Modern Day Malnutrition: Anemia

In a country as wealthy as the United States, with food so abundant and affordable, it seems strange that anyone could suffer from malnutrition. And yet, not only is malnutrition a common occurrence, even the most well–off of our citizens are susceptible to it. The same goes for other developed nations. But it’s not happening because we’re not getting enough food. Developed countries rarely, if ever, have famines and food shortages. Rather, it’s the nature of our food that is causing this problem. Thanks to modern food processing methods, developed countries produce a plentiful supply of food that is high in calories—sugar, white flour, corn syrup, and animal products from animals fattened up on soybeans and corn. While in centuries past, many people died for want of calories, we have more than we could ever eat, and at an affordable price. Unfortunately, those same modern processing methods, though they give us cheap calories, eliminate much of the nutrition from foods. Nutrients are just as important for survival as calories, so with too much of the latter and not enough of the former, it’s easy to end up both overweight and undernourished. You can be eating too much and not enough at the same time! It doesn’t help that, thanks to the structure of our society, high–calorie/low–nutrient foods are the cheapest and the most convenient.

Anemia is a good example of the malnutrition that runs rampant despite the prosperity of our country. Anemia is a blood disorder with symptoms including fatigue, pallor, depression, headaches, lower back pain, dizziness, easy bruising and slow healing, loss of sex drive, brittle nails, hair loss, thin and dry hair, dry skin, and, in extreme cases, shortness of breath and palpitations. The disease is most commonly caused by a lack of dietary iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12. Iron is necessary for the production of hemoglobin, a protein that makes it possible for red blood cells to carry oxygen to our tissues. Folic acid and vitamin B12 are essential nutrients for the formation of the red blood cells themselves. Though such nutrients are readily present in whole, natural foods, anemia affects an estimated 3 to 6 million Americans.

One reason why such deficiencies exist even in people who can afford whole foods is simply a lack of knowledge. Most doctors don’t receive a thorough education in nutrition, let alone the average American, and most people don’t realize that eliminating the cause of their symptoms could simply be a matter of eating better. Another reason is that our society is structured so that processed foods are cheaper and more convenient than more nutritious whole foods. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to find even one anemia sufferer who would really rather endure fatigue, depression and back pain than make some changes in diet and lifestyle that would not just eliminate those symptoms, but make for a more satisfying mealtime as well.

If you are (or think you may be) anemic, nutrient deficiency is very likely the cause. To increase your intake of the nutrients you need, try these recommendations:

–Add more leafy green vegetables to your diet. These include kale, collard greens, cabbage, bok choy, swiss chard and spinach. Leafy greens contain both iron and folic acid, as well as manganese, another important nutrient for iron absorption. They also contain chlorophyll, a nutrient similar to hemin, the pigment that forms hemoglobin when combined with protein.

–Add more iron rich red meat, such as lamb and beef, to your diet. These meats also contain vitamin B12 and the protein needed for forming hemoglobin. However, meat should be from grass–fed animals. Animals that did not eat their greens will have little iron in their own blood, and the meat from anemic animals won’t help you very much to overcome your own anemia. Especially rich in nutrients are organs such as the liver and kidneys, and since blood is formed from the bone marrow, try making a soup with beef soup bones containing marrow.

–Seafood is another good source of iron, B12 and protein, but it should be wild caught. Organic eggs and dairy products from grass–fed cows can also provide the same nutrients.

–Other foods that contain the nutrients you need: whole grains, beans, nuts, dried fruit, and especially sea vegetables such as nori and kombu.

Whether you’re anemic or not, eating more of these foods will without a doubt increase your energy and improve your mood, and since they contain such a wide variety of nutrients, they will address other types of deficiencies as well. So give it a try, and email me with any questions!

How To Have Beautiful Clear Skin…Indirectly

Each year, people spend millions on products designed to improve the appearance of their skin. This is understandable, as the condition of our skin strongly influences our physical attractiveness and self confidence. However, those who focus only on how their skin looks are fighting a losing battle; it’s what is on the inside that matters, and in more than one way. To be more concerned with our physical appearance than our conduct towards others is to invite more stress into our lives, and stress contributes to acne, eczema, and other skin disorders. And to apply products to our skin to clean it up is to ignore the nutritional deficiencies and other health issues within us that are contributing to those disorders in the first place. Just as focusing on losing weight, rather than on health, will either result in failure to lose weight, or in success at the expense of health (e.g. anorexia), focusing on skin care, rather than overall health, will only result in a temporary abatement of poor skin, and a lifelong dependence on care products, rather than lifetime freedom from skin disorders.

The skin is one of our organs of elimination. When there is any excess of toxins in the body, some of them will be carried out of the body by means of sweat, acne, or skin rashes such as eczema. If you eat a diet high in processed foods and low in nutrients, and are not very physically active, your body will come to contain an excess of toxins, some of which it will attempt to remove through the skin, resulting in continual skin eruptions. Excessive hormone production (which occurs during adolescence, menstruation, and during periods of stress) also contributes to skin disorders, as the hormones produced result in clogged pores that slow the elimination of toxins. Clogged pores can harbor bacteria and become infected, further worsening the condition of the skin.

If you would like to have beautiful skin naturally, the approach is simple. Take whatever you might have been spending on skin care products, and devote it to your food budget instead. By adopting a balanced diet of whole, natural foods, you will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to detoxify quickly and easily, while reducing the number of toxins that are going into your system. Reducing stress and increasing physical activity will also speed the process.

At Live Free Nutrition we believe in subtraction by addition, so here are some tips for what you can add into your life to help improve the health (and consequently the appearance) of your skin:

–Eat more foods that are full of nutrients and aid in the process of detoxification: leafy green vegetables (especially cabbage, and the broth made from boiling cabbage), cucumbers, carrots, squash, pumpkin, celery, onions, garlic, sea vegetables, whole grains (especially brown rice and millet), sprouts, and any and all fruit.

–Eat more good quality fat, particularly organic butter, chicken skin from healthy chickens, raw milk and cream, avocados, olives and their oil, eggs with deep yellow yolks, and coconut oil. Skin is mostly made from fat, and fat is necessary for you to digest fat–soluble vitamins A,E, and K, which are essential for skin that is not just blemish–free, but also vibrant and glowing. Eating more good quality fat will help you avoid poor quality rancid fat from processed foods, which contains free radicals that contribute to wrinkles and the general breakdown of skin cells.

–After introducing healthier foods, you will experience a brief increase in skin disorders as your body takes advantage of the added nutrients to thoroughly detoxify. To get this stage over with quickly, apply tea tree oil (a natural antiseptic) to inflamed, infected areas of the skin, and powdered French green clay (mixed with water and daubed on the affected area) to acne in general, as it will draw toxins out more quickly. After the initial detoxification, if you maintain a healthy lifestyle, you will rarely need these products. Some other recommendations:

–Brushing your body in the shower with a stiff skin brush can help the elimination–action of the skin.

–Generally trading in all conventional skin care products, soaps, and shampoos for organic ones or ones without any artificial or chemical ingredients will cut down on toxins, and will probably also eliminate rashes and many other skin problems.

–Ocean bathing, if you can get it, is very soothing to the skin.

–If you can’t find tea tree oil, lemon juice is also a natural antiseptic, and less expensive.

Baking With Whole Wheat Flour

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know that white flour is a major contributor to weight gain (not to mention heart disease and diabetes). Does that mean that in order for your health to improve, you have to give up delicious foods like cakes, pies, cookies, and bread? Not at all! If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll also know that adding healthy foods is much more important than subtracting unhealthy foods. But is it possible for baked goods to be healthy? Absolutely! It all depends on the quality of the ingredients. Traditionally, baked goods were made with whole–grain flour, which, unlike its refined counterpart, contains nutrients and fiber in addition to carbohydrates. Not only are baked goods made with whole grains more nutritious and filling than those made with white flour, but they possess a richer, more complex flavor, and provide you with steady, lasting energy rather than a brief carbohydrate high followed by a sudden crash. So what’s the catch? Well, it’s been so long since baked goods were commonly made with whole–grain ingredients that most people no longer know how to do it. To alleviate this problem, we’ve provided some useful tips you can rely on for substituting whole grain flour when you’re using a recipe that calls for white flour (your local health food store will carry the whole–grain flours to which we refer):

–Often a recipe will call for all–purpose flour, which is more or less equal parts bread flour (high gluten) and pastry flour (low gluten). As a substitute for all–purpose flour, just mix equal parts whole wheat bread flour and whole wheat pastry flour. Buy it freshly ground in the bulk section of your local organic food store.

–When making something that requires structure and rising time, like bread, a recipe usually calls for bread flour—so use whole wheat bread flour. When making something that is more tender and flaky, and doesn’t require structure, like biscuits or scones, use whole wheat pastry flour.

–To vary the flavor in baking (especially in the case of bread), other kinds of flour, like rye or buckwheat flour, can be substituted for part of the whole wheat. Remember, however, that these flours have too little gluten to create structure, so only use about 1 part of these flours in bread compared to 4 parts whole wheat, otherwise it won’t rise much. While whole wheat bread will never be as light and fluffy as white bread, it will be far more satisfying; you’ll come to prefer it because of how good it makes you feel and because of its hearty flavor.

–Whole wheat flour requires a little more moisture than white flour. Be prepared to add more liquid about a tablespoon at a time to achieve the proper consistency.

–If baking bread with added yeast, increase the yeast from the usual 2 1/4 teaspoons to a whole tablespoon for whole wheat bread.

–For making baked goods that require very low gluten, like pie crust or cake, substitute whole spelt flour for part of the whole wheat pastry flour. Two parts spelt to three parts whole wheat pastry is a good ratio for pie crust and for cake recipes that call for cake flour (super–refined and bleached white flour). If your cake recipe calls for both all–purpose flour and cake flour, use pastry flour instead of all–purpose flour and spelt instead of cake flour.

–To alleviate the greater heaviness of the whole grain flours in cake and cake–like pastries, use the ribboning method. First, have your butter extremely soft, cut into pieces, and set aside. Put the eggs and sugar into a mixing bowl and really whip them with an electric mixer. The mixture will lighten in color and become fluffy. Beat until it is increased in volume and fluffy (if you stop the mixer and lift out your whisk and move it over the surface of the mixture, it will drip a steady stream that stands out on the surface briefly—a “ribbon”). The sugar is working like tiny whisks that introduce extra air into the batter, increasing overall lift. At this point, add the butter a tablespoon at a time, beating for about 10 seconds after each addition. Essentially, instead of beating butter and sugar together and adding eggs, you’re beating eggs and sugar together and then adding butter. You can proceed with your cake recipe from there.

Regarding sugar in sweet baked goods, it’s still a necessity, but you can use brown sugar instead of white for a little more nutrition. Don’t mess with the amount of sugar in cake recipes, but for cookies you can usually reduce the sugar up to half without really noticing much difference. Once you start eating a healthier diet and cut out the harsh processed flavors, you’ll have less craving for extra sugar anyway. Whatever you do, don’t turn to artificial sweeteners.

Lose Weight Eating Chocolate. Ask Me How.

I saw these words on a bumper sticker of a car that I passed as our family was driving home from vacation, and they immediately caught my interest. My first instinct was to catch a glimpse of the driver in order to see how healthy he or she looked (answer: not terribly). After all, isn’t it a rather dubious claim that one could eat chocolate in order to lose weight? But of course that’s where the “ask me how” part comes in. Whatever issues we struggle with—health, finances, relationships—we’re always on the lookout for an expert who can promise a solution that doesn’t require us to change anything about ourselves. While chocolate can be part of a healthy and balanced diet, people who eat it to excess due to sugar cravings are likely to put on some pounds. What if there was a way to get one’s “fix” without any consequences? It’s in our nature to seek out purported solutions of this kind, but we know deep down that they don’t really work. Resolving our problems involves making some tough choices. For this reason, there’s another group of people that argues that we just need to toughen up. “You want to lose weight?” they say. “Stop eating so much!” In fact, we tend to be tough like this on people who struggle with things we find easy, while at the same time seeking out miracle cures for our own particular weaknesses.

The reality is that while solving problems does require meaningful change, it also requires practical strategies and support, not just toughness. Eating right, budgeting our finances, or successfully interacting with people are all skills that require practice and knowledgeable guidance to acquire. The good news is that when you’re willing to commit to meaningful change, the battle is essentially already won. After you start eating better, you not only feel healthier and more energetic, but you enjoy your experience of eating more, and you actually find it difficult to go back to your old habits. It’s not a matter of ongoing will power, but of initial willingness. One client of mine, for example, called me up to ask for a healthy alternative to caffeinated soda. He wanted to have the extra energy but without the negative effects on his health. I had to explain that there is no healthy form of a “quick fix”—that the only healthy thing to do was to give his body what it really needed. In this case, that meant extra rest, such as a short nap during the day. To his credit, he was willing to give it a try, and started substituting the real rest for the soda. After a week, he had more energy than before, without needing to sacrifice his health, and had lost the craving for caffeine.

Can you really lose weight eating chocolate? Of course, as long as it’s just one part of a balanced diet of whole foods. But my emphasis on eating more whole foods is not a “toughen up” type of recommendation. If you are really eating healthy, not only will you love it, but any junk food that you used to crave will no longer have the same hold over you. All that’s required is the willingness to take that first step towards real, positive change.