Monthly Archives: April 2014

Oil Pulling and Apple Cider Vinegar: Folk Remedies or Real Results?

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My status as stressed and broke has continued of late (I know, what??).  However, these conditions have happily coincided with friends informing me of some new (and by that I mean ancient) health practices.  The two I’ve decided to try out daily for the past few weeks are (coconut) oil pulling and drinking a tonic of raw apple cider vinegar.  So far, so good!  Even if they aren’t having the touted results — glowing, youthful skin and hair, fabulous attitude, boundless vitality (and let’s be honest, those treats are probably out of my reach) — I believe I have noticed a bit more energy and healthier gums. Sold.    

First of all, let’s talk about oil pulling, an ancient Ayurvedic practice which I’d like to rename “coconut cleansing.”  It’s quite simple to begin this ritual, especially if you get up before the rest of your family (otherwise, expect lots of awkward nodding and “uh-uhs” while pointing at your weirdly-moving mouth and the vat of coconut oil, respectively). Simply scoop out a large teaspoon (or tablespoon if you’re a rock star of the cleanse) of organic coconut oil on an empty stomach, let it melt in your mouth, and gently swish it around for 15-20 minutes. I find this easiest to do whilst reading or making coffee and breakfast; if I do this in the shower with water running down my face I have the panicky impulse to just spit it out all over the place. The oil is supposed to be removing toxins from your mouth, so you’ll want to spit it into the trash when you’re done. (If spat into the drain it can harden and cause problems!)  So why in this spring green world would you want to do this?  First of all, I read in some magazine at the gym recently that if Ashley Olsen (yes, one of the twins) were stranded on a deserted island she’d bring Mary-Kate and coconut oil (and one more item that slips my mind).  Nevermind that she’d most likely find coconuts on said island; the point is, coconut oil is known to be a great health and beauty aid.    

Coconut oil is high in vitamins A (eyesight, immune booster), vitamin D (strong teeth and bones), and vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant, and also has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties (think fresh-as-a-daisy breath).  Although I have not personally noted my teeth looking much whiter since I started my coconut cleansing, many people swear that coconut oil not only helps fight (or even cures) tooth decay, but also whitens their teeth. (Is coconut oil a match for apocalyptic amounts of coffee? That truly would be a miracle!)  Coconut oil has long been my go-to oil for baking and sauteing, but I’m happy to report I’ve also started using it as a lotion on my 99-year-old hands. I’ll keep you posted. . .

Another natural, inexpensive practice I’ve incorporated into my daily routine? Only one of the earliest natural remedies in history and my new favorite health tonic: apple cider vinegar. Yes, it’s been in your cupboard all this time. And yes, you can use it for more than salad dressing! I’ve been adding two tablespoons to a large glass of water each morning, or drinking it throughout the day in a large water bottle. I actually like the taste a lot, it reminds me of kombucha (especially when I mix it with carbonated water) — and for a fraction of the price.  Your kids will probably very much dislike the taste, thereby encouraging them to drink out of their own bottles. Win-win!

Apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apples — and I do mean fermented.  When the sugar in food is initially fermented it makes alcohol, but if left to ferment further it creates vinegar. (Oh, so that’s why that red wine you’ve been sipping on all week tastes strangely like, well, red wine vinegar. Mystery solved.) Vinegar is actually French for “sour wine.” Who knew? 

Adding apple cider vinegar to your daily regime is reported to help with mood enhancement (well yes please) and appetite regulation (put the donuts down and no one gets hurt).  Like the apples from which it is derived, apple cider vinegar is high in pectin, which helps break down proteins into amino acids and releases iron from foods you’re eating.  These processes increase oxygen production and  — hopefully — give you greater energy!  Just as important: another effect of turning proteins into amino acids is the creation of tryptophan and its cousin serotonin, the “feel-good transmitter.”  Low levels of serotonin can lead to depression and anxiety.  Are you reaching for a bottle of ACV yet?? 

You can’t just use any old apple cider vinegar, however, my fresh and healthy friend. It needs to be raw (unpasteurized) and organic, and contain a “mother,” which I believe are the strands and cloudiness in your bottle. Delish.

So, along with making your own kale chips, doing yoga on the porch, and marinating tempeh on a regular basis, you’re going to be the kind of person who follows up her morning coconut cleanse with a shot of raw apple cider vinegar.  And why not? Let me know what you think! 🙂

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If You’re Going to Stop Eating One Animal, Please Let it be Chicken.

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Yes, I gave away the message of this post in the title, so if you’re not ready to learn some tough stuff, read no further – just trust me and quit. eating. chicken!  (Of course in my ideal world industrial animal farms would become obsolete, but we must begin somewhere, right?)

And let me be specific; I’m not talking about chickens raised sustainably and humanely and happily by your local farmer or friend; I’m discussing the 7+ billion “broiler” chickens raised on industrial farms per year, that are, arguably, the most abused, unhealthy animals in our food system. Delivered to dark, windowless, filthy chicken houses at one day old, they only see the light of day on their first and last day of life as they are transferred to a slaughterhouse. They suffer greatly, jammed together with 30,000 other chickens and being continuously stuffed full of antibiotics, hormones, and whatever feed rapidly fattens them up, including old cookies and crackers covered in fat and sometimes even waste from chicken slaughterhouses.

The over 450 million “laying hens” have it no better, living out their days in dirty cramped cages with their beaks seared off so they cannot peck at one another. Male chicks, numbering up to 100 million per year, are of no use to an industry that cannot use them for laying eggs or their meat, so they are simply thrown away to suffocate or (worse?) ground up alive.  How can we stop this?  Refuse to buy anything but pasture-raised, organic eggs.  Even better, raise your own chickens or get eggs from a friend.

All chickens are descendants of a gorgeous, flying, wild bird in Thailand called the red jungle fowl.  Although scientists consider chickens to be as intelligent and inquisitive as cats and dogs, there is not one federal law that protects them from constant abuse.

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So how in the world did we get here?  During the early part of the twentieth century, chicken meat was provided by hens who had grown too old to lay eggs and had lived for up to six years. Chickens were usually sold whole, but this changed during the 1960s, when chicken producers realized they could make much more money by “recycling” damaged carcasses rather than just discarding them.  An absolute game-changer occurred in 1983 with the introduction of the Chicken McNugget, a seemingly healthier option (NOT) at a time when our FDA was pushing chicken as preferable to red meat.  Within one month McDonald’s became the nation’s second largest buyer of chickens (after KFC). There was even a new breed of huge-breasted chickens developed–known as Mr. McDonald. Today, broiler chickens live just over six weeks and have been unnaturally re-engineered to grow obscenely huge, to six times their natural size. To put this in perspective, if you’re a woman of medium build and weigh 130 pounds, you’d weigh over 800 pounds; a man of 160 pounds would weigh a mere 1000 pounds.  Our legs would give out, too, or we’d keel over from a heart attack at a very young age, as many chickens do, their hearts coated in a layer of fat.

The McNugget changed the entire way chicken were raised in this country and officially separated the egg and chicken meat industries. Four companies control over half the market today for chicken meat, but they only deliver and collect the chickens to be processed, they leave the the work of raising the chickens to contract farmers in the rural South. Many of these farmers hoped to remain independent but have instead – overwhelmingly – fallen deep into debt. They make on average $12,000 per year. Workers at the fast-paced slaughterhouses, poorly paid and lacking benefits, have at times admitted to abusing chickens or not stunning them properly before they are boiled. After the chickens are eviscerated they are thrown into a large vat of cold water with thousands of other birds; workers refer to this as “fecal soup” for obvious reasons, but producers keep the system going because more liquid absorbed leads to heavier weights and a larger price tag at the store.

Industrial chicken farming is a nasty, cruel business.  If you’ve made it to the end of this post, thank you — I know this is difficult information, but I sincerely believe knowledge is power and that we can each make a significant difference by influencing our own circle of peeps.     

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Kale, No! The Dark Side of Leafy Greens

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock — and if you have, I sincerely apologize — you have probably tired of all the hoopla surrounding kale, officially named the “It” vegetable of 2013 and proudly riding that title into 2014. Kale is the bad-ass of Superfoods — impossibly high in iron, oozing Vitamins K, A, and C (step aside orange juice, I’d rather have kale juice, fool!), bursting with antioxidants, helps one detox, and is an anti-inflammatory (except your ego, which kale is known to inflate). But wait, there’s more to this CV: immune system boost, hydration support, lowers cholesterol.. . and who knows, kale can probably massage my feet and help clean my kitchen!  What’s not to love, you ask? I can already feel the angry cyber-stares of kale groupies, and I want you to know, I’m one of you. I *heart* kale, I really do, but recent events have caused me to question my carefree waltz down the green leafy path of raw kale consumption.

I received a Vitamix for my birthday, and if there is anything more amazing then whipping up a delicious, kid-friendly green smoothie that actually consists of huge swaths of raw kale, spinach, and flax seeds, then please do let me know. So, in short, I’ve been blending and eating more raw kale lately than ever. That is, until my friend’s discovery stopped me cold.

One of my dear friends, let’s call her Matilda, recently found out she’s been a fabulous host –as in host to a freaking parasite!  (I will spare you the details, which resulted in considerable mental anguish.) Now, if Matilda ate undercooked meats on a regular basis or had traveled to exotic locales in recent months this might be more understandable, but Matilda is a dedicated vegetarian.  She rarely eats meat of any kind, though she did consume a few bites of sushi around the holidays.  One thing Tilly and I have in common is our healthy blending habits, however, and her gastroenterologist mentioned that a significant amount of parasites can be spread to humans via — you guessed it — leafy greens that have not been washed well enough to rid them of tiny, undetectable parasite eggs.  Leafy greens are sometimes grown using “night soil” as fertilizer, a fancy name for human waste. Now, before you go all wacky, most of the time this waste is treated to remove all bacteria so it is considered safe (and what else is humankind supposed to do with all of the poop in the world? This is a deep, dark question, my friend). At times, though, when farmers are not allocated enough water — as happened in Spain in 2005– they have turned to unregulated night soil and things have gone to sh*t health-wise, so to speak.  Matilda’s doctor thinks she probably contracted her parasite from greens, but of course no one can be sure. Aside from parasitical worries, I’ve also been reading about the dangers of eating too much kale (ie, juicing, blending, and/or eating significant amounts of raw kale on a daily basis), the most serious of which is hypothyroidism and its sidekick, goiters.  If your joints are aching, you’ve gained weight, and your neck resembles the Hulk’s, this might be worth a doctor’s visit.   

So what are kale lovers to do?  I wish I knew how to quit you, kale. .  .but that’s not an option.

Never fear! Here are some easy suggestions for how to deal with the dark underside of leafy greens:

1) If you’re going to eat/juice/blend raw kale (or spinach, swiss chard, et al), make sure you soak and wash the leaves thoroughly in cold water. You may want to add a few sprays of natural veggie cleaner to your bowl of water or salad spinner.  You can make your own spray, too – just combine 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon), 2 tablespoons white vinegar, and 1 cup of water in a spray bottle. (Martha Stewart just called, she wants her job back!)

2) Try freezing bags of leafy greens to use in smoothies, which is quite yummy and eliminates any possible “guests.” They like it warm.

3) Lightly steam or saute kale and spinach. One of my favorite ways to eat kale is with garlic — simply saute 1 minced clove of garlic in olive oil for 2 minutes, then add one bunch of washed kale leaves (minus stems) and cook for another 5 minutes or until bright green. Add salt and pepper to taste, and red pepper flakes for an extra kick.

4) Adding iodine to your diet (Brazil nuts, seaweed) can help offset the effects of hypothyroidism, and can only be healthy for the rest of us, right?

I am going to keep eating kale, in spite of this bump in our otherwise fabulous friendship, and I hope you do, too! 🙂

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