Friday, March 14, 2014

Oxidative Stress and the Fountain of Youth

Eat your fruits and veggies!! I'm sure you've heard that like a zillion times before - from me, your mom, Dr. Oz, pretty much everyone. Repeating that message over and over hasn't done much to change America's eating habits because consumption of plant based foods is WAY down and chronic disease is WAY up. I'm hoping that understanding the science of WHY fruits and vegetables are critical for your health will result in making healthier choices intrinsically because it will just make sense.  Don't worry, this concept is like 5th grade science level - nothing too complicated for a Friday… I can almost guarantee an "aha" Oprah moment, it's so cool :)

Nutrition guru and family friend Toni Branner reached out to me right after Ed's Leukemia diagnosis and the message she shared forever changed my life. She explained to me the connection between diet and disease and I made immediate lifestyle changes. I am forever indebted to her and have never looked back at my old unhealthy ways. Toni is a gifted teacher and has shown thousand of people how to prevent disease, eat healthier and achieve optimal wellness. She is especially passionate about sharing her message with children and has a special gift of explaining complicated concepts in a very simple way. Her lesson on oxidation blew me away - it was a message I had never heard before (maybe I had way back in middle school, but it certainly didn't stick) and everything came full circle. I was able to interview her and now I get to share her amazing message of oxidation with you!
"Take a deep breath in - when you breathe oxygen it's a wonderful thing. It goes into your body and is used for metabolism and thru metabolism you produce energy. The by-product of that energy is called ATP which is used for having fun, and going to work and exercising, all the things your body needs to do. That's a good thing, but it's kinda like a fire in the fireplace - it's warm and pretty but what's leftover are the ashes. A byproduct of breathing oxygen and metabolism is something we call oxygen free radicals - most scientists shorten that to free radical. The free radicals are actually a molecule that's missing an electron, so they're unstable. They run around your body trying to steal an electron from your healthy molecules and when they do that they cause a tiny bit of damage. Common areas of damage are damaged proteins, damaging the insides of your blood vessels so more plaque and stick stuff can get in there and clog it up, your retina which is macular degeneration, your skin which is wrinkles. Any part of your body can be effected by oxidative stress from these free radicals and the most scary one is when it damages your DNA. When a free radical takes a little bite out of your DNA thats called a mutation and that can lead to cancer. Over time those little bites from the free radicals taking the electron causes damage and that's aging and chronic disease. Every single disease you can think of has been related thru research to oxidative stress. Every disease process is related to this so in theory if you can reduce the free radical damage then you could reduce the risk of aging and disease. Well not the risk of aging, which obviously happens to everyone, but slow it down as much as possible. 
So you have this oxidative stress - this is the big A-ha moment - you need antioxidants. Antioxidants are powerful powerful molecules that are in food and they can actually neutralize the free radicals before it hurts you. So it actually donates an electron to the free radical before it causes damage and some antioxidants can actually repair damage and repair DNA which is really really exciting.
So where the heck do I get these antioxidants?! You make a few of them in your body but most of them you have to eat and they're really only in plant based foods - so fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and beans. Most Americans especially and people all over the world have stopped eating as much plant food and this has really caused a direct result of a lot more chronic disease. That little graph has gone up, up, up over the last 50-100 years because we've gotten away from eating whole food that we grow.
It's a really simple message. The other example I use is when you cut open an apple and the oxygen in the air hits it and it turns brown, that's oxidative stress to the apple. Or you leave a nail out in the rain and it rusts - that 's oxidative stress to the nail. So it's kinda like you're rusting from within. 
If you can slow that down by eating healthy plant foods - and there are some foods that are like super foods that have way more antioxidants than other foods. A word that is interchangeable with antioxidants are phyto-nutrients or phyto-chemicals, which basically means nutrients that come from plants. Thousands and thousands have been identified and they think they'll find up to a million eventually that they will be able to name. If you can get back to eating more plant foods studies show you reduce your risk of every known chronic disease across the board!"
So where the heck can I get these amazing, healing, age and disease busting antioxidants?! As Toni said, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and drum roll please……CHOCOLATE!!!!! Yes, dark chocolate can help heal the world. As for fruits and vegetables, go for color and the darker the better. Intensely colored plant foods usually contain more chemically active antioxidant pigments that pale ones. Here are top five super foods you need to add to your grocery list:
  1. Berries - Not only are blueberries, raspberries and blackberries absolutely delicious but they contain a powerful group of antioxidants called proanthocyanidins, which play a role in preventing cancer and heart disease. They have anti-inflammatory properties, help regulate blood sugar, help maintain the elasticity in collagen and protect blood vessels. Berries also contain an anti-cancer compound called ellagic acid. Glad one of my favorite foods tops the list!
  2. Broccoli - this powerful veggie has been growing on me and contains an antioxidant called indole-3-carbinol which works by breaking down estrogen reducing the risk of breast, ovarian and cervical cancers. Broccoli also contains Vitamin C which is an antioxidant that protects us from infection, toxins and pollutants. Eat it up!!

  3. Dark Chocolate - this just makes me happy and I'm going to treat myself to some every day because it is making me younger!! Aptly named "food of the Gods", dark chocolate contains many potent antioxidant compounds such as polyphenols, catechins, proanthocyanidins and bioflavonoids. These antioxidants protect the heart and brain, improve immune function, reduce inflammation in blood vessels and fight cancer. The darker the chocolate, the greater the antioxidant content, so look for high quality chocolates with the main ingredients of cocoa butter and cocoa solids. DONE, DONE and DONE!
  4. Wild salmon - This Swede is thrilled that wild salmon can help keep me youthful and disease free! Salmon gets its pink color from the antioxidant called astaxanthin, which has been found to lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation and heart disease. It seems to be the best option when it comes to protecting your DNA from free radical damage since it's 6,000 times more effective than Vitamin C, 800 times more than CoQ10 and 550 times more than Vitamin E. Wild salmon has also been shown to protect against liver, colon and breast cancers. It is the best source of astaxanthin, with a 100g serving providing 4.5 grams of the powerful antioxidant. I buy a whole 3 pound bag at Costco individually packaged for $34.89 - I love baking it with pesto and slivered almonds, YUM! By the way, wild salmon has 600% more Omega 3s than Atlantic farmed salmon…it's a no-brainer!
  5. Sweet Potatoes - what Southern girl doesn't love sweet potatoes?! This nutritional powerhouse is one of the healthiest tastiest foods available. A medium sweet potato is jam packed with over 300% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A, which is essential for eye, bone and immune health. It also contains valuable anthocyanins and flavonoids that lower blood glucose and lipid levels and protect agains the effects of heavy metals. Sweet potatoes are affordable, available year round (majority from my North Carolina) and there are so many ways to prepare them - super food indeed!
Mother Nature is the best and I love that the story of oxidation has a happy ending! The big take home question: Are you eating foods that are speeding up your aging process or are you eating foods that will help you age gracefully? Meet ya at the Farmer's Market!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Clean air gardening

The average American spends 90% of their time indoors, which is a huge chunk of your life. I was surprised to learn that the air pollution inside your home or office can be worse than the pollution outside - so much so that the Environmental Protection Agency ranked indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental risks to public health. Luckily there are many things that you can do to clean up the air you breathe inside. First, eliminate air fresheners that are loaded with artificial chemicals - say adios to Glade plug-ins, potpourri, Febreze sprays and scented candles. I felt like I needed a gas mask the last time I bought a card from Hallmark and was tortured by the multitude of offensive Yankee Candles. Anything "fragrance" related introduces dangerous phthalates into your home that wreak havoc on your hormones and endocrine system - read more here. Also avoid vinyl flooring and any particle board/pressed wood furniture. They are made with formaldehyde which poses a threat to the long-term health of your family with dangerous chemical off-gassing. Cheap particle board furniture from Target is tempting when on a budget, but you can find great deals on real wood furniture at consignment sales of off Craigslist - this is especially critical if you have children or elderly with respiratory trouble or allergies. Here is a great article about off-gassing and how you can minimize your exposure.

My favorite way to improve air quality is with household plants. Plants absorb airborne pollutants as part of their normal "breathing" process (carbon dioxide in, oxygen out) and transport them to their roots, where microbes feed on and detoxify them. NASA did a Clean Air Study to research ways to improve air quality in the space stations. They compiled an amazing list of the best plants to eliminate significant amounts of benzene, formaldehyde, xylene/toulene, ammonia and trichorethylene from the air. Top performers were pothos (devil's ivy), peace lilies, red-edged dracaena, spider plant, and variegated snake plant (mother-in-law's tongue). Bill Wolverton, NASA research scientist, suggests at least one 8 to 10 inch pot per 100 square feet of home or office space. He also recommends using a mix of different plants because each one has an affinity for different toxins. Anytime you introduce new carpet, flame retardant furniture or electronic devices to your home it is a good idea to add a plant nearby too!

Taking after my mother I have decorated with plants for as long as I have been decorating. I still have the same pothos that I brought with me to college way back in 1995. This trooper drove out to Colorado and back with me sitting in the back window of my car!
This pothos and I go WAY back - she has been with me for almost TWO DECADES! 
Pothos (AKA Devil's Ivy) is my absolute favorite plant and is perfect for anyone who lacks a green thumb - it will not die. Seriously, it will live forever - even if you forget to water it for a whole month. Plus I think they're really beautiful, especially the variegated varieties. They are a great option for low light areas (perfect for bathroom or office) and can also handle bright indirect light - only direct sunlight needs to be avoided. I wait until mine are really dried out and then give them a good watering in the sink so they can completely drain. I have never changed the soil, fertilized or transplanted them - no need, so easy! 
They should be called Angel's Ivy instead of Devil's Ivy.
Another way to grow pothos plants is by "rooting" (propagating) them in pretty glass containers. The vines on your plant will start getting long and you can cut them once they reach seven or more leaves. Be sure to cut at an angle right below a root node, which is the little brown bum coming out of the vine - the new roots will sprout from this spot. Remove the bottom three leaves and put in water (non chlorinated rain water or distilled works best). They will soon start to grow roots - voila! 
rooted pothos 
I also have a couple spider plants (AKA airplane plant), which are extremely easy and low maintenance like the pothos. I just bought a big one at Lowe's for only $9.99 and am going to hang it in Ed's workshop, which is FULL of toxins that I don't even want to know about. Part of the NASA study showed that a spider plant removed 95% of the formaldehyde from a sealed plexiglass chamber in 24 hours - nature is so amazing!
A smaller spider plant I have in Olivia's room 
My peace lily care skills need some improvement. I had one in my living room that was very unhappy for over a year. It was very droop, pathetic and sad. After a little research I learned that it probably needed a bigger pot, but I chose the wrong time and place to transplant. I took the plant outside so I wouldn't make a huge mess when I added the extra dirt. It was one of the coldest days of the year and this poor tropical plant was less than thrilled. I finally just threw it away, lesson learned - I am going to try again and hope for better success next time!

My peace lily "Droopy" before the transplant mishap
I recently went to Campbell's Nursery to pick up a few plants on the NASA list. I think Campbell's is the most beautiful place in all of Charlotte and is the perfect pick me up during gloomy weather - it is impossible to be unhappy there with all the gorgeous orchids, maidenhair ferns and beautiful colors! Jesse and his staff are so knowledgeable and helpful - he told me he was aware of the NASA study but believed that plants with the biggest leaves were the best at removing toxins. Made sense to me and he showed me some of his favorite indoor plants that were low maintenance.
Campbell's Nursery 
I fell in love with a schefflera (chef-o-lera) that he recommended and it sits happily in the same spot as my old peace lily. Once a week I try to bring it outside, water it, gently hose down the leaves and let it get a little sunshine - she seems to really enjoy that. Like my pothos I wait until it's completely dry before watering. 

Although spiky plants aren't my favorite, I am going to incorporate a red-edged dracaena somewhere in my house. We're redecorating our bedroom and one might fit nicely in the corner - supposedly they can grow as tall as the ceiling! Luckily I've read they're also very easy to care for, which works really well for me.
red-edged dracaena (image from Pinterest)
Another plant I have owned and adored for almost 10 years is my jade plant. Although this plant is not  on NASA's list I think it is a must have for every home. Also known as a "money tree", this feng shui favorite is supposed to bring luck and fortune when placed near the entrance of a home - mine is as close to the from door as possible! They love sunlight and their cute little leaves will grow toward the light. I like to mess with mine and turn it around a lot. Since it is a succulent, it does not need much water - mine gets about 1/2 cup every month.
I really love caring for all my houseplants and think they bring so much life and energy to a home - plus they can make your house a safer and cleaner place to be! If anyone actually achieves luck and fortune from their jade plant my cut is 50% :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Healthy deals at Costco

Yes, healthy and organic food tends to cost a little more than junk food. Instead of focusing on why it is more expensive, I like to ask the question why is junk food so cheap? A few months ago I attend a talk by author Michael Pollan and he answered this question. Pollan is an author, activist and journalist who has devoted his life to educating the public about the food industry and its dirty secrets. His books will change your life and I highly recommend reading The Omnivore's Dilemna, Food Rules, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, and most recently Cooked. During his speech he explained the business model behind processed food - manufacturers find the cheapest ingredients possible and then add salt, fat, and sugar to make it attractive. Cheap and ubiquitous. There's a reason why junky, processed food doesn't cost much...

Eating organic and healthy is a serious priority for our family and we sacrifice in other categories (like eating out) to make our food budget happen. Every Monday morning I make my weekly trip to Trader Joe's, where I do about 70% of our grocery shopping. Occasionally I'll hit up Harris Teeter or Whole Foods for an item they don't carry. I also make a weekly trip to our Farmer's Market to stock up on local fruits, veggies and eggs - a perfect way to not only save some cash, but support local farmers as well. About twice a month I make a trip to Costco to load up on items we eat a lot of - buying in bulk really pays off! I'm a major sucker for a bargain Costco has some unreal deals on organic foods. Here are some of my favorites:

Kirkland's Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 2 liters $14.99

I am CRAZY about this organic olive oil and am convinced it may be the best-kept secret in all of Costco. In a recent comparison of 19 olive oils, The Olive Oil Center, a research group at the University of California-Davis, found that Kirkland Organic was one of only five in the study not mixed with cheaper refined olive oil that can spoil the taste. The other four at the top of the list were all high-end brands that cost as much as five times as Costco's. Priced at $14.99 for TWO WHOLE LITERS, it is roughly half the cost of well-known Bertolli. Be sure to buy the organic!

Brad's Organic Almond Butter, 24 oz for $13.65

Almond butter is a healthy alternative to regular peanut butter and is a great source of heart healthy monounsaturated fat. It is a slightly better source of fiber and has four times more Vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant. Plus, it tastes AWESOME! This is a great price for almond butter and a big bonus that it is organic!

Wild Sockeye Salmon, 3 pounds $34.89

Wild sockeye salmon is found in the North Pacific Ocean (Alaska) and is a great source of protein, antioxidants, Omega-3 fatty acids and a slew of other benefits. It usually costs about $19.99 a pound - that is unless you buy it at Costco and you can get 3 pounds for $34.89! I love that the salmon is individually packaged and frozen, so you only need to thaw out what you want to cook. Stay far far away from farm raised Atlantic salmon, which are raised on a wholly unnatural diet of genetically modified grains along with a concoction of antibiotics and other drugs. This diet turns the fish to a disgusting gray color so they're fed a synthetic astaxanthin made of petroleum to make them look appetizing - gross. I personally think a bowl of Ben & Jerry's ice cream would be a healthier meal option - at least they use natural, non-GMO ingredients!

Organic Coconut Oil, 54 oz $15.79

Look up coconut oil on Pinterest and you will find hundreds and hundreds of uses - it's awesome stuff and I find myself using it more and more. Most recently I use it instead of olive oil for sautéing vegetables because it has a higher smoke point and I like the flavor it gives. Every morning I cook an egg with spinach for Olivia in coconut oil to give her healthy fats. Many of my vegan cooking recipes call for coconut oil instead of butter or shortening - its crazy how an oil is solid at room temperature and will melt in your hands from the warmth of your skin. Ed had a skin rash from his medication and nothing but coconut oil would soothe it. I go thru one of these huge 54 oz about every 6 months and $15.79 is a STEAL (Nutiva brand is $55.99 for 54 oz tub). Carrington Farms is a great brand - read this review to learn more reasons to buy it!

$17.99 for 48oz of walnuts

$11.99 for 32 oz of pecan halves
$14.79 for 48oz of almonds

You just can't beat that!

Organic Flax, 48 oz $6.99

Eat more Flax! (just like the box says…) Flax seed is a plant source of Omega-3 healthy fats, fiber and contains lignans (alter the way your body metabolizes estrogens into safer forms) which reduce the risk of breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. I add a couple tablespoons to my smoothie or add it to my muffin mix. 48 ounces will last you a long time and $6.99 is an incredible price for a healthy heart!

Chia seeds, 32 oz $12.89

Chia seeds are the new big thing that everyone is raving about - they're everywhere and Dr. Oz can't stop talking about them. All with good reason - they boost energy, stabilize blood sugar, aid digestion and lower cholesterol. Learn more from this Huffington Post article that gives 10 reasons to add them to your diet. Nutiva sells 12 ounces for $11.99 OR you can get almost THREE TIMES that amount for only $1 more at Costco - NO BRAINER!!!

Organic wild frozen blueberries, 3 pounds $11.79

I LOVE frozen blueberries in my smoothie. Blueberries must be bought organic because their skin is very thin and easily absorbs nasty chemicals - they are always on the Dirty Dozen list. Frozen organic blueberries are expensive and I seemed to go thru bags almost weekly. Costco sells a 3 pound bag, which is pretty huge for only $11.79 - that's a lot of smoothies.

Organic maple syrup, 1 liter $13.49

Once you switch to REAL maple syrup you'll never go back to Mrs. Butterworth's. Mrs. Butterworth's doesn't even have maple syrup in it - check out these ingredients: High fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, salt, cellulose gum, molasses, potassium sorb ate, sodium hexametaphosphate, citric acid, caramel color, natural and artificial flavors. What a croc! Real maple syrup is expensive, but Costco makes a this purchase attainable for my family. It's high quality and delicious - $13.49 for a liter is worth every penny!

Organic baby spinach, 1 pound $4.29

My little family eats some serious amounts of spinach, so buying a huge 1 pound container makes sense for us - especially when it costs only $4.29! Sometimes I even buy two because we eat a lot of sautéed spinach and its always shocking how much it wilts down. Like blueberries, buying organic spinach is a must and it's always on the Dirty Dozen list. $4.29 is a great price considering 6oz at Trader Joe's if $1.99 (actually a pretty good price too, Whole Foods is WAY more).

Organic quinoa, four pounds $12.69

$12.69 for FOUR POUNDS OF QUINOA!!! Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse and must have staple for any healthy pantry. It is considered a complete perfect protein because it contains all 9 essential amino acids - a one-cup serving contains 18% the daily value for protein, which is more than any grain. It also has nearly twice as much dietary fiber as other grains and is a good source of phosphorous, magnesium and iron.

Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, 13.5 pounds, $5.75

13.5 POUNDS of baking soda for only $5.75?! Baking soda is an absolute must have for natural, non-toxic cleaning supplies and I use it up quickly - buying the small boxes for $1 each no longer made sense. I'm experimenting with DIY laundry detergent and dishwasher  soap and everything calls for baking soda - hoping to have a few good recipes to share soon :)

Heinz white vinegar, 1.35 gallons $2.99

Just like baking soda, white vinegar is a staple in a natural, non-toxic cleaning arsenal. $2.99 for 1.35 gallons can't be beat! I use vinegar diluted with water to clean my floors, windows, and as a rinse aid in the dishwasher.

Vitamix $374.99

My Vitamix is one of my top five all time best purchases in my whole entire life. Everyone I know that has one loves it and could talk forever about how great they are. $375 is a lot of money for a blender but it will quickly pay for itself when you reap the benefits of good health that it can help provide! We use ours every single day and no other blender out there comes close to competing. Costco also sells the Magic Bullet for $34.99 and the Nutribullet for $89, but I guarantee they don't hold a candle to the Vitamix and will probably have to be replaced annually. Consider it an investment in your health!!!

All-Clad stainless steel frying pan set $189.99

Toss out all of your non-stick pans - they are made using a carcinogenic chemical called perfluoroocatanoic acid (PFOA), which starts emitting toxic fumes every time you cook. At high temperatures the coating will break down into a chemical warfare agent known as PFIB. Seriously bad stuff and it only takes 5 minutes for non-stick cookware to emit at least six toxic gases. Stainless steel, ceramic or cast iron are all great, safe alternatives. We have a set of All-Clad pans and they cook beautifully. $189.99 is an amazing price for the 10" and 12" set, especially considering that William Sonoma sells the 10" for $99.99 and the 12"for $119.95. Another great investment that will last for years. Costco also sells a Kirkland brand 13 piece stainless cookware set for only $169.99, but I can't vouch for it's quality.

Water Premier 4-stage RO Filtration System $149.99

Man I wish we would have bought this reverse osmosis filter years ago! Our water from our sink is seriously the best tasting water I've ever drank. We installed it about a month ago and I find myself drinking a lot more water than normally because it tastes so good and fresh! This filter removes fluoride, chlorine and a ton of other disgusting contaminants in our water. There is a large 3 gallon tank and the 4 filter bottles that fit under your sink and it is a chore to install. All very worthwhile though!

Pyrex Snapware 18 piece storage set $29.99

I was a little hesitant to get rid of my old plastic storage containers and worried that I wouldn't like a glass replacement. I don't like it, I LOVE IT!!!! Snapware by Pyrex is the best - no leaks, the sizes are just right and this 18 piece set gives us just the right amount for leftovers. $29.99 is a fabulous price - Amazon sells the same exact thing for $59.99!! I got rid of all of our plastic storage containers after I learned about plastic safety (or lack of…). They are saying that the BPA free plastic is just as dangerous and I don't want anything synthetic touching my food. You won't regret this purchase!

The Honest Company baby shampoo and body wash, (2) 11oz $11.99

This is the first time I have ever seen The Honest Company at Costco and I just about fell over! On their website they sell the exact same "sweet orange vanilla ultra-pure 2-in-1 hydrating and foaming body cleanser" for $9.95 for 8.5 ounces. This deal is TWO 11 ounce bottles for $11.99!!! UNBELIEVABLE!! I haven't tried any Honest products yet, but I have several friends that love them and they have a very good safety reputation. I hope they keep stocking this product!!