Monday, March 22, 2010

Healthcare Solutions

I never thought I would get political on this blog, but I promise it is relevant.  As I'm sure most Americans are aware, the healthcare bill passed last night.  I don't care what side of the issue you stand on - that isn't my point in this post.  Most people agree that something needs to be done, we just all disagree about when and how to do it.

I was up until a little after midnight - I just couldn't relax after listening to the live debate through CSPAN radio as I worked at the computer.  I tried to sleep, but just kept thinking about how completely backwards we are in terms of healthcare as a society.

I've used the analogy before - I often view Western medicine as a quick fix.  It's something that treats the symptoms and makes us comfortable for the time being, but rarely gets to the root of the problem.  Therefore, our symptoms keep returning and requiring more "medicine".  I feel that this is what we are doing by approaching the healthcare issue with the idea that government can somehow solve it with a quick fix.  We can't throw money at this issue and improve the health of our citizens.  That's just treating the symptoms.

Alternative medicine, holistic medicine, ayurvedic medicine, etc. - these are all ways to improve your health by looking at the root of the problem.  For example, you go to the doctor for headaches.  Most doctors in America will give you some pills to help with the pain and may run a few tests to see what could be causing it.  When they do narrow it down to a diagnosis, they generally give you more pills.  What alternative medicine would do is a take a look at your entire system to see what is actually causing that "diagnosis" that the doctor gave you - is it something you're eating, your sleep patterns, something environmental, the way you deal with stress, etc.  Once you can pinpoint the root, you can treat that and the symptoms will naturally go away.

Western medicine may be faster, but it's usually a temporary fix.  Other therapies will take hard work and time, but usually offer a permanent fix.  Unfortunately, we Americans like instant gratification.

Our nation needs a permanent fix.

It's time for us to stop being victims and take PERSONAL responsibililty for our health.  It's not our doctors' job to take care of our health.  It's not our insurance companies' jobs to take care of our health.  It's definitely not the government's job to take care of our health.  We are ultimately the only ones who can and should be doing it.

America spends more money on healthcare than any other nation in the world.  You would think that would make us the healthiest nation, but it doesn't.  There are at least 30-40 other nations that have a higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates.  Why?

We don't take care of ourselves - we feed ourselves trash.  We live sedentary lifestyles.  We take pills for every little ache and pain, which only causes more aches and pains through side effects.

And we don't take care of our environment - we fill our homes and bodies with toxic chemicals that just make us sicker.  We eat sickly food that was treated inhumanely.

The majority of patients that doctors now see have problems that are a direct result of lifestyle choices.  The only way we can fix that is to change our lifestyles.

Friends, the time for us to take back the responsibility for our healthcare is now.  Our first line of defense is our families.  Childhood obesity, ADD, Autism, and many other problems are on the rise.  We can do something about it. 

Let's stop feeding our children processed junk food and fast food that is polluting their bodies with neurotoxins.  Instead, let's teach them about real, living food - teach them where it comes from, how it grows, and how it "works" inside our bodies.

Let's stop letting our children sit in front of the computer and television screens.  Instead, let's get them outside in the fresh air and show them how good exercise will make their minds and bodies feel.  Let's keep their little minds active and entertained.

Let's stop polluting the places we live with toxic chemicals.  Instead, let's create a safe environment for them to play in, with clean air.  Let's leave them and their children an Earth that is healthy.

Let's all start trusting our bodies.  The human body is capable of healing itself in amazing ways if we just give it the opportunity to do it.  We don't need pills to solve every little problem.

We can do this!  We can solve the healthcare crisis if we are willing to sacrifice some of the modern conveniences that we have come to rely on as a society.  Remember, the harder the work - the greater the reward.

My thoughts on the health of America can be summed up by this Bible verse -

Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor.    Proverbs 12:24

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How To Make Your Own Compost Bin

First, you may be wondering why I am talking about composting on my wellness blog.  Well, gardening is the easiest and cheapest way to ensure you are getting local, in-season, organic produce.  I'm a novice gardener and am learning as I go, so I thought I would share my journey with you guys. 

Composting is something I have always wanted to do, but have never really known where to start.  You can find a ton of information on the Internet about the topic, and everyone seems to have their own method for doing it.  After doing a little research, I decided that you can't really mess it up too badly, so I'd just do whatever seemed right for us.

Adam and I are currently planning our garden for the year and as we were seed shopping we saw some nice compost bins for sale (for over $100).  But as I looked at them I told Adam that we could make something similar out of a Rubbermaid bin for free at home.

My first idea was to use a regular Rubbermaid bin, but then I realized that we had some of the larger ones on wheels that would be easier to drag around the yard once the compost is finished.

Here is what I used.

I had Adam drill some holes in the bottom that would be big enough to let worms and other creepy-crawlies in, and also drain the excess water out.

A compost bin needs to allow air to escape, because methane can build up and cause an explosion inside the bin.  Luckily, the handles of this bin have some air holes (you can see them on the above picture on the left side), but I also had Adam drill some small holes on the lid.

Now my container was ready to fill.

I filled it 2/3 of the way full with dry, "brown" materials - shredded paper, leaves, wood chips, dried stuff from my landscaping, etc.  You can also include sawdust, straw, cardboard, newspaper and other similar items in this layer. 

Unfortunately, the only tree we have on our property (besides evergreens) is an oak tree, and their leaves aren't supposed to be the best for composting.  They will work, but are pretty acidic and will take longer to compost.  But, I went ahead and tried it with them.

Once I filled the bin, I covered it with water until everything was saturated well, but not swimming.

I created a "wet" container that will live at the edge of my back patio.  At the end of every day, I will dump the contents of the glass container in my kitchen where I will keep my "green" materials into this bin.

Items that are considered "green" materials include - food scraps (anything but animal-byproducts and processed foods), coffee grinds/filters, tea bags, hair (animal and human), egg shells, grass clippings, etc.

A few months ago, I found a box of cabbage in my garage that I had forgotten about.  It was obviously rotten, but I knew I was going to compost this year, so I kept it in a sealed container in the garage (gross, I know).  This rotten cabbage, along with some coffee grinds, food scraps, and a generous helping of Max the dog's hair, became our first wet contribution to the compost bin.

I put it in the compost bin and watered it down again.

Yum, right?!

Finally, I added a thin layer of garden soil to top it off and watered again.

It has been covered and now has a home in the back of the house, right next to a water source.

See the pitch fork in the corner?  That is the only tool I'll need from now on.  Once a week I will open my bin and "turn" the contents by basically stirring them with the pitch fork.  Every 5-6 weeks, I will add another layer of "brown" materials from the yard, "green" materials from my wet bin, and soil from the garden to keep it going.

Hopefully, in 2-6 months we'll have some lovely compost.  The microbes and other fun things that live in the soil will feast on my "stew" and increase the temperature of my bin.  This will cause everything to decay and create a lovely product for my garden beds.  The more often I "turn" my compost, the faster this should happen.

Not only does this save me money and decrease the amount of waste I am sending to the dump, but it guarantees me organic compost and will help me provide healthy, nutritious produce for my family this year!


Friday, March 19, 2010

How To Make Homemade Sourdough Bread

What are the advantages of sourdough bread?
  • Sourdough bread is easier to digest because of the lactic acid created in the fermentation process.
  • The soaking that is a part of making sourdough bread decreases phytate content, which allows for better nutrient absorption.
  • It causes a lower spike in blood sugar than any other type of bread.
  • It does not spoil as easily as bread made from brewers yeast because its acetic acid retards mold growth.
  • It tastes DELICIOUS!

Your first step is to make a sourdough starter.

My recipe came from Nourishing Traditions.  It yields 3 quarts of starter.

I took 2 cups of rye flour and 2 cups of filtered water and mixed them together in a large bowl.  Then, I covered the soupy mixture with a double layer of cheesecloth and secured it with a rubber band.

You can see my bowl in this picture (note that my kitchen counters have become a "laboratory" for soaking and sprouting).

For the next 7 days, I transferred my soupy mixture to a different bowl each day and added one cup of rye flour and another cup of filtered water.  I would then mix it and put the cheesecloth back on top.

During the week, the cheesecloth allowed good bacteria (lactobacilli) and airborne fungus (wild yeast) to enter my soupy mix, causing it to froth and bubble.  After about 3 days it began to smell badly, but by the end of the week it smelled like wine.

This is what it looked like after 7 days.

At this point, it was ready to be used for making bread.

A sourdough starter is a living thing that needs to be cared for just like any other living thing.  If you aren't going to use it right away, you can store it in the fridge or freezer.  Just make sure that you "feed" the starter with one cup of flour/water at least once a week and allow oxygen to get to it.

Starters make a wonderful gift for friends and family - just give them a few cups and tell them to feed it every day until they build up their supply.

The taste of your starter and it's ability to leaven bread will get better with age, so be patient and don't give up if your first batch of bread doesn't taste perfect!

Note:  many websites will tell you that you shouldn't use metal bowls or utensils for your starter.  I used a stainless steel bowl for mine and did not have a problem.  Everything I've read says that anything other than stainless steel is not advised, but essentially the "no metal rule" is a myth.

Now you are ready to make your bread.

Once again, I used the Nourishing Traditions recipe.

I used 2 quarts of my starter (needs to be at room temperature) and added 2 1/2 tablespoons of sea salt and 1 cup cold filtered water.

Mix it until the salt dissolves.  Then, start mixing your flour (you will add 13 cups in all).  I used whole wheat.

Halfway through you will need to add another 1/2 cup cold filtered water and start mixing with your hands.

Then, knead the dough for about 15 minutes.  This will be a workout, BELIEVE me!  My arms were sore afterwards. 

Section your dough into your loaf sizes.  I made five medium-sized loafs.

Grease your loaf pans.  I used coconut oil because of Gabe's dairy allergy.

Form your loaves and put them in their pans.

Make sure to add some slices to the tops of your loaves.

Then cover your loaves and let them rise.

Leavening time will depend on the age and quality of your starter - the older the starter, the shorter the time.  Some starters may take as little as a few hours, but other may take a day or longer.  Remember that your dough will not spoil, because the fermentation process protects it.

I let mine rise for 19 hours and this is what they looked like afterwards.

Bake at 350 for an hour and your bread is done!

I sliced several of my loaves and froze them.  This will make it easy to grab a few pieces as needed for toast.



Thursday, March 18, 2010

Q&A: High Fructose Corn Syrup

I was wondering if you have ever tried doing a high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) free diet. I recently saw a youtube video called "Sugar: The Bitter Truth". It's really long and kind of boring, but it scared me away from HFCS. I've been thinking about trying to do a HFCS free diet, but I've noticed it's in just about everything we have. Have you tried this? Have any tips?

My Views on Sugar

I limit the amount of sugar that I consume for many reasons.  Sugar consumption leads to obesity, heart attacks, artery disease, tooth decay, diabetes, metabolic issues, concentration issues, fertility problems, and upsets the balance of the endocrine and nervous systems. 

Our ancestors did not consume sugar in the same ways we do and our bodies were not designed to consume it in large quantities.  In the past, natural sweeteners were used sparingly to sweeten foods and desserts were viewed as a treat reserved only for special occasions.  But now, the average American consumes more than 22 teaspoons of sugar per DAY (mainly from beverages like soft drinks) and many children and teenagers consume almost double that amount.

If you shop in the grocery store and consume mostly processed foods, you can pretty much guarantee that everything you eat has some type of sweetener in it.  Our taste buds have grown so accustomed to tasting it, that we hardly recognize exactly how sweet our foods are.

And here is the problem with the way we consume sugar in our society - most of our sugary foods (like soft drinks and candy) do not contain fat.  Fat slows the sugar from entering our blood stream in a rush and stimulating insulin and hormone production.  Our "high carb/low fat" diets are literally killing us.  In fact, we should be doing the opposite - consuming higher levels of healthy fats and less carbohydrates.

As a rule for myself, I avoid refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, and even some "natural" sweeteners.  The only sugars I consume are fruits, raw honey, and unrefined maple syrup.  Occasionally I will crave a soft drink or a cookie with sugar, but I reserve those foods for special occasions and do not keep them in the house for myself.

This year for Lent I gave up sugar (except fruit) - honey and maple syrup included - and have not intentionally consumed it for over a month now.  For the first four days my body crashed.  I was irritable, tired, and hungry all of the time.  We forget that sugar is actually a drug (an addictive one) that affects not only your blood sugar, but also your brain chemistry.

But once I made it past those first four days, I noticed that my energy levels started to increase and my mind felt clearer than normal.  After a few weeks more, my appetite started to decrease and I now don't feel the need to snack as much.  My body no longer craves those foods throughout the day.

So, you're probably wondering - what can a person eat if they avoid sugar completely?  Here was my food intake yesterday:

Breakfast - 2 slices of raisin toast with butter and 2 scrambled free-range eggs mixed with chopped spinach.

Snack - some almonds and a few apple slices

Lunch - canned tuna mixed with olive oil and salt/pepper, and a few slices of cheese on homemade bread

Snack - a banana and some pumpkin seeds

Dinner - chuck roast (with the broth used as a condiment for dipping), okra breaded in spelt flour and fried in olive oil, and a bowl of grapes

Snack - 3 pieces of cheese and a slice of homemade toast with butter
My beverages most days consist of unsweetened hot and iced teas, water, and fruit smoothies.

The hardest part about going sugar-free is not having condiments with your foods.  Most store-bought condiments contain HFCS - ketchup, barbecue sauce, taco sauce, salad dressings, mayo, salsa, etc.  In order to have condiments with your food if you are going to go sugar-free, you have to make your own.  If you are just trying to eliminate HFCS from your diet, most organic brands of condiments contain organic sugar or other sweeteners.  They are a little more expensive, but worth it in my opinion - just use a little less to make up for the cost.

Other ways to avoid HFCS and sugars:
  • Make your own jams and jellies, or buy the brands labeled "no sugar added".  Fruit is sweet enough; it doesn't need more sugar to taste good on bread. 
  • Make sure your fruit juice has no added sugar.  Many juices can contain as much, if not more sugar than a can of soda.
  • Make your own salad dressings.  My favorite recipe is a mixture of virgin olive oil, lemon juice, a squeeze of raw honey, garlic, salt, pepper, and any herbs I am in the mood for (dill, sage, rosemary, etc.)
  • Buy plain peanut butter.  The average brand of peanut butter contains more than one type of sugar - HFCS, molasses, honey AND sugar.  Usually when you eat peanut butter, you are spreading it on bread with jelly, which is sweet enough.  You don't need added sugar in your peanut butter.
  • Bake your own bread.  You can even substitute raw honey for sugar in most bread recipes to avoid refined sugars.  Or even better, make some homemade sourdough without any sweeteners at all.
  • Always read your labels and buy unsweetened/plain when available.  You can always add a little honey or sugar to your food if it needs it, but you rarely need the amount that is in the sweetened versions of foods (for example: applesauce and yogurt).
  • Don't buy canned fruit.  Aside from the fact that the lining of the cans is toxic, most of the fruits are soaked in syrup.
  • Cook your food at home.  Nearly everything you eat at a restaurant contains HFCS and sugar.
  • Avoid buying processed foods that say "sugar free".  The sugar in these foods has usually been replaced with artificial sweeteners, which are just as bad for you as HFCS.
  • Watch your processed meats.  Most of them contain sweeteners.
What is the difference between a natural sweetener and a refined sweetener?  Which ones are the best for me?

The following are natural sweeteners. This means they are the least processed and they contain more vitamins and minerals. Use these if you have a sweet tooth!
  • Raw Honey
  • Unrefined Maple Syrup
  • Agave Nectar
  • Date Sugar
  • Sorghum Syrup
  • Barley Malt Syrup
  • Fruit
The following are natural sweeteners that should be avoided for various reasons.
  • Concentrated Fruit Juices - They are composed mainly of fructose in levels so concentrated that your body is unable to regulate blood sugar properly.
  • Raw, Natural, Turbinado, Sucanat, and Florida Crystals - They upset your body chemistry and are refined, which removes most of the nutrients.
  • Brown Rice Syrup - The rice is cooked with enzymes, which are many times genetically modified.
  • Stevia - It is a calorie-free, herbal substitute that does not affect blood sugar. Although it has many medicinal uses, including the treatment of heartburn, its safety is still questionable.
  • Molasses - A byproduct of the processing of sugar cane with a strong taste and moderate sweetness. If it comes from sugar cane grown in the right type of soil, it can contain especially high levels of iron, calcium, zinc, copper and chromium.
The following are refined sweeteners that should be avoided.
  • White Sugar (sucrose) - has little, if any, nutritional value
  • Brown Sugar
  • Refined maple syrup - formaldehyde is used in the production.
  • Corn syrup - is usually genetically modified.
  • Fructose - causes deleterious effects, especially in small children
  • Glucose
  • Dextrin - made by boiling corn starch with acid
  • Dextrose
  • Processed honey
  • Maltodextrin
The following are artificial sweeteners, which have been linked to headaches, gastro-intestinal problems, panic attacks, depression, nervous system disorders (specifically fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis), male infertility, cell damage, and cancer (specifically bladder and reproductive organs).  NEVER EAT THESE!
  • Aspartame - linked to cancer of the reproductive organs.
  • Saccharin - linked to bladder cancer
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol - labeled to warn of nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
  • Xylitol
  • Splenda (sucralose) - a chlorocarbon (contains chlorine) linked to organ, genetic and reproductive damage. Lab rats show a 40% shrinkage in thymus gland (foundation of immune system) when given Splenda.
Here's the bottom line!

Avoiding sugar is easy to do if you are willing to put in a little hard work first.  Your body is going to have to detox and it is going to be uncomfortable for a few days or even weeks.  But, once you get past the initial withdrawal, you will start to feel so good that you'll realize a soda isn't worth it.  Your taste buds will also change and most of the foods you once thought tasted good will become too sweet for you.

Make your own food and read your labels.  And as always - everything in moderation.  You're not going to die if you eat a cookie or drink a soda every now and then, but when you eat them day after day your body and brain become addicted and the sugar begins to get every system in your body out of whack.  Stick to natural sweeteners and use them in moderation.



"Exactly What Is Splenda? .: Ask Dr. Hull." Dr. Janet Starr Hull, PhD, CN - Website. Web. 11 Sept. 2009. .

"Substitute Natural Sweeteners for Artificial Sweeteners." Body Cleansing / Detox Plan and Natural Cures. Web. 11 Sept. 2009. .

"Top 10 Dangers of Artificial Sweeteners." Nutrition Supplements News. Web. 11 Sept. 2009. .