Why You Should Go Grain-free?

nutritious school lunch, wheat free, grain free, sugar free, easy, make ahead

I know, I know. I can hear you now:
“But they’re good for you!” “They reduce heart disease!” “They have fiber!” “They’re cheap” “They fill me up” …

This site exists to give you healthful grain and sugar-free options—and understanding. Knowledge is power—read on! Click on a picture to get that recipe or just explore this site.

Here’s a little food for thought: there is no vitamin or mineral you can get from grain that you can’t get in better quantities elsewhere. So let’s take a look:

1: The Food Pyramid (now My Plate) says I should get three servings per day. An appeal to authority (unless that “authority” is actually a preponderance of scientific evidence) does not an effective argument make. So what is the evidence?

  • We’re told that whole grains help control (or lose) weight. Karl & Saltzman (2012) state recent clinical trials have failed to support a role for whole grains in promoting weight loss or maintenance.”
  • We’re told that whole grains help cardiac health by reducing chronic inflammation. According to Lefevre & Jonnalagadda (2012) studies do not demonstrate a clear effect of increased whole-grain consumption on C-reactive protein or other markers of inflammation.”
  • We’re told that eating more whole grains generally prevents disease. Williams (2012) reviewed the entire body of scientific literature between 2000 and 2010 (135 papers) and found no association between whole grain consumption and improved cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight gain, or overall mortality. There may be an increased rate of cancer.

Raw Honey Nut Meusli

2: Don’t grains have essential vitamins and minerals that I can’t get from other sources?

  • Whole grains contain no vitamin C, vitamin A or the vitamin A precursor beta-carotene (except yellow corn)
  • Calorie for calorie, whole grains are not good sources of vitamin B’s (normally found in a complex); grains contain no B12—a vitamin critical for nerve and brain health and protects against pernicious anemia. Your best bets are green leafy vegetables, avocados, red meat and seafood.
  • Whole grains contain very little calcium yet also contain factors that prevent proper absorption and use of any calcium you may be getting from other sources.
  • Whole grains are poor protein sources and have none of the amino acids taurine and carnitine—taurine promotes normal heart rhythm and cardiovascular health; carnitine helps proper energy.

3. In fact, poorly prepared grains prevent vitamin and mineral absorption. Grains contain substances like phytic acid which binds up minerals and prevents proper absorption. In other words, even if you get a lot of iron, calcium and other vital nutrients from other foods, if you eat them with grains they bind to things in the grains and pass through and out of your intestine. However, please note that souring, sprouting and soaking grains neutralizes phytates and renders the nutrients in grain more absorbable.

4. Grains upset your body’s calcium balance. Every food you eat, when digested, yields a net acid or alkaline load. This has very little to do with being alkaline or not before digestion—it is the chemistry of the digestion process that makes it net acid or alkaline. Whole grains are more acid than refined grains, hard cheeses are the most acid, the only alkaline foods are fruits and vegetables. Your kidneys have to balance acid-base and they do this mostly by causing calcium to leach out of bones and act as a pH buffer. And speaking of bone health, it appears that grains somehow prevent the kidneys from activating vitamin D. Vitamin D is responsible to carry calcium out of the gut and into the bloodstream and then to your bones and teeth for calcification.

5. Grains are bad for your teeth. Weston A. Price, DDS extensively documented the change from healthy teeth and jaw structure to one of cavities and poor alignment in culture after culture that switched to a diet high in grains and grain products. Anthropological records of our pre-agricultural ancestors indicate very little to no tooth decay; however, that changed after the dawn of agriculture. More recent research links those changes to two main problems:

  • low mineral absorption rates and improper dental structure and enamel formation due to high levels of mineral-blocking phytic acid and inactive vitamin D; and
  • plenty of starches for bacteria to feed on.

6. Grains upset your gut; intestinal health is critical to your overall health. If you’re gut isn’t healthy you can’t absorb nutrients from the foods you eat, become malnourished and more prone to disease.

Here’s the sequence to leaky gut syndrome:

  1. Not very easily digested grains harm the intestinal lining in at least two ways: 1. the fiber mechanically shears the tiny little microvilli, think tiny cuts; 2. digesting the very high starch content of grains creates a net acid environment in your intestine (see #4)
  2. Along with other problems, the acid environment fosters the growth of unwanted bacteria, yeast, amoebas, and even parasites.
  3. Toxins from these unhealthy bacteria inflame your intestinal lining and make it leaky. You may or may not feel symptoms when these unfriendly bacteria grow but they tend to produce abdominal discomforts, gas, and because they cause a release of serotonin in the gut they may contribute to cravings for more starchy foods (eating which blocks transport of tryptophan to the brain reducing the ability of the brain to make serotonin and potentially affecting mood).
  4. Tiny particles of grains can now slip through the intestinal walls into the blood.
  5. Because these incompletely digested particles don’t belong in the blood, your body’s immune system responds. You develop antibodies to grain proteins (lectins) like gluten, gliaden, etc.—proteins that are very similar to proteins made for use by your body.
  6. The more you continue to eat grains, the more this occurs. You may not feel symptoms for a very long time. Gluten binds to the gut lining—gluten antibodies attack the gut lining producing celiac’s disease and Chrone’s (automimmune).
  7. The overworked digestive, pancreatic enzyme and liver detoxification systems cannot keep up with continued grain consumption. These organs are overworked ut the digestive system is no longer absorbing nutrients needed to support these (and other) organs. The body can feel tired, exhausted, and can experience weight gain or swings, eye puffiness and dark bags, digestive upset, excess mucous formation, chronic pain, headaches, and emotional swings.

If you’re white, there’s a good chance that you’re gluten-intolerant to some degree. Current research estimates that 40-60 percent of us from European descent are gluten intolerant to some degree and 1% of the population suffers from celiac disease

7. Grains inflame your joints. Studies show that grains—even whole grains—are linked to joint pain and arthritis. It looks like this may be part autoimmune because the amino acid composition mirrors that of the soft tissue in your joints. Being chemically similar, your body has difficulty differentiating between the two tissues. Once you have antibodies against grain lectins, your body will attack similar proteins of its own as if it were a foreign invader—this leads to pain, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and, of course, more inflammation.

8. Grains cause inflammation in part due to a high starch content. Check www.NutritionData.self.com for nutrition data including inflammation factor, glycemic index, and more. The more refined the grain, the more inflammatory it is. Chronic inflammation is linked to a myriad of degenerative, modern diseases including arthritis, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular disease, bone loss, emotional imbalance and even cancer. Some inflammation factors (zero is neutral, negative promotes inflammation, positive is anti-inflammatory):

Buckwheat TabouliUnbleached white flour          -421
Whole wheat flour earns        -247
Whole cooked millet               -150
Cooked brown rice earns        -143
Cooked buckwheat groats       -79

9. Grains aren’t good for your skin either. Their very high carbohydrate content, even if they are complex, are broken down into sugars. These sugars instruct your body to produce more insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IFG-1). Elevated insulin levels lead to a cascading hormonal response that activates the sebum-producing glands in your skin so it produces more oil. Unfortunately, there is also an increased production of waxy keratin that tends to clog the pores.

10. Eating grain makes you crave grain. Several reasons: Foods rich in carbohydrates give you quick energy because they break down into sugar, but that energy wears off just as quickly as it came. BUT there is far more to this complicated story. It is downright baffling but people who are truly allergic and have antibodies to grains often have the strongest cravings. There are at least two explanations for this:

  1. Grains contain certain opioid-like compounds and also stimulate the body to produce certain endorphins. These narcotic-like substances produce a temporary “high” and a plate of spaghetti becomes one’s “comfort food.” Just like any narcotic, it takes more and more to achieve the same effect and there are truly withdrawal symptoms for stopping. We don’t have negative connotations for these foods so most people don’t ever consider giving them up.
  2. Because grains break down into sugar, they elevate blood sugar and stimulate the production of insulin. One effect of insulin is to allow the transport of the amino acid tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier. Tryptophan is then converted to serotonin—a neurotransmitter associated with good moods. The problem is that grains do not themselves contain any (or very little) tryptophan. Other food sources would be far more effective and without creating the imbalances of grains.

baseball beef sticks

Most of us have consumed large quantities of grains all of our lives. As a result, we have endocrine and inflammation issues including weight gain, joint pain, sugar imbalances and digestive distress. We also have signs of malnutrition including fatigue and emotional problems,    soft and/or misaligned teeth and low-density bones.

Avoiding gluten is a good start, but gluten is truly just the tip of the iceberg and you will not restore health by using rice, quinoa, or other grains that do not contain gluten but have all the other problems. Your body has been deprived of the genuine building blocks it needs for a long time—and it has been under a lot of stress

Nutrition Response Testing can determine the fastest, permanent repair program and get you back the health and quality of life you deserve. Not in Anchorage? Find a practitioner near you by searching your zip code.


Lefevre M & Jonnalagadda S. Effect of whole grains on markers of subclinical inflammation. Nutr Rev. 2012 Jul;70(7):387-96.

Wu X & Schauss AG. Mitigation of Inflammation with Foods. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Apr 15. [Epub ahead of print]

Karl JP & Saltzman E. The role of whole grains in body weight regulation. Adv Nutr. 2012 Sep 1;3(5):697-707.

Spreadbury I. Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2012;5:175-89. Epub 2012 Jul 6.

Williams PG. Evaluation of the evidence between consumption of refined grains and health outcomes. Nutr Rev. 2012 Feb;70(2):80-99.

Copyright © 2013 GL Sternquist DC Inc. All Rights Reserve

Get Off the Grain Train

It’s Independence Day. Our holidays give us the opportunities to spend with family and friends and what could be more American than a BBQ or picnic? I love our great American tradition of everyone-bring-a-dish-to-share. It opens the door for creating dishes that are a real treat and I also get to bring something my family and I like to eat. Scroll down for recipes that are not just cost conscious they are incredibly delicious.

Plus I get time to catch up on my research. Additional to my regular job of helping people get the health and quality of life they deserve, I’ve been contracted to a clinical trial for a drug free substance abuse treatment program (yes, I’m most definitely still in the clinical research arena). It’s been a tight schedule lately, so I also get to catch up on answering a pile of health questions.

One of the most common health questions I get involves grains—corporate interests have been blanketing us with their version of information, and pressuring our government, long before Harvey Wiley MD created the publicly popular 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no bleached milled white flour could enter interstate commerce (the 1906 law prohibits interstate commerce in misbranded and adulterated foods, drinks and drugs—this law still stands, although is never enforced). As a chemist and researcher, Dr. Wiley spent 50 years studying the health effects of processed foods, preservatives and artificial colors including saccharine, borax, salicylic acid, sulfuric acid, sodium benzoate and formaldehyde and in 1883 was appointed the Chief Chemist of the US Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Chemistry (and what is now the FDA) where he made huge strides advocating for consumer health protection.

Unfortunately Dr. Wiley’s successor, Dr. Elmer Nelson, sided more with corporate interests and forced very literal and narrow interpretations of the Pure Food and Drugs Act. He was quoted as saying:

“It is wholly unscientific to state that a well-fed body is more able to resist disease than a poorly fed body. My overall opinion is that there hasn’t been enough experimentation to prove that dietary deficiencies make one susceptible to disease.”

A review of the existing scientific literature at that time shows a clear relation between nutrition and health.

In 1914, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in order for bleached flour with nitrite residues to be banned from foods, the government must show a relationship between the chemical additive and the harm it allegedly caused in humans. Largely based on Dr. Nelson’s testimony, the court ruled that the mere presence of a harmful ingredient was not sufficient to render the food illegal.

In other words, corporations can now add things to food and/or alter them from their original form unless or until the government proves that additive or alteration causes harm in humans. This interpretation is largely why white flour is considered the same as the original wheat grain, or genetically modified plants remain unlabelled and treated as if they are non-GMO. On a research note, demonstrating “harm” in human experiments is extremely tricky. It is usually considered unethical to give suspected toxics to people so scientists start with animals (which may or may not tell you what happens in people—or at least at what level of chemical). Meanwhile, the additive is used while we track health effects and look for patterns in historical data. Not only is this a bit too late, legally it rarely “proves” anything. Fewer than 5 percent of the chemicals in use today have been tested for safety; of the 80,000 or so chemicals in use, only 3 have been banned. (A good review is here)

That said, are any grains—whole or not, organic or not—actually good for usBuckwheat Tabouli? I bring you:

  1. Information on why grains are unhealthy, and;
  2. Ideas—what can we eat?

The second answer is easiest. Just learn to make a few substitutions and no mayo potato saladyou can take a non-nutritious item that was designed from cheap imposter anti-foods and turn it into the (usually more authentic) dish it was always suppose to be. And that is exactly what I did here:

Untraditional Buckwheat Tabbouleh Salad

No Mayo Potato Saladbaseball beef sticks

Baseball Beef on a Stick

Back to grains—I am asked nearly every day about this, the base of the USDA Food Pyramid (now “MyPlate”) recommends many servings of grains, breads, pasta, cereal, all day every day. How many of us grew up with this nutrition advice and have now passed this on to our children?

Because of the devastating health effects of grains, grain products, and grain sugars, the first dietary change to make if you want better health is to remove these from your pantry and food habits. None of the recipes on this site include any grains or grain sugars (corn syrup, cane sugar). Whether you already follow a wheat-free, gluten-free or grain-free diet or are looking at the issue for the first time, I hope these explanations help.

Pro-grain argument #1: Our ancestors lived on grains and we should be well adapted to them by now.

Mostly false: We have actually not been eating grains for very long time historically speaking. Not only that, eating grains occasionally is also a lot different than the currently-recommended three servings or more per day—that dietary change happened very, very recently.

Archeologists generally agree that for about 1.5 million years, humans and predecessors ate a combination of land mammals (including organs, fat and marrow), cooked tubers, seafood (fish, mammals, shellfish, seaweed), eggs, nuts, fruit, honey, “vegetables” (stems, leaves, etc.—the term “vegetable” has a culinary meaning only, no botanical meaning), mushrooms, assorted land animals, birds and insects.

About 10,000 years ago, some of these Paleolithic societies made the shift from hunting and gathering to growing crops and raising livestock. There is evidence that emmer, an early ancestor of wheat, was grown in the fertile crescent of the Middle East about 11,500 years ago. Rice appears in what is now China about 10,000 years ago and an ancestor of corn appears in Central America about 9,000 years ago.

But here’s the tricky part: Although these grains may have been included in the diet, they did not become a major part of it until much more recently. For Americans, this may have been 100-200 years ago and many Africans have never included grains in their diet. Europeans were probably the earliest regular wheat and barley consumers at about 7000 years ago. Corn did not become widely used until perhaps 1200 years ago and, until recently, the Chinese did not commonly consume rice as a food rather it was fermented into an alcoholic beverage.

The question remains: how much time does it take to adapt a body so it can digest and handle a new food? Mathematically, 7,000 years is enough generations to show genetic adaptation. But in the high proportions recommended by the USDA, our bodies would have had to develop substantial means for counteracting natural grain toxins, counteracting hormone shifts caused by grains, and improved ability to digest and extract nutrients from grains.

When our genetic code changes through adaptation, it is because those who inherit the code that promotes greater survival tend to produce more surviving children than those who do not inherit that genetic pattern. Their children and their children’s children produce more children (increasing the prevalence of that genetic code in the population) while the less healthy tend to phase out. Eventually, after enough time and generations, the more survival genetic pattern becomes more common.

In other words, the genetic code will change in order to solve the problems the grains were causing. Where the code is changed tells a lot about the health problems. When it comes to grains these are (so far):

  1. Digestion: the starch-digesting enzyme amylase is sometimes found in multiple copies (resulting in higher enzyme levels) among individuals who descend from peoples who eat wheat or rice (Europeans and Chinese both have multiple copies).
  2. Cholesterol: apolipoprotein B genes are modified in a portion of individuals who descend from wheat eating peoples.
  3. Blood Pressure: angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) is modified more frequently among individuals who descend from wheat-eating peoples.
  4. Because rice was more commonly fermented, Chinese people often have a gene variant that causes the rapid conversion of alcohol into something that is not intoxicating but instead causes a red flush.

Until very recently humankind consumed wild grains in small amounts. The seeds were also carefully prepared, they were soaked first so they would begin to sprout, a process that neutralizes some of the toxins. In the last century (4-5 generations) sprouting grains was largely abandoned while grain consumption soared. One result? Even among Europeans, a people with the longest history of consuming grains, nearly 1% have full-blown Celiac’s disease and have not been protected by genetic adaptation.

If you do not descend from these races (or if you consume large quantities of grains unfamiliar to your race—which may include most commercial strains today) grains will have even more influence on unwanted weight gain, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and other health effects because your genetic line has not developed even these few protective adaptations.

Archeological measures show that those cultures who transitioned to grains as the primary source of calories also became shorter in  stature and developed osteopenia, osteoporosis, dental decay and dental crowding worldwide. That’s what the archaeology says, and there is no controversy about it.

Pro-grain argument #2: Grains are cheap and contain lots of amino acids and minerals.

Answer: Yup, they are cheap—that is why they are loved by commercial interests. As to the second thought, this might be true if your body could digest and absorb these nutrients; therein lies the problem.

Practically every plant food contains some kind of toxin, but grains produce a number of nasty ones. Phytic acid, for example, strongly inhibits the absorption of a number of important minerals. Heat-resistant lectins (gluten, and gliadin stimulate the immune system in an unhealthy way, for example) Wild tubers, which were our main carbohydrate source for about 1.5 million years before agriculture, contain less phytic acid and no heat-resistant lectins. Coincidentally, average human height decreased when humans adopted grain-based agriculture.

To address these problems, seeds, including grains, were historically treated differently than today’s machine-ground or quick-processed products. Our predecessors soaked, sprouted and used long fermentation that neutralized the grain toxins, making them more nutritious and digestible. Soaking, sprouting or fermenting grains activates enzymes that break down most of the toxins. Always soak rice, barley and other grains overnight and then drain and leave them on the counter the day before cooking them.

Because corporations do not take the time to prepare grains this way, we consume higher levels of their toxins in grain-based food products. Unfermented, unsprouted “whole wheat” bread may actually be the worst of all. (“the term “whole wheat” can be used on any product that is made up of substantially all of the whole grain parts—it does not have to be the intact grain, just the sum or most of its parts added back together after processing.)

Pro-grain argument #3: Because grains are so readily grown in large volumes, they are the means to feed the world’s expanding population, especially third world countries.

Today’s commercial food crops and animals are not similar to the wild strains of our pre-agricultural ancestry or even more recent heritage strains. Today’s vegetables and fruits have been selectively bred (or engineered) to have many traits that make them different from their wild cousins. The same is true of our domesticated animals. In addition to this selective breeding, the farm-raised food we eat today gets its nutrition (from fertilizers to grain) quite differently than any of their wild counterparts. This dramatically shifts the nutrient content of these foods.

Most commercial grains today are deficient in nutrients, are a “study in pesticide application,” beginning with the seeds being treated with mercury-containing fungicide, and many have been engineered to grow in the presence of the weed-killer RoundUp. Not only do these food crops contain traces of RoundUp—a neurotoxin that accumulates in the fatty tissues of your body—the active RoundUp chemical, glyphosphate, prevents mineral and other nutrient absorption from the soils and commonly results in these plants having fungal infections so they are sprayed with more hormones and pesticides. Even the bins in which the harvested wheat is stored have been coated with insecticides. If bugs appear on the wheat in storage, they fumigate the grain. Another popular engineering feat is to add a gene so that crops can produce their own pesticides; another fat-stored neurotoxin. We have only a small idea of the health problems this is causing; of course thanks to the 1914 Supreme Court ruling, the burden of proof rests with the government and/or you the consumer.

It may be humanitarian to send food to impoverished countries and to pay our farmers to do so. The quality of the food should be nutritious and safe.

And one more thing:

We need to have certain bacteria (thousand’s of bacterial species) in our gut to digest the complex starches in grains. Not only does this support the idea that grains were incorporated into our diet very recently, it also points out another complex problem of eating unfermented grains.

Corn, wheat, barley, oats, these all change the acid levels in our gut and that kills the very bacteria we need to have living within us. A single course of antibiotics also kills the helpful bacteria we need changing our digestive tract permanently or until we do something to restore its health. Meanwhile, we continue to eat improperly prepared grains and grain products in our breads, pastas, crackers, cookies, and cakes… we consume vast quantities of added corn and cane sugars in these same products. This is a lethal digestive combination where the “good” bacteria are killed off and our USDA dietary advice promotes products that feed the unhealthful bacteria (and yeast and parasites) that live off sugar/starches in an acidified environment. These infectious organisms release toxins instead of nutrients into our blood stream. This is also true for cows and other animals fed grains, even “grain finished.”

Very recently, a study looked at changes in gut bacteria among children with celiac’s disease. The study evaluated the same children when they had symptoms and when the disease was put in remission by using a gluten free diet. The bacterial profiles were profoundly different and converted from very unhealthy to high in probiotics when celiac symptoms went in remission.

Today, get your independence from weight gain, aches & pains and fatigue. It’s time to get off the grain train and replenish yourself.

The important points to take away are, beware of any processed food because chemicals and cheap “filler” grains (plus soy) are always used. And we simply don’t know what the long-term effects will be of ingesting chemicals, on top of chemicals, on top of more chemicals.

Strive to use whole unprocessed foods that are as fresh and close to their natural state as possible.

If you’re going to eat grains make sure they are at least whole, organic, and sprouted; eat them in small amounts and infrequently.

Probably the “safest” grains are properly prepared wild and heritage rices (e.g. Forbidden rice and Wehani rice). In my hands using Nutrition Response Testing, these tend to work better for most people. But make sure the amount you eat aligns with your personal health goals.

For Moms and Mother’s Day… sweet as honey

Raw Honey Nut MeusliThis mother’s day I’m planning to have energy to burn, to feel great, and do whatever I want. Sunday is a break from the daily great big rush of getting my (now 13-year-old) son and I out the door in time for school and patients. He always likes to make me a Coconut Milk Yogurtspecial breakfast; something special to start our day with lots of protein and other genuine building blocks. Whether he gets creative and makes me Berry and Almond Scones, or  A Garden Variety Quiche, this yummy Raw Honey Nut Meusli served over Coconut Milk Yogurt (don’t for get the fresh seasonal strawberries) is a ready-made and simple option.

And besides, I think moms, mother’s day, queen bees, and honey just sort of go together. Our Raw Honey Nut Meusli can be made at any time and stored—so all my #1 son has to do is pour a bowl and add unsweetened almond or coconut milk. Voila! Ready to go. Mom’s breakfast in bed.

Since my cooking style is really along the lines of “handfuls of this;” “some of that,” when my neighbor (with the same cooking style) told me this recipe we of course never wrote down anything, or exactly measured. I think I recall the ingredients as she said them but you never know… my family loves this recipe, and Judith, I certainly welcome your edits… the rest of you, please add a little of this and that and do send in any suggestions and great variations.

This is my neighbor who also keeps bees. Their honey has found many ways into our hearts. A few years ago, my son missed a school lesson on bees and I was grateful to walk up the street and learn about their hives. We helped Bill check the queen bee and feed each hive as it was early in the season before flowers are blooming. The trick is to grow the hive population early in the year so that all summer they can Queen bee in hivefocus on making honey. As we pulled out each frame, it was amazing to me that the bees didn’t react or get mad. We followed Bill’s instructions for no sudden movements; some of the bees would land on our clothes, sit there, and leave in as harmonious a relationship as you could imagine. From time to time I recognize their honey bees when they visit my many flower gardens.

As an aside, Bill told me that the Southcentral Alaska Beekeeper’s Association does classroom presentations. I set this up and it was well worth it. Our speaker, Tina, brought a contained hive, her own raw honey, and we all gained an appreciation for these amazing insects—without which there would not be flowering plants.

Health benefits of raw honey: (if you want a goodly scientific review article, go here)

Although we need to go easy on our sweets—it is Mother’s Day and mothers are sweet. My Raw Honey Nut Meusli recipe uses raw honey made by neighborhood bees, but not very much. It is important that your honey is raw and from a known source: as soon as honey is pasteurized it becomes just as bad as table sugar for spiking your blood sugar—and your waistline! Raw honey is alive with enzymes and other health beneficial nutrients. Pasteurized honey is, well, sterile and not any better for you than high fructose corn syrup.

Most store-bought honey is pasteurized; if it doesn’t specifically state “raw” on the label, it isn’t. More recently, most store-bought honey is also subject to a procedure called “ultra filtering.” This high-tech procedure of heating (sometimes after watering-down the honey) and then forcing it through extremely small filters removes pollen and thereby the ability to trace the source of the honey. Why is this important? Many low-grade hives in china and other countries are infected and routinely treated with antibiotics. It is illegal to sell antibiotic-contaminated honey in the U.S. and Europe, but the only way to trace this is through the pollen “fingerprint” that indicates its source. Ultrafiltration removes this—and I am sure is being touted as good by those manufacturers as in “now ultrfiltered!” Check here for a list of cheap brands that use this trick.

Raw honey was the only widely available sweetener throughout human history until replaced in the 1800’s with industrial sugar cane and more recently high fructose corn syrup. Bees contribute to the nectar they collect and make it very, very different from these cheap sugar extracts.

As long ago as 1892, honey ointments were scientifically shown to have antimicrobial activity. Other health benefits are described even in the earliest writings; Sumerian tablets dating back to 2100–2000 BC, mention honey’s use as a drug and an ointment. Besides antiseptic properties, raw honey helps clear infection by boosting the immune system, having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities, and by stimulating cell growth.

Not all honey is created equal and there is a lot of conflicting stuff on the internet because, well, because anybody can say anything. I always go back to the scientific literature. In this case, the story on raw honey is very clear:

  • Raw honey’s ability to fight bacteria, fungus, even parasite infections has to do with certain enzymes.
  • Heat (pasteurization) and light destroy these enzymes and honey loses all antiseptic properties becoming no better than sugar. In fact, it becomes a food source for unwanted guests after it is sterilized by heat treatment.

So even though manufacturers of cheap pasteurized and ultra-filtered honey claim their product has the same health benefits, in truth it doesn’t—there is a big difference.

Today, we know that diets high in fructose—especially high fructose corn syrup—cause obesity, adult onset diabetes, may be linked with other chronic inflammation symptoms such as gout and heart disease, and cause unwanted health effects too numerous to list.

Although also high in fructose (the exact amount varies by honey type), raw honey does not elevate blood sugar in the same way nor does it appear to cause the body to make and store fat as does high fructose corn syrup.

Raw honey also increases the amount of antioxidants in the blood (which would help reduce inflammation and promote healing). Interestingly, although table sugar and high fructose corn syrup are known to feed cancers—raw honey does just the opposite and actually has both anti-carcinogenic and anti-mutagenic properties.

Bill, I know that a lot of people dislike bees or are afraid of them. Thanks for bringing greater understanding of them into our lives. Judith—thanks for your kind gift of raw honey.

Reference: Honey for Nutrition and Health: A Review. Bogdanov, S; Jurendic, T; Sieber, R and Gallmann, P; J Am Coll Nutr December 2008 vol. 27 no. 6 677-689

Happy Holidays!

Tis the season, special time with family and friends, and of course the great “sugar fest” “cookie conundrum” “the Holiday 10”…

You know what I’m talking about. 😉

 Every year our Designed Clinical Nutrition clients feel the strain and either come in because they’ve, well, “relapsed” and feel awful, or don’t come in because they don’t want to tell me that “visions of sugar-plums” got to their head, even if they feel awful and broke their resolve. To those of you, honestly, it’s OK. Our only real purpose is to help.

There are other options!

Going to a pot luck? Decide to bring something that becomes your dinner. Experiment with some of our more portable dishes like:

Southern Alaska Salmon Cakes

Apple Cider Glazed Baby Back Ribs

For the annual holiday Cookie Party — I want the award for “most healthy” so maybe one of these:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chewy Brownies

No one says everything you’ve worked for has to be lost, or the Holidays have to be an energy rollercoaster. Give your body comfort food that will keep it going. And enjoy these days.

a Healthy Happy Holiday menu

About this time of year we hear an awful lot about “the holiday 10,” the anticipated weight gain from all the festivities. Well, who says that has to happen?

… “you just gotta live…” and “there is so much chocolate everywhere” and bake sales and cookies and…

Guess what? I believe in indulgence. And indulgent food can still be good for you, can still work within those goals for keeping slim and fit, and doesn’t have to cause the sugar rush and energy crunch of most holiday fare.We’ve created a collection of wheat-free, refined sugar-free, and dairy-free recipes.

Our menu follows and please let me know if you have healthy traditions of your own.

Enjoy! Dr. Greg, Marie, and your team at the Alaska Health Improvement Center

Your Holiday Menu

Salmon Pate served with crisp sliced cucumbers
 Hummus with an assortment of local vegetables
Buckwheat Pumpkin Bread

First Course:
Golden Squash Soup

Main Course:
Free-Range Roasted Turkey
Original Rice Stuffing

Alaska Rainbow Chard
Roasted Root Vegetables
Baked Fennel

Grannie’s Apple Crisp
Pumpkin Pie
Dr. Greg’s famous Vanilla Ice “ Cream”

Berry & Nut Muffins

Unlike soy and corn oil, the coconut used in this recipe does not interfere with thyroid function, and there is plenty of evidence that it supports the body’s innate ability to destroy bacteria, viruses and yeast, reduces risk of atherosclerosis and related illnesses, reduces risk of cancer and other degenerative conditions, supports immune system function, helps prevent osteoporosis, helps control diabetes, promotes weight loss, supports healthy metabolic function, helps keep skin soft and smooth, helps prevent premature aging and wrinkling of the skin, helps protect against skin cancer and other blemishes, and is heat resistant making it one of the healthiest oils for cooking.

So, with all these benefits why was the American Soy Association’s 1980’s smear campaign against coconut successful? It was very well funded and is another example of money ruling over truthful health information. Unfortunately, many of these false ideas even made it into health practitioner training despite their lack of scientific backing.

Go to the muffin recipe – or read on, the truth is just the opposite of what you may have heard:

Read our article on Coconut Nutrition

The fatty acids of the coconut do not result in high cholesterol, can actually lower cholesterol, and are used immediately as a source of energy (Amarasiri & Dissanayake. Ceylon Med J 2006)

Coconut oil lowers cholesterol (Blackburn et al 1988, Ahrens and colleagues, 1957)

The coconut contains compounds essential to human health and that have numerous medicinal properties such as antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antiparasitic, antidermatophytic, antioxidant, hypoglycemic, hepatoprotective, immunostimulant. (DebMandal M, Mandal S. Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.: Arecaceae): in health promotion and disease prevention.)

In 1987 Lim-Sylianco published a 50-year literature review showing the anti-cancer effects of coconut oil. In chemically induced cancers of the colon and breast, coconut oil was by far more protective than unsaturated oils. For example 32% of corn oil eaters got colon cancer whereas only 3% of coconut oil eaters got the cancer. Animals fed unsaturated oils had more tumors. (Lim-Sylianco, C.Y. (1987) Anticarcinogenic effect of coconut oil. Philippine Journal of Coconut Studies (Philippines) 12, 2: 89-102)

Virgin coconut oil has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic activities. (Intahphuak S, Khonsung P, Panthong A. Pharm Biol 2010)

Fuel for Athletic Performance

I originally wrote this as a letter to my son’s football team—they asked. Thought I’d share it with everyone looking to have athletic energy and reduce fat. And the team? Currently #1.

Want some help with ideas. A complete list of recipes is here including the now-famous “Football Chicken Satay.”

Dear Wolverines,

Fueling for performance is a lifestyle. Cutting edge, professional athletes very carefully eat to meet their bodies’ nutritional needs. This is just as important as their training schedule. The serious athlete has no problem saying no to junk food and deserts that hurt their performance. Real athletes makes sure they get plenty of the right building blocks for their bodies; their game depends on it.

Think about it: every time you train hard you put wear and tear on your body. That time in between training is for your body to repair and come back with even stronger muscles, bones—and performance, right? If you don’t give it 100 percent, always, where will it get the genuine building blocks it needs to rebuild after an intense training session? Or after playing both offense and defense, and winning? How long can that last if it is rebuilding with junk?

It’s like building that amazing, world’s tallest, skyscraper and choosing to hook the structural beams together with chewing gum, mortar the bricks with ice cream, frame with corn cheetos, and paint with coca cola—doesn’t work.

Do you want muscle mass or fat? Do you want to fatigue or have all the energy you need?

Most professional athletes have nutrition coaches; the rest of us have to depend on getting and understanding the right information. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous amount of incorrect information out there. Old fads like “carbo-loading” still reign if you search the internet. New commercial interests try to sell you products by giving you information as if it were “backed by research” when it usually isn’t (or the research was poorly done).

You are an athlete! Athletes make changes in their routines. They give their bodies what their bodies need to perform, not because it’s advertised, or because they see their buddies doing it—but because it works. So it is best if you know why something works. Most of this post is info that will help you know why I’m saying what I am saying.

And working any of my guidance into your weekly routine will help in more ways than athletics.

So even if you haven’t (yet) made elite status and are simply trying to compete in your class, there are a few key things to know:

  • First of all, what you eat and drink throughout the week will greatly affect your game. You cannot get what you need in just the pre-game meal.
  • Secondly, living on a diet of sugar, carbohydrates and processed foods will put on weight in the form of fat and NOT muscle and WILL create nutritional deficiencies. More than anything, this sort of diet will hurt your game, your overall health, can cause allergies / food sensitivities and can even affect behavior and academic performance.
  • Thirdly, it’s important to drink enough water all week—this will affect your game.

An important word on sugar: “bad!” Sugar from the sugar cane plant (even organic, turbinado, raw…) *and* sugar from the corn plant (also called corn sugar, high fructose corn syrup) both cause immediate inflammation in our bodies.

After playing intense contact sports, the last thing to do is put something that causes even more inflammation in your body. It could make you more likely to be injured and will slow down or even prevent healing if you do happen to get injured.

Want to build muscle? Just say no to sugar and starchy foods after the game (or training session):

Important point #1: there is a two-hour window of time *after* intense exercise when the body burns fat as fuel, creates a leaner you, and builds muscle and bone.

Important point #2: consuming sugar, fruit juices, and starchy foods like breads and pasta within this two-hour window will decimate these benefits and tell your body to pack on the fat instead.

Hydration tips:

  • Drink by a schedule-not by thirst. Drink a glass of water when you wake up, just because…
  • In truth, it is important to make sure you get enough water* well before you arrive at the game; days before. Otherwise, on game day your body is still trying to “catch up.”
  • During the week, monitor your urine color. If it is pale like lemonade that’s a sign of good hydration. If it is dark like apple juice; drink more fluids.
  • You can weigh yourself before and after a game to gauge how much weight you lost. Drink 24 oz fluid for each pound lost. 8 oz = 1 cup
  • Ideally you won’t lose that much water weight because you will drink throughout the game.

*drink filtered, unchlorinated water.

Important point #3: Gatorade has so much sugar in it that your body cannot actually absorb the electrolytes you think you are getting. That surge in energy is from the sugar. It wears off pretty fast, and then you crash—still in the game.

In fact, one peach has more potassium than a bottle of Gatorade—and won’t crash you.

What to eat:

Eating high performance food all week gives you energy to practice better which will ultimately help you play better when it really counts. Good food is fuel and also lets your body store all the nutrients you need to draw on during the game.

Your meals all week should be mainly protein (meats, eggs, nuts), lots of vegetables and some fruits. Definitely eat breakfast, avoid the pizza, cereals and desert (see three important points above).

Go Hard!

Here are the rest of the details: Eating sugar (carbohydrates are the same as sugar in this sense) causes a fast spike in blood sugar. High blood sugar stresses the body in many ways and is toxic. In response, the body makes insulin to move the sugar out of the blood into cells. It also signals the body to convert the extra sugar and store it as fat.

Where the athlete is concerned, through a complex interplay of hormones and nervous system coordination, interval training (competing in a game, wind-sprints…) starts a body response that promotes bone growth (including length in children; strong bones in adults), promotes more muscle mass, promotes fat burning, promotes blood sugar stability, and boosts the immune system.

A University of Virginia research team demonstrated that while carbohydrates are burned during exercise in direct proportion to the intensity of training. Fat burning is also correlated with intensity. However, the actual fat burning takes place during a 2-hour period after the anaerobic (high intensity interval) workout, during the recovery.

They also demonstrated that a high sugar (including carbohydrates) meal after working out, or even a recovery drink (containing high sugar) after working out, will stop the benefits of exercise-induced anabolism (building up). You can work out for hours, then eat a high sugar candy bar, “energy” bar or have a high sugar energy drink, and this will shut down the bonus of enhanced fat burning and muscle building after working out.

This is important when thinking about “rewards” after the game and also choices throughout the week. And I hate to say it, but if you read the labels you’ll find cane sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup added to almost everything, even chicken broth. We’ve become an addicted society; withdrawal takes a few days, determined and patient parents L and not having sugary treats in the house.

And if that isn’t enough, there are 143 more reasons to dump sugar here: http://dumpsugar.org/2011/05/05/143-ways-sugar-ruins-your-health/ (and Dr. Nancy Appleton backs it up with plenty of scientific references)

Getting those electrolytes: The truth about sports drinks.

Advertising says that if we exercise, we NEED sports drinks to replenish ourselves—is this true?

Our nervous system and muscles run on electrolytes—you are an electrical machine. When electrolytes run low an athlete may develop muscle cramping. Even before that happens they can get tired, not think clearly… it is crucial not to lose too many electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium which are lost when we sweat.

The real question is how many electrolytes are lost during a cool-weather game like football? The answer: Unless there is already an electrolyte deficiency, the amount lost during the game is not so much to affect performance. That said, giving electrolytes isn’t a bad thing either and just thinking that it helps performance may help performance.

Unfortunately, the high sugar content of most sports drinks prevents absorption of the electrolytes you are trying to replace. Worse, sugar stimulates the kidneys and we lose water (diuretic)—also, most commercial sports drinks are loaded with chemicals and additives that impact health. The only thing research shows… is that kids drink more sports drinks than water during physical activity because it “tastes better”—there is no research that indicates these drinks will help performance. There is research that shows sugary drinks lead to a sugar crash and earlier fatigue in athletes that avoid sugar (and pre-game carbs for that matter).

Better electrolyte options:

  • Try coconut water (not milk). It is loaded with the five essential electrolytes that athletes need—including sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorous. It is very low in sugar and the sugar it does have is at least a whole food with all the active enzymes and the type of sugar it does contain is different than the sugar cane plant and the corn plant and doesn’t appear to cause an inflammatory response like these two bad boys. It doesn’t taste like Gator Aid; if you’re wanting that taste, forget it. But most people seem to like it.
  • Another option is to squeeze lemons into their water. Believe it or not, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice have the same amount of potassium as an 8 oz sports drink. Potassium is usually lost before sodium.
  • Drink plain water and eat a peach. 8 oz of a typical sports drink contains 30 mg of potassium. A typical ripe peach has 333 mg and it also contains other minerals and vitamins.

Electrolyte and game refueling ideas:

Yes, these pre-teens are working on their pre-growth-spurt appetites and probably do get hungry an hour after breakfast if not midway through their game.

  • During a game (or even training) digestion is inefficient, so give the gut something easy to deal with. Ripe fruits are great; stay away from starchy grains, breads, pastas that cause digestive stress, intestinal upset—gas, bloating, and even diarrhea.
  • Peanut butter* on a ripe fruit. Peanut butter has 300-400x the potassium of the typical 8 oz sport drink, if it is salted it is also a good source of sodium. It is pretty easy to digest and also is a great source of proteins and other nutrients.

*Note: buy organic, natural peanut butter—no added sugar. The only ingredients should be nuts and salt to avoid the blood sugar spikes and partially hydrogenated trans-fats.

And bananas? A banana has three times the sugar and carbs as a peach. While it also has a good amount of potassium, the high sugar limits how much actually can be absorbed and does create an unwanted level of blood sugar, insulin spike, fat accumulation, thyroid stress… and it’s hard to digest. I know, it has been promoted as a good source of potassium.

Eating for Recovery—is really a misunderstanding: When athletes eat all week for performance; training recovery takes care of itself (except extreme endurance sports–that is a bit of a different story).