Eating Right on Vacation

Whenever summer rolls around, I inevitably hear from my clients during this week or that that they didn’t eat well because they were on vacation. In fact, eating right is extremely difficult on vacation. It’s not just that whole, natural foods are hard to find when traveling; we can also get into a celebratory mode in which we decide to eat and drink what we want and worry about the consequences later, because we’re supposed to be having fun. To a certain extent, that’s a good attitude to have; if we’re constantly worrying about whether we’re eating right, we’ll make ourselves sick . But if we eat too poorly, we can easily come down with digestive problems, headaches, low energy, weak immunity, etc., both during and after our vacations.  Naturally, we don’t want to be sick during this time; we want to be refreshed. So what can be done? Here are a few tips that can help make your vacation this year or next a little more enjoyable:

1. Make meals in advance. The best way to ensure that you feel good during vacation is to bring some of your own food. However, you may not want to spend all your time cooking. If you’re staying somewhere that has a kitchen or kitchenette, I recommend making balanced meals in advance, freezing them, and then thawing them out while you’re vacationing. In the weeks leading up to vacation, just make a double portion of a meal that you’d like to have while vacationing, and freeze the leftovers. This year, for our vacation, my wife and I are bringing with us homemade frozen red lentil sauce with chicken, chili with ground beef, shepherd’s pie, and Bolognese sauce. Since we have access to a kitchen, we’ll also be able to bring and make brown rice, greens, and other simple supplementary foods, but it won’t involve a lot of cooking time. The net result is that, since we’ll be nourished by these balanced meals, we’ll have plenty of energy for the things we want to do, and we’ll still feel good when we get home!

2. Bring your own healthy snacks. Vacationers tend to eat lots of snack foods. I recommend that you make it a priority, if possible, to eat three balanced meals a day. But part of the joy of vacation is snacking. Fortunately, there are many healthy snacks out there that can be a good supplement to your diet (and if you are very physically active during vacation, you may need them in addition to regular meals). Examples include fresh or dried fruit, nuts and seeds, trail mix, popcorn, yogurt with honey, homemade ice cream, lemonade, or sorbet, smoothies, dark chocolate, corn chips with guacamole or salsa, cheese, olives and pickles.

3. When eating out, choose what’s easy to digest. Eating out is another pleasure of vacationing, and sometimes it’s nice to get a comfort food even though it may not be so good for you. But if you’re eating out because you have no other choice and you simply want to avoid feeling gross, stay away from foods that are deep-fried, made with white flour or sugar, or contain dairy products. Instead, choose meat, fish, or poultry, and vegetables. If the restaurant has brown rice or whole wheat bread, then you can go with that as well. If you follow this advice, you’ll be more likely to maintain your energy and digestive health in the hours and days that follow.

 

What Vegetables Do I Need?

Everyone says to eat more vegetables, but what does that look like in practice? While all vegetables are nutritious, they don’t all provide the exact same nutrients. Some are better eaten in the winter, some are better in the summer; some are better roasted, while others are better steamed, boiled, or raw. But the most important distinction to draw among vegetables is what individual health benefits they provide. Vegetables can in fact be broken up into different families, each one providing a unique general health benefit. The best way to be nourished by vegetables is to get some from each family on a regular basis. The following chart provides a basic outline:

 

Roots Greens Gourds Nightshades Bulbs Sea vegetables
Carrots Cabbage Yellow squash Tomatoes Celery Arame
Radishes (Daikon, Red) Spinach Zucchini Peppers Leeks Hijiki
Beets Broccoli Cucumber Eggplants

 

Scallions Nori
Parsnips Collards Acorn squash Potatoes Onions Kombu/Kelp
Turnips Kale Butternut squash   Garlic Dulse
Rutabagas Swiss Chard Pumpkin   Asparagus Wakame
Yam Mustard Greens Kabocha squash   Rhubarb  
Sweet potato Arugula     Shallots  
  Bok Choy     Kohlrabi  
  Salad greens        

 

Roots. These vegetables contain sweet, complex carbohydrates that are filling and satisfying, reducing the need to snack on carbs in the form of potato chips, cookies or crackers. They also contain many vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Roots and greens together create a powerful 1-2 punch of nutrition that keeps your body stabilized and healthy, whatever else you eat.

Greens. These vegetables are the best for balancing blood sugar and restoring nutrients to the body. Some people need time to get used to the bitter flavor. Try starting with mild or sweet greens such as bok choy, cabbage, or napa cabbage. I recommend having a serving of greens at least once a day, with lunch or dinner. Your body will begin to crave them after you begin eating them regularly.

Gourds. In the summer, this means summer squash, zucchini and cucumbers, and in the winter, pumpkins, acorn squash, and other winter squashes. Mildly sweet, these vegetables are very soothing to the digestive system. Cucumbers are good raw or pickled, summer squash combines well with nightshades in dishes like ratatouille, and winter squash is a great ingredient in desserts (pumpkin bread or pie) or savory dishes (chunks of butternut squash boiled and then roasted on pizza).

Nightshades. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are among the most-often consumed vegetables, but they are not necessarily the best. All of them are in fact tropical vegetables, originating in South America and North Africa, and while they are nutritious, they should not be consumed in greater quantities than the other vegetable groups, particularly because they contain small quantities of alkaloids, chemical compounds that can cause joint inflammation and minor nervous system disorders.

Bulbs. Usually spicy when raw but mild when cooked, these vegetables are best at killing bad bacteria and dissolving excess fat. They’re very good for dealing with colds and congestion and support the immune system, and combine well with roots and with greens (in fact, onions and garlic go with just about anything).

Sea vegetables. The most mineral rich of all vegetables, sea vegetables are important but can be eaten in moderation. Sea vegetables like kombu and wakame are good in miso soup, and are excellent at restoring health to someone who has experienced mineral loss as a result of too much sugar in junk food and soda.

If you are working on adding more vegetables to your diet and/or your kids’ diets, include some vegetables from each of the groups listed above. Choose what’s in season, emphasize the different colors, shapes, sizes and tastes of the vegetables, and don’t hesitate to combine them with salt, herbs and spices, and some healthy fat to create a balance of flavors. Not only will your health improve from greater variety and more frequent servings of vegetables, but your meals will become tastier as well.

Seasonal Allergies

Allergic reactions in spring are very common, and it’s no wonder. Since we spend less time outdoors, our immune systems are less accustomed to foreign substances, even natural ones. Other factors like long–distance traveling and invasive species continually expose us to new particles our bodies are unfamiliar with. When spring comes and the air fills with pollen, our immune systems overreact and we develop rashes, itchy, watery eyes, other forms of inflammation, sneezing, mucus, fatigue, etc. Fortunately, there is a natural, healthy way to deal with this problem: all you need to do is get your body used to the pollen by vaccinating yourself against it. The perfect vaccine is found in raw honey made by local bees. Processed honey won’t work, because all the pollen particles (along with digestive enzymes and other good stuff) has been removed in the processing. Raw honey has a somewhat stiff texture, like peanut butter, and some brands leave a layer of pollen and honeycomb on top of the honey that’s extra effective for reducing allergic reactions.

A few years ago I started eating “Really Raw Honey,” the brand that’s produced nearest to me, in Baltimore, Maryland. Each spring I ate about a pound of the honey, as soon as my allergies started, sometimes more if necessary, until they went away. Each year I’ve needed to eat less, and this year I haven’t needed it at all—I’ve had no symptoms. This is a really inexpensive, tasty, and permanent way to cure your allergies, so give it a try. The honey has many other health benefits as well. Look in your local health food store to see what brand is produced nearest you, and give it a try!

Squashing Nutrient Deficiencies

The star of the fall vegetable harvest, in all its many colorful varieties, is the winter squash. Its name probably comes from its hardy ability to survive a long winter storage without spoiling. Winter squash has just the right kind of energy and the right nutritional profile to help you acquire the hardiness needed in winter. It is one of the best foods you could eat at this time of year.

Many people are familiar with only one kind of winter squash: the pumpkin. And some are more accustomed to decorating with pumpkins than eating them. But squash can be so delicious, and make you feel so good, that once you add it to your diet, you won’t want to let your squashes sit around for long. Pumpkin pie is just the tip of the iceberg.

The most common varieties of squash besides the pumpkin are the acorn squash, butternut squash, buttercup squash, delicata squash, hubbard squash, kabocha squash, red kuri squash, and spaghetti squash. There are sub–varieties of these varieties (like the Cinderella pumpkin) but we won’t get into those. For now, there’s plenty to choose from!

As you could probably have guessed, squash is nutritious. Squash is high in vitamin A (which gives the interior flesh its bright orange color), vitamin C, potassium, and folic acid (B9). It also contains moderate amounts of other B vitamins and of essential minerals such as manganese and copper. Like all vegetables, it has plenty of fiber. Its healing properties include improving the health of the spleen and pancreas and reducing inflammation and associated pain. And finally, squash is high in calories. Not so high that you can eat more than you really need, but high enough that you’ll get that extra bit of heat energy you need during the winter, which you wouldn’t get from spring and summer vegetables. As with whole grains, potatoes, and other starchy whole foods, the calories in squash come from complex carbohydrates that are metabolized gradually so that you get a steady flow of energy in addition to the nutrients that you need.

Squash is a mildly sweet, calming and pleasant food that creates a cozy atmosphere in the kitchen. It combines well with fat (including butter, olive oil, sesame oil, and bacon fat), which increases vitamin A absorption and balances the carbohydrates. Add a little salt or tamari soy sauce to squash and you’ll bring out the sweet flavor even more. Squash is good with pumpkin pie spices (obviously) such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg, all of which set off the mild nature of squash and provide additional heat energy. Squash is also an inspiration for many great desserts, in which you can use natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, raw honey, and agave nectar.

Add more squash to your diet this fall and winter and I guarantee you’ll have better energy and experience visible improvements in your health. And when your body develops those squash cravings, you may have to find a new ornament to grace your front step!

Allergies: Entering the Land of Milk and Honey

At this time of year, many people are afflicted with seasonal pollen allergies. I first wrote on this topic a couple of years ago, and I think it’s worthy to revisit it for all those who have signed on since then. This time we’ll talk about not just pollen allergies, but allergies as a whole. Allergies are simply hypersensitive reactions of the immune system to specific kinds of food or environmental substances (collectively known as allergens). Allergies are becoming more prevalent in our society, with the most common allergens being foods such as milk, wheat, corn, soy and peanuts, and substances such as pollen, dust, dog and cat hair, mold, etc.

I believe that there are two sides to what causes allergies. One lies with our own immune systems; the other with the allergens. To begin with the latter, we do live in a more toxic environment than ever before, and synthetic, chemical substances are mixed up with the organic matter in our environment in such a way that there’s much more out there for our immune systems to find threatening, if they happen to be sensitive systems. As for food allergies, it’s no accident that the most common allergens are the most prevalent, and processed, foods in our diets. Pasteurized milk, white flour, corn syrup, soy protein isolate, and heavily sprayed peanuts are all difficult to digest and can set off warning signals for the body as a result. Too much of these foods will provoke an immune system reaction.

Speaking of the immune system, it gets a lot less work these days than it ever used to. Just as we’re more exposed to toxins, we’re less exposed to natural substances like bacteria, pollen, dirt, viruses and other things that would have provided training ground for our immune systems. As we get less exposure to these natural threats, we have more sensitive immune systems that will overreact to more benign substances. It’s been found that people in Europe who were raised on farms (with all that dirt) are 1/10th as likely to have asthma and allergies as their urban and suburban counterparts.

So what can you do if you have allergies? Playing in the dirt is a good idea (for you and your kids), especially if it’s organic dirt. But more practically, the best thing is to get your immune system acquainted with the allergens in a way that lets it know they’re not dangerous. For pollen allergies, eat raw honey by the spoonful. This is honey in its natural, unprocessed state, with little bits of pollen still included. Simply eat a few spoonfuls a day until the allergies diminish. It’s vitally important to get raw honey that has been harvested close by, otherwise you won’t get the local pollen. For those living in the Washington, D.C. area, Really Raw Honey is a good company to get your honey from. Raw honey also treats stomach ulcers, skin burns and rashes, cold sores, and sore throats—a highly medicinal food indeed!

Another way to build up immune system strength is to drink raw, unpasteurized milk. This is what those farm kids are drinking. Unpasteurized milk still has all the beneficial bacteria and immunoglobulins that make your immune system strong. It even has some pollen—since the cows we get raw milk from are fed on grass. If you have milk allergies (like I do), you will probably have no problem with raw milk nevertheless, since raw milk is so easy to digest. Raw milk can heal by providing sustenance and nourishment to anyone who feels weak, sickly, diminished and underfed. If you need assistance in finding a source of safe, healthy raw milk, let me know and I will give you a hand.

Whole milk and raw honey (by the spoonful)—two foods that have signified abundance and health since biblical times. Who knew that eating right could be so much fun?

Thanksgiving Weight Loss Tips

1. Eat high–fat. Fat may have calories, but it’s also very filling. There’s a limit to how much of it you can eat before you feel full. In fact, if you eat some foods containing fat, you may end up consuming fewer calories overall, because you won’t be as hungry later. So, if you’re going to have a turkey, go ahead and eat the skin, the dark meat, and the gravy, and if you eat dairy, use whole milk and cream in your cooking. See my article on Understanding Fat for more on this subject.

2. Look for an organic, free–range turkey. If you eat meat and poultry, it’s important that it come from a healthy animal. Most turkeys are raised on “factory” farms where they’re crammed into small cages with hardly room to turn around. These animals, which don’t get their exercise, are fed on corn and soybeans instead of their natural diet. Because they’re sick, weak, stressed out, and overfed, they’re given lots of antibiotics to keep them going. It’s cheaper to raise turkeys this way, but it’s not very humane or healthy. Free–range turkeys are much less prone to sickness and more likely to eat their natural diet (which includes plants and insects), which means that they have a healthier fat profile. You also don’t have to overcook them out of fear of bacteria! See my article on Animal Products for more information.

Organic turkeys can be more expensive because they’re farmed on a small scale, so it may not be feasible for you to get one. However, if you can make room in your budget, it’s definitely worth the extra cost.

3. Include plenty of vegetables. It’s not just what you don’t eat, it’s what you do eat that counts. Vegetables contain fiber and natural compounds that help us to burn and break down fat. Onions, garlic, greens, green beans, celery, daikon radish, leeks, cabbage, etc., are all great vegetables that can serve this purpose. Save some of your vegetables for the end of your meal, because that way they can help break down the heavier food you ate first.

4. Complex carbohydrates over simple ones. Simple carbs include white flour, corn syrup, and sugar, and products with these ingredients. Complex carbs include whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, cornmeal, quinoa, millet, barley and buckwheat. They also include sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips. Potatoes are complex carbohydrates too, but not quite as nutritious as the sweet vegetables. Complex carbohydrates are more filling, digest more slowly, and give you steady energy. Simple carbs get absorbed into the blood all at once, are stored as fat, and leave you hungry for more. Try using whole grain bread or real whole grains for stuffing (see recipe below), and include a side dish or two with naturally sweet vegetables.

5. Don’t use processed foods that have added sugars; instead, make your own dishes. Most simple carbs and other processed ingredients come in pre–made food like stuffing or pumpkin pie mixes. This is where the real weight gain comes in. Food companies process foods to make them less filling and more addictive, deliberately guiding you towards overeating. Whenever you can, make food from scratch using real, natural ingredients. See my article on What is Processed Food? to learn more.

6. Don’t eat between lunch and dinner. Or breakfast and dinner, depending how soon you’re eating the main meal. Most people gain weight by snacking in between meals. That’s when we’re most likely to eat processed foods, and to eat a lot of calories without realizing it. Wait to eat until you’re sitting down to a balanced dinner that includes something from every food group. Trying to fill up before dinner is the worst thing you could do—the homemade, balanced meal is what you want to save yourself for! You won’t overeat at dinnertime, even if you’re hungry, because you’ll be eating food that’s truly filling.

7. Chew, eat slowly, and enjoy your food. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when we’re full. So eat slowly and enjoy every bite. The more you chew, the less work the rest of your digestive system has to do, and you will get more nutrients out of your food (this means you’ll actually benefit from what you’re eating). By going slow, you’ll give your body a chance to tune in to whether it’s full or not. If you really savor your food, you’ll get the important taste satisfaction—without it, you may keep eating whether you’re hungry or not.

The above is my challenge to those who claim that the one time you sit down to dinner with your family over a home–cooked meal is when you’re going to gain weight. Nonsense! It’s only when processed foods and snacks take predominance over the actual Thanksgiving meal that the weight gain starts. So, instead of trying to cut down on the main dinner, indulge in that and cut down on everything else. You’ll feel fuller and be lighter at the same time!

September Diet: The Vegetable Harvest

Every time the seasons change I like to remind everyone to change their diet accordingly. We’re healthiest when we eat the foods that are being harvested in the present, and in the area where we live, whenever and wherever that may be. Currently, it’s late summer, soon to be fall, and if we want to maintain our health and ward off illness, we should be eating late–summer fruits and vegetables like, well, almost every one you can think of. Along with August, September is the big harvest month in this part of the world, which means it’s a good time to have a nutrient–rich, vegetable–heavy diet. When the cold part of the year sets in, you’ll be glad you did! Most farmers’ markets should have at least some of the following available: string beans, beets and beet greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard greens, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, kale, lettuce, leeks, mesculn, onions, peas, peppers, potatoes, radishes, scallions, spinach, summer squash, swiss chard, tomatoes and turnips. Blueberries, cantaloupes, peaches, plums, raspberries and watermelons should still be available, and apples are ready now.

Later in the year some vegetables will still be available, like winter squash and pumpkins, root vegetables such as turnips, beets, and carrots, and hardy leafy greens, but there won’t be the same abundance there is today. Sure, you can go to the supermarket and get any vegetable you want, but it won’t have been grown locally. Instead, it will have been flown hundreds of miles from a warmer part of the world to get to you, it won’t be as fresh, and it will have used up a lot of fossil fuels along the way. In fact, it’s my opinion that the widespread prejudice against vegetables partly stems from the fact that we don’t eat them fresh, local and seasonal; instead, they’re canned, frozen, or shipped halfway across the world. All these processes diminish the flavor and nutrition of vegetables, and they increase the likelihood that we’ll eat them out of season, when our bodies aren’t even expecting them.

Late summer is a short season and a time of transition; the fulcrum that balances summer and winter. It is a brief window where many different foods are harvested at once. In traditional Chinese medicine, this time of year is associated with the Earth element. The digestive system (stomach, spleen, pancreas) and female menstrual cycles are also associated with the Earth element, so this is a good time to bring those systems into balance. The foods associated with Earth, sweet vegetables, dairy products, and natural sweeteners, can make or break proper digestion and menstruation. The refined carbohydrates we consume, such as high fructose corn syrup, alcohol, and white flour, overwork the pancreas and create an over–acidic environment in the digestive tract; diabetes and acid reflux are among the consequences. Pasteurized milk with added hormones is often responsible for the severe cramps and extreme mood swings in menstruating women. At this time of year especially, do your best drink either organic or raw milk and to consume complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, the sweet vegetables being harvested now, and natural sweeteners like raw honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, barley malt, and molasses. You’ll definitely have a much more peaceful transition to fall!

Spring Cleaning, Part 2: Spring Diet and Detox Diets

Spring Cleaning, Part 2: Spring Diet and Detox Diets

As I mentioned in the Introduction, during the month of spring the body naturally kick starts its own cleansing and detoxing process. The food that we eat, and the lifestyle that we live, can either aid or hamper this process. More cleansing and nutritious foods will make it easier for you to detoxify, while on the other hand eating cold, damp and heavy, fatty foods will make detoxifying more difficult and will induce colds and sinus trouble. Some people like to undergo a fast during spring as a way of making the cleansing process more total. This can be great idea, but is not a substitute for eating healthy during the rest of the year. In other words, if you decide to fast, don’t “retoxify” when you’re finished; eat a balanced diet instead. If you take care of yourself for most of the year, you don’t end up in a position where you need to seriously detoxify in the spring.

Whether you’re fasting or not, the best spring diet is going to be more low–fat than diets corresponding to the other seasons. That means cutting down on fatty foods like dairy products, nuts (peanut butter), processed foods with hydrogenated oils or vegetable oils in general, and meat that has a high fat content. This is not to say there is something intrinsically wrong with fat, but at this time of year a lot of fat interferes with the natural cleansing going on in your body, which doesn’t expect a lot of fat to still be around after a cold winter. So this is the one time of year when a low–fat diet makes sense. Note: this does not mean low–fat versions of normally high–fat foods. Just eat smaller amounts of high–fat foods at their normal fat content. Fat cravings are not as common in the spring, although if you feel like you need some fat, then go ahead and eat it. Now, what about the foods that are good for the spring? A discussion of the spring diet follows below, and at the end of this article is a section on fasting.

The Spring Diet . The best foods for spring are dried foods left over from the winter and the fresh young greens and sprouts that are just beginning to grow. These greens have a high amount of chlorophyll, which is healing and cleansing for the blood. The greens usually have a bitter or pungent flavor, which is just what you need to break up accumulations of fat in the body. The dried foods, on the other hand, help balance the spring body’s high water content. Below is a list of nutritious spring foods, divided by food group, partially adapted from John Douillard’s The Three–Season Diet.

 

Type Food Healing Property
Fruit Dried Fruit Drying (of course)
Lemons Sour (liver cleansers)
Limes
Grapefruit
Sour apples
Strawberries High in antioxidants
Raspberries
Vegetables Asparagus Stereotypical spring food
Brussels Sprouts Very alkaline, nutrient rich
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Celery
Spinach
Sprouts
Swiss Chard
Carrots Balances bitter vegetables
Chili Peppers Hot, breaks up mucus
Cilantro Spicy/bitter, very cleansing
Mustard Greens
Parsley
Watercress
Collards Bitter, detoxifying
Kale
Dandelion Greens Very bitter, detoxifying
Corn Slightly sweet, goes well with greens
Endive High in fiber, also cleansing
Lettuce
Garlic Pungent, burns up fat
Ginger
Onions
Radishes
Turnips Slightly pungent
Grains Cooked Amaranth, Barley, Corn, Millet, Quinoa and Brown Rice are all good, but reduce wheat. Granola is a good dry cereal.
Beans All dried beans and bean sprouts are good, especially kidneys, lentils, split peas and mung beans.
Nuts/Seeds Pumpkin and sunflower seeds are best, lowest in fat.
Dairy Dairy is usually too cold and thick, but some butter and yogurt is okay.
Meat/Fish Low–fat protein like chicken and fish is best; dried meats like naturally preserved beef jerky are okay too.
Oils Olive oil is best, but reduce consumption of oil to below winter levels.
Sweeteners Raw, local honey is perfect! If you have cravings for sugar and fat in the spring, combine honey with yogurt and berries.
Beverages Water, Green Tea or Black Tea are good. So are pungent teas such as peppermint, dandelion and ginger.
Spices Use lots of pungent spices when making rice and beans—especially black pepper, cayenne pepper, ginger and garlic.

In general, as you can see from above, what’s recommended is a mostly vegan diet, with a lot of whole grains, cooked beans and bean sprouts, fresh vegetables, dried fruit, and bitter, pungent and sour flavors. This is the diet that will help you feel the best in the spring and enhance the cleansing process. In regard to fruits and vegetables, some of the above don’t become available until later in the spring. Look for what is freshest and was grown locally. The foods that naturally grow at this time of year have the most healing properties for spring. Also, remember that low–fat doesn’t mean low–protein. Don’t just eat salads, but have plenty of rice and beans and enough chicken and fish to keep from getting too cold. It’s not summer yet!

The Detox Diet. Eating only the foods listed above is already going to be highly detoxifying. However, some people like to take a few days, a week or even two weeks in the spring to seriously cleanse their bodies. Fasting is a very old tradition, and is an important part of many different religions. Sometimes fasting can be an emotionally or spiritually cleansing experience on top of being a physically cleansing one. I think it’s worth trying out just to see what the experience is like. If ever you don’t feel well, you can always just go back to your normal pattern of eating.

There are obviously different levels of intensity in fasting. Just eating cooked whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits—the foods listed in the table above—would be the most relaxed fast. Presented below are some different options for fasting:

1. Whole Grain fast. You could also call this the “Bread and Water” diet. Essentially, it involves eating cooked whole grains such as millet and brown rice, chewed very thoroughly, with water as your sole beverage. The whole grains can also be combined with mung beans that have been cooked with kombu. This diet purges toxins from the body while still providing a lot of energy in the form of carbohydrates. Better for people on the thin side who can’t afford to lose a lot of weight.

2. Steamed Vegetable fast. This diet is good for people who would like to lose weight but can experience symptoms of coldness from time to time. Eat two or three different cooked vegetables combined at a time for your meals, and no other foods. Drink water or herbal tea if thirsty.

3. Raw fruit and vegetable/fruit and vegetable juice fast. This diet is good for those with symptoms of heat who want to lose weight and detoxify. Combining fruits and vegetables at the same meal is not always best, so alternate eating fruits and vegetables. As always, chew your food very thoroughly—even chew the vegetable and fruit juices to mix them with alkaline saliva. Beware of fruit and vegetable juices that have added sugar, which will cancel out the cleansing effects.

4. The Master Cleanser. This diet consists solely of water and a drink called the “Master Cleanser”—no food. One glass of the Master Cleanser consists of 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, a pinch of cayenne pepper and a cup of water. Mix together and drink 8-12 glasses a day. Always drink a glass of water with the master cleanser to rinse out your mouth afterwards. Drink as much water as you like. Lemon juice helps detoxify the liver, while the hot pepper breaks up fat and mucus in the body. This diet can be followed for a day, a few days, or a week—continue for as long as you would like, but listen to your body and eat if you feel like you have to.

Some people can get too obsessed with fasting and fast against their body’s wishes. Remember that it is not an alternative to a healthy everyday diet, but it can be very helpful if you feel you need to cleanse yourself of toxins accumulated over a long period of time. Finally, if you choose to fast, remember that your body may not be able to sustain a high level of activity. Don’t work out too hard, and get plenty of sleep.

Spring Cleaning

It’s been almost a year since I started writing this newsletter, and this is my first chance to talk about spring. In this issue, I’ll writing about the lifestyle changes that go hand–in–hand with the coming of spring, and next month I’ll write about spring diets: detoxes and fasts. An important part of spring is the time–honored tradition of “spring cleaning.” The change in the weather enables changes in many other ways: we can change our wardrobe, change our activities, and generally reorganize ourselves for the period to come. One thing I’ve noticed when working with clients is how they find it much easier to accomplish their goals when their surroundings encourage it. Having a healthy and supportive home environment is very important for spurring you to take on new challenges, or even just to keep doing what you’re doing in a peaceful setting. A good general rule to follow when spring cleaning is Thoreau’s message from Walden: “Simplify.” In other words, I recommend that you pack a bag and depart for a small cabin in the woods with a pond nearby. But if, by chance, that’s not feasible for you at the moment, I have some less rigorous recommendations.

Clean out your kitchen. It is so much easier to eat healthy if you have counter space and healthy food in your refrigerator. Put away almost every kitchen tool and box of food that you don’t use every day until you have a good amount of clear counter space where you can prepare food. Even if you don’t prepare food, having clear space is important because it gives you more possibilities and peace of mind. Unless you are a Zen Buddhist, leave a few often–used tools out. Too much clear space can also signify an under–used kitchen. I also recommend looking through your refrigerator and cupboards for processed foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, or any ingredients that you have trouble pronouncing, and tossing those in the wastebasket. These foods can cause health problems like weight gain and arterial blockage, and many others. The same with any food you know you’re not going to eat. Throw it away! Don’t eat it to use it up, if you know it’s not good for you. That’s treating your body like a wastebasket.

Include more fresh air and green things. We are all healthier with more oxygen. As the air starts to warm up, open the windows more often and let some fresh air in. You may feel surprisingly more clear–headed and positive than usual. Plants also provide oxygen through photosynthesis, and they look nice.

Cancel some projects. Spring is a good time to grow and thrive, not to become overburdened with responsibilities. As a way of simplifying, let go of some things that you don’t enjoy any more or that you feel like are just obligations. You want to focus your energy on a few things that are really important to you, and enjoy them to the fullest.

Plan out what you want to do. Some people find it helpful to have a written record of what their goals are, especially those of us who tend to think too much. As I said before, spring is a time for growth and cleansing. Plants are always trying to grow towards the sunlight (which accounts for the odd shapes of some trees). Figure out what direction you want to grow in; whether you want to improve your career situation, increase your family, improve your health and eating habits, start exercising, learn something new, or grow spiritually. Once you’ve figured it out, do a few things towards this goal every day and enjoy yourself the rest of the time.

Follow the principle of fasting. Spring is a time when many people follow detoxifying diets, or fasts, of just vegetables, fruit and vegetable juice, or just water. As I said, I’ll write about these diets next time—right now, in my part of the country, it’s too soon to start doing a fast. However, you can fast in more ways than just “food fasting.” If you can, take some time, at least a few days, to abstain or withdraw from all the demands of life, and clear your head. Detoxify yourself of thoughts and emotions that may be leading you in an unproductive direction. Just as important as releasing stored toxins from unhealthy foods is to release stored stress and emotional tension.

One final note about spring cleaning: make sure you wait until spring is really here to follow a detoxifying diet. Sometimes we can be too eager and eat a very light diet while it is still winter time. Keep eating filling and satisfying meals up until you’re really sure it’s spring; that way, when you do fast, your fast will probably be much healthier and last longer.

Animal Products

One of my recommendations for winter weather was to eat more fat and protein. For a non–vegetarian, animal products are among the best sources of these macronutrients. They are filling and strengthening, and possess plenty of iron and B vitamins. Good quality animal food also contains omega-3 fatty acids. Very active people benefit especially from animal foods and so do those who spend a lot of time in the cold. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of rightly deserved controversy surrounding the consumption of meat and other animal products. It’s been said that these foods are inherently unhealthy and lead to fatal diseases such as heart disease and cancer, as well as to related problems such as high cholesterol, strokes, and osteoporosis (see the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, as an example). It’s also been said that there’s nothing wrong with animal products themselves, in fact, that they ard a traditional and integral part of a healthy diet, but that factory farming and other industrial techniques severely diminish the quality of the animal foods, as well as being responsible for animal cruelty and environmental waste (for a corresponding example, see the Weston A. Price Foundation). So what is the reality?

It’s true that almost all traditional societies have had some animal foods in their diets. From the Eskimos to the Celts to various African tribes and South Sea islanders, practically everyone ate meat or fish in some form or other. The animal foods they ate have been credited with helping them build muscle and develop proper bone and facial structure (including perfect teeth — there was no need for modern dental techniques until the 20 th century, and this is attributed to the end of the traditional consumption of raw animal fat). Animal foods also gave people enough stored protein and fat to survive periods of famine, helped them absorb vitamins and minerals, and enabled them to remain both warm and nourished in the winter. However, these people consumed these foods very differently hundreds or thousands of years ago from the way we do now. All the animals were organic, free–range, grass– and insect–fed, and were never given hormones or antibiotics. The most highly prized and sought after parts of the animals were not the muscle tissues that we eat now, but the organs that held all the vitamins and minerals. The liver, the heart, the kidneys, even the blood were essential parts of the diet. Eating the healthy organs of the animal nourished these organs in the person, making them much stronger against heart disease, liver failure, kidney stones, etc. Some of this tradition has come down to us in the practice of taking cod liver oil medicinally, even though this too has fallen out of favor.

Meat not being as readily available as it is now, people also ate smaller and fewer servings. People in warmer regions especially, with less active lives, needed to eat a lot less meat. The Eskimos could get away with eating tons of fatty animal foods, but, of course, they also lived in freezing cold igloos. The main problem with eating animal products the same way today, though, is that most animals are raised in factory farms where they live very brief, very unhealthy, very unhappy lives. Their organs are filled with toxins from the pesticides and chemicals in the food they eat, which includes not just a ton of corn and soy (common allergens for a good reason), but leftover ground up animal products from the unused parts of other animals. There are antibiotics to keep them alive in cramped living conditions that would otherwise kill them off, and hormones to make them constantly grow bigger and fatter. I don’t think I would want to eat a liver that has to process all that stuff, let alone a raw liver! No wonder they warn you to cook the meat to death — you’re cooking some unhealthy bacteria to death too. Even the muscle meat of these animals is nutritionally far poorer because of the diet that they are fed. Cows are meant to eat grass, which has vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. Cows that eat nutritionally empty food are correspondingly nutritionally empty on your plate. Finally, I don’t approve of eating animals that have been subject to needlessly cruel treatment, in which they are mutilated or artificially inseminated without any thought to the way they are naturally meant to live. I would not be surprised if there are additional health ramifications for eating an animal that led an unhappy life, or if there turns out to be a connection between the depression that afflicts so many Americans and the depression that exists in the animals they eat.

So, are animal foods healthy and good for you? I think they certainly can be, but you can see it depends on a number of factors, one of the most important of which is whether the animal itself was healthy and happy, and on a healthy diet of its own. Given that the meat, milk, eggs, or cheese did come from a health animal, we should also take into account how much we eat, whether we balance it with enough vegetables and other foods, and whether we’re just eating a lot of steaks or occasionally trying something like the liver. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of heart attacks out there went significantly down if people switched to organic, grass–fed, free–range meat with omega-3 fatty acids, which act like antifreeze in your arteries, and therefore balance out the saturated fat of the animal.

Some organic meat is available from health food stores and supermarkets like Whole Foods. However, I think it’s best if you can find a local farmer. The website www.localharvest.org has a national database of farmers selling their own locally grown animal products from family farms. The Weston A. Price Foundation has a section on their website where they list local providers of high–quality animal food: go tohttp://www.westonaprice.org/localchapters/index.html.

Sometimes it may seem like organic animal products are very expensive compared to their conventional counterparts. However, for conventional animal products, there is a “cost” of selling so cheaply: that cost is the practice of factory farming and all its flaws. The difference in price between the two is made up in the overcrowding of the conventional animals, the poor quality feed, the environmental waste, and the animal cruelty. These are practices that the manufacturers of the meat industry (they really do seem like manufacturers, not farmers at all) implemented in order to beat the competition and sell their meat at an artificially low price. What I recommend is eating fewer animal products but buying higher quality. I would also note that if you go out to a restaurant and order a steak, it’s not going to be organic, but you still pay about as much for that steak as you would for an organic steak at the supermarket that’s twice as big. Plus, at most restaurants they probably overcook it. One last advantage to point out with organic, free–range meat: because it’s been raised in healthier, disease–free conditions, cooking it a little more on the rare, juicy side isn’t cause for worry — just for pleasure.