chopra

TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Your Wholesome Life

This newsletter is free, but I make my living providing one-on-one holistic health counseling, either in person or by phone.

I invite you to contact me and let me help you make the changes you've always wanted to make, one step at a time. The first one-hour consultation is absolutely free.

When it comes to overall health and happiness, itís all connected: your food, your relationships, your lifestyle and you career. Let me help you find your solution.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
You Can't Eat Your Lawn!

As I "speed walk" around town every day, Iíve noticed that a few people grow their own veggies. A few more people grow fruit trees, including avocado, lemon, orange, mandarin, persimmon and pomegranate trees. But most homes have zero fruit-bearing plants, and instead have lawns, hedges and other purely decorative plants.

Does this make sense? If you're going to grow plants, why not choose plants that make food?

My sister- and brother-in-law (who both work full-time) converted their front lawn into a beautiful and highly productive vegetable garden. Their front and back yards also have trees, including an avocado tree, a lemon tree, an apple tree and an orange tree. They fertilize their food plants using compost fueled by discarded food. (And they keep bees!) They've taken the space most people use to grow grass, and use it to maintain a small food-producing farm!

I read an article recently about a nonprofit group called Grow Food not Lawns, based in Fort Collins, Colorado. The group encourages the growing of food at home. Itís a brilliant concept, and one that should be emulated in every town and every city where growing food is possible.

I'm not much of a gardener. But a few months ago, I planted ten fruit trees in my backyard, which to my delight survived the little care and water they received while my husband and I traveled through Greece. They are already producing some oranges, lemons and limes and itís such a joy to take it right off the trees. I canít wait to have enough to share with others. And while the enjoyment of being able to walk a few steps to eat fruit as fresh as it gets, right off your own trees, is vast, the gratification going outside and see the trees we planted thrive with life is a feeling that no words can describe.

There is no better time to become a little more self-sufficient as well as environmentally and fiscally responsible. Why waste precious resources like water on grass when you can use the same water to grow healthy food?

And let's all advocate this concept broadly. Imagine if neighborhood sidewalks had fruit trees. Imagine if children could just reach for an orange, a mandarin or an apple as they walk home from school or play on the streets.

What better way to further instill in each of us a sense of true community with our neighbors, harmony with our environment and appreciation for the gifts of Mother nature?

Grow food, not lawns! It's the tasty, healthy alternative!
 

Stay motivated - Read health-related research news, events and commentary every day. Check out Amira's Vegetarian Organic Blog.

 

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Here's the Vegetarian Organic Store where you can find my favorite cookbooks (and other books), kitchen tools, cookware, dry goods and even gifts and movies!

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VEGETARIAN ORGANIC RECIPE OF THE WEEK
Morning Muesli


Click on the picture for a closer look!

Forget about old and stale cereal that comes in a box. For a healthy start to your day, nothing like a wonderful bowl of delicious and easy to prepare muesli. Itís got all the right ingredients to give you a powerful boost of energy along with plenty of nourishment to last you for the day. My fresh raw cashew milk goes particularly well with muesli. Add some fresh fruit such as bananas or berries and youíll feel like when Popeye eats his spinach.


Ingredients:

3 Ĺ cups rolled old fashioned whole-grain oats

Ĺ cup raisins

1 cup sulfur-free dried fruit bits (fig, apricot, prune, apple, pear, cranberry, peach, dates)

ĺ cup ground flaxseeds

Ĺ cup raw walnuts (whole or chopped)

Ĺ cup raw almonds (whole or chopped)

2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds

1 Ĺ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Homemade raw cashew milk (or organic almond or soy milk)

Fresh fruit (sliced banana, peaches, apples or blueberries)
 

Preparation:

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients well with a large fork. Store in a large glass jar or bowl with lid. Keep refrigerated to last for several weeks.

To serve, in a bowl, combine 1/2 cup of muesli with 1 cup of cashew milk and top with 1 cup sliced fresh fruit or berries or a combination of them.
 

Cashew milk:

To make fresh cashew milk, in a blender, preferably a powerful blender such as a Vitamix, add 1 cup of water, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract, to ľ cup of raw cashews. Blend at high speed until completely smooth. Add 3 ice cubes and blend until smooth. As an option, to slightly sweeten milk, 1/16 teaspoon sea salt and 3 drops stevia extract or 1 teaspoon of raw agave nectar or brown rice syrup or barley malt or maple syrup or local raw wild honey. Blend again at high power for a few seconds. Drink up or add it to muesli, hot whole grain cereal breakfast and your favorite smoothie. 

 

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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.

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