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

Control your weight, cholesterol, blood sugar and heart health.

The sun is out and our unbelievable record-setting Alaska winter snowfall is finally leaving. Soon we’ll be wearing shorts, bathing suits and, looking in the mirror, yikes! extra winter insulation has just got to go: time to lose some weight!

There is probably no bigger argument in the corporate lobbying dietician/nutrition world than how to get to our ideal weight. Should we count calories, percent of protein, percent of carbohydrate or glycemic index? Which is the most important weight loss strategy (or how can we prevent diabetes, lower cholesterol, improve heart health…) And, of course, we have to shun dietary fat—which corporate lobbying “everyone knows” is bad (another article on that at another time). Truthfully, 30 years of well-done research is being smothered in corporate lobbying confusion.

The correct answer to successful weight control may just be: none of the above—it’s the type of starch that matters.

Decades of very well done research show that the worst food for your waistline (and your heart) is (the envelope please) wheat. (yes, even whole wheat). What type of starch you eat could well be the most important factor in you and your family’s ability to maintain an ideal weight.

First of all, some definitions:

Calories n. the amount of energy produced by food when used in the body.

The common, simple math, view of lose weight by eating fewer calories than what you use for energy is why many people are over fat.

Quantity sort of counts, quality is what’s important!

Carbohydrates n. a class of food including sugars, starches, and celluloses that produce quick energy. Net Carbs that are not quickly burned as energy are converted and stored as fat. ALL fruits, legumes, cereal grains, other seeds, nuts, and vegetables contain various forms of carbohydrates.

Starch is made up of units of a sugar, called glucose, chemically linked together. Depending on the starch source and processing, these glucose units may be very tightly linked or they may be weakly linked together. For this reason, different starches are digested at different rates.

In other words: not all carbohydrates are created equal! Work by Dr. Kay Behall and colleagues (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) shows how the form of starch now prevalent in all our engineered wheat (starting with crossbreeding programs in the 1960’s) actually causes blood glucose imbalances and leads to high cholesterol and weight gain. Although more recent engineering involves adding genes that do not belong in plants—genes causing these plants to make chemicals that are pesticides or help resist weed killers—crossbreeding to increase starch (or size, or color or anything) is a form of engineering. Just like forcing plants to make pesticides, forcing plants to make more starch/sugar or ripen slowly on the truck is not necessarily the best thing for your health.

The wheat we eat today is not the same wheat as yesteryear. Sorry dear reader: marketing campaigns of yesteryear promoting lighter, moister, cakes (and breads and muffins and sugar cookies…) were aimed to increase use of wheat engineered to produce the lightest, fluffiest, baked goods possible—and most inexpensively. Today’s wheat was selected to have the highest amylopectin content (a form of starch) so more refined foods could be produced per acre.

Common cereal grains, corn, rice, and oats, approach 100 percent amylopectin thanks to crossbreeding while the starch found in barley, along with legumes, is only partially amylopectin. Legumes and “pseudo-grains” are far lower in amylopectin. Could this matter to our health? YES!

During a decades-long career, Dr. Behall answers the question we forget to ask: “how does this affect my health?” (especially weight, diabetes, cardiac health and cholesterol).

how blood sugar and insulin store fatThe starch form of carbohydrates are long chains of sugar. When we eat starchy foods, such as bread and pasta, cakes and cookies, the small intestine breaks these down into glucose, a simple sugar that serves as your body’s main source of fuel. When glucose is absorbed through the intestine, blood glucose levels rise. Because high blood sugar is toxic, your pancreas makes insulin that removes sugar from the blood and into every cell in your body.

But different types of cells can accept different amounts of sugar. In fact, fat cells can continue to absorb blood sugar after other cells like liver and muscle have reached their limit and become temporarily resistant to insulin.

Once inside the cell, the glucose is either used as short-term energy (the exercise you do right after eating) or it is converted to fat and stored. Although muscle cells burn glucose to make energy, the typical person—even an athletic person—is not the sort of athlete that burns that much carbohydrate. Fat cells, on the other hand, convert glucose to triglycerides and store the triglycerides for later use (or leak them into our blood stream when they become over-full, raising our blood triglycerides).

Fat cells, also called adipose cells, have a higher capacity to receive sugar from the blood stream than any other type of cell in the body. Their job is to store it as fat.

In other words, if you are eating high amounts of starchy foods you are creating a blood sugar spike that is ultimately stored as fat in your fat cells.

And… the type of starch most prevalent in modern cereal grains (wheat, corn and rice) does this more effectively than the heirloom and non-engineered variants as well as more effectively than legumes or starchy root vegetables.

Why is the type of starch important? Dr. Behall’s findings show that amylopectin, the specific starch found in high amounts in wheat (and many other cereal grains), causes a higher insulin spike than food containing other starches (for those of you who like to know the exact name, this study compared amylopectin with the other common starch amylose. Interesting tidbit: it was amylose that was engineered out of wheat, rice and corn).

And… in a one-two punch, the type of starch in modern cereal grains also suppresses our fat-burning hormone: glucagon.

While insulin works to move blood sugar into cells and signals cells to store fat and nutrients, glucagon works oppositely. Glucagon is the hormone made when blood sugar levels drop below a certain point. It launches a cascade of events to prevent low blood sugar and burn fat for energy. If you want to lose weight (burn fat), you MUST NOT eat carbs between meals and you must limit their intake severely during meals. You MUST force your body to release and burn its fat stores. 

This same study shows that in these healthy volunteers, not only did amylopectin (in cereal grains) result in an insulin spike, but it also resulted in much lower levels of glucagon production for up to four hours after each meal (just in time for the next meal in a fat accumulating cycle).

No only that, but in another study, Dr. Behall also shows how reducing the type of starch found in modern cereal grains also reduces blood triglyceride levels in both healthy and pre-diabetic individuals.

If you want to control your weight, cholesterol, blood sugar and heart health, replace wheat, corn, and rice grains with less starchy carbohydrates such as root vegetables and especially green leafy vegetables.

And a few more helpful definitions:

Grains n. seeds from the cereal grasses (Poaceae, also called Gramineous, family). These include: Barley, Corn, Millet, Oats, Rice (any color) Rye, Sorghum (also called milo), Teff, Triticale, Wheat, (including varieties such as spelt, emmer, farro, einkorn, Kamut®, durum and wheat forms such as bulgur, cracked wheat and wheatberries) Wild rice.

Whole grains (In May 2004, the Whole Grains Council endorsed this definition): whole grains or foods made from them must contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.

This definition means that 100% of the original kernel – all of the bran, germ, and endosperm – must be present to qualify as a whole grain.

For years now we’ve found that non-cereal “pseudo-grains” like buckwheat test better using Nutrition Response Testing. Some wild rices, such as forbidden rice and wehani rice work well if they are properly prepared.

Although we are not in the clinical trials business, we definitely observe that our patients who follow our clinical nutrition recommendations lose weight. Our combination of individualized nutrient and dietary recommendations allows slow and stable weight loss with improved overall health.

Try my recipes for quick breads, even muffins and get back to eating the way our bodies were designed.

Don’t be fooled by Atlantic salmon, Alaska wild caught is hands-down better!

Pine Nut & Basil Encrusted SalmonAccording to the stick in my back yard, we are now down to just over two feet of snow remaining. So we must be close to fishing season and barbeque season–you are following my logic, right? I love those days in the great Alaska sunshine, the breeze in my hair, and the fish are running. I love stocking my freezer with wild salmon: kings, silvers, reds…

And this handful of recipes is sure to please:

Pine Nut & Basil Encrusted Salmon
Grilled Jamaican Jerk Salmon

Grilled Jamaican Jerk Salmon

Southern Alaska Salmon Cakes

Just please don’t use farmed fish.
Here in Alaska, where wild salmon harvests are successfully managed, we don’t often worry about whether or not our salmon is wild caught–we assume it is. While there are a few farms in British Columbia that raise Pacific salmon, we can be assured that almost all Pacific salmon is wild caught.

But the Atlantic cousins did not fare so well. After decades of unrestrained commercial fishing devastated North America’s salmon populations, by 2000 the wild caught stock of Atlantic salmon was so reduced that there was essentially no wild Atlantic salmon left. Because of this, anything labelled Atlantic salmon is now extensively farm raised: primarily in Chile, Norway, Scotland, and British Columbia.

Unfortunately, the goal of cheap and plentiful nutritious salmon is only partly realized: farm-raised salmon costs less, comprises 50% of the commercial market, but it is not very nutritious and in fact may cause more health harm than benefit. Read on.

If you are like most people who read this blog or stay healthy with Designed Clinical Nutrition at the Alaska Health Improvement Center, you are looking for healthy food choices. For you, here’s why the distinction between farmed or wild salmon is extremely important.

Most restaurants serve Atlantic salmon (farmed) and most grocery stores carry farmed Atlantic salmon, depending on the season.

Atlantic salmon is high in toxic chemicals:

Salmon aquaculture, also known as salmon “farming”, is the industrial mass production of salmon. Farmed salmon are raised in net cages located in the ocean close to shore. Disease and parasites tend to multiply quickly in these densely populated feedlots. Because of this, farmers have to feed caged fish large quantities of antibiotics and pesticides. Residues of these chemicals are passed to the humans who eat farmed fish. This contributes to “superbugs” that can resist antibiotics in people, and these chemicals can cause cancer, high blood pressure, strokes, immune-system problems and reproductive disorders.

Two introductory studies in Great Britain and Canada have indicated that farmed salmon accumulate toxic dioxins and caricinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCB’s, at a far higher rate than their equivalents in the wild. PCBs and dioxins are chemicals that can affect normal development in children and do not break down in nature. Another study in 2003 concluded that farmed salmon found in American grocery stores contained 16 times the PCB content as wild salmon, while similar research in Canada, Ireland and Great Britain is taking place.

Farmed fish like salmon and trout are also nutritionally deficient when compared to their wild caught counterparts.

While wild-caught salmon are renowned for their extremely high levels of naturally occurring Omega-3 fatty acids, farm-raised salmon and trout contain higher amounts of Omega-6 fats. Omega-6’s are pro-inflammatory and too much of them will promote unhealthy conditions in the body including hyperactivity and other nervous system disorders.

Even the color of the salmon meat is not quite right (gray) in farm-raised. To make their product more marketable, most fish farm companies add the chemical canthaxanthin to their fish feed to provide a pink hue. Canthaxanthin is linked to a slew of health issues like retinal damage and was banned as a tanning agent. The fish farming industry actually hides the fact of using this coloring.

Fish farming causes environmental problems.

In addition, concentrated fish farm waste leads to concentrations of “dead zones” around the fish cages–zones where the water is literally starved of oxygen and nutrients and where nothing can really live. Fish farm pesticides and chemicals take a huge toll on the environment. And with pressure to introduce genetically modified salmon that can readily escape and crossbreed with wild, we do not know what havoc can be created.

Yes, choSalmon pateosing wild caught fish does put some pressure on the remaining wild population. It increases responsibility for sustainable fishing and consumption practices. It also sends a message against the practice of farming fish; a practice that leads to more health concerns not just for us but also our oceans.

Recipes like Grilled Jamaican Jerk Salmon, Southern Alaska Salmon Cakes, and Pine Nut & Basil Encrusted Salmon are true favorites. They sustain and you’re not likely to have leftovers. But if you find yourself with a bit of extra cooked salmon, there is still hope: try my Salmon Pate. Enjoy!

The adventures of chocolate and grass-fed beef …

Amazing Brisket Chocolate RubAlthough the Irish in me absolutely loves my brisket as corned beef and cabbage; slow cooked to perfection and tenderly falling apart—this year I wanted something just, well, different. I wanted adventure. Not only that, but whatever I cooked had to accommodate my time constraints of either being in the office completing the Alaska Health Improvement Center expansion and remodel or out on the ski slopes enjoying our record-setting Anchorage snowfall.

Both of those reasons are why I haven’t written in quite a while—good problems to have, sorry for the hiatus, I hope this makes up the damage 😉

I bring you an adventurous rub with convenience. But first a few words:

Selecting your meat:

Meat grade. Beef is graded based on the age of the animal and the amount of fat marbling. The most common grades, from lowest to highest are: Select, choice, prime, and Wagyu. As long as your meat is grass fed and raised without hormones or antibiotics, the more marbling the better. Fat makes the meat more tender, flavorful, and juicy. And, fat does not make you fat—definitely not!

What about grass fed beef? Unfortunately, if your meat is not grass fed and humanely raised, it is loaded with all manner of hormones to make the animal get to size faster plus those animals need antibiotics because they are more likely than grass-fed to get sick. As well, the grain-based feed used often contains toxic chemicals—some that are even banned from production like PCBs. In fact, you might be disgusted by some of the things fed to commercial dairy and beef cows. Out of respect for you coming here to find a delicious recipe I won’t list them, but if you are interested go to this  Union of Concerned Scientists page.

Two of my favorite vendors: In Anchorage you can select the cut you like by visiting Duane Clark at Sears Mall 10-4 on Wednesdays. I’ve seen the Clark family farm and met his animals. Beautiful.

If that can’t work, order your quality grassland meat products from US Wellness Meats. Good quality and low shipping costs.

Grains fatten the animals more quickly, but they don’t result in healthy fats in those animals. Grass-fed meat is low in “bad” fat (including saturated fat). It gives you from two to six times more of a type of “good” fat called “omega-3 fatty acids.”

We’ve heard how omega-3 fatty acids are essential for health. People deficient in omega-3 fatty acids tend to experience more anxiety, hyperactivity and depression, they are more likely to get Alzheimers, they tend to have irregular heartbeats and are more likely to have serious cardiac events and even high blood pressure.

Grass-fed, but not grain-fed, meat is an excellent source of omega-3s because these fats are formed in the green leaves (specifically the chloroplasts) of plants. Sixty percent of the fat content of grass is a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic or LNA. Even those cattle that are “finished on grain” lose their valuable store of LNA as well as two other types of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA very rapidly when sent to the feedlot.

With Brisket, this is very important because the fat surface on the outside of the meat will baste and tenderize as you slow cook the meat. In other words, you want the fat.

I cannot stress this enough: When shopping for brisket, go grass-fed and go for the highest grade you can find. If the grade is not labeled, chances are it is “select.” Avoid it. Brisket is the classic example of “garbage in garbage out”. Please don’t write to me and say you can’t figure out why your brisket was tough if you did not buy USDA Choice or better. Also hand pick the piece with the most fat striation visible.

US Wellness Meats sells quality grassland meat products – Visit us Online!

For your recipe, go here. Let me know how you like it.

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)