Monthly Archives: September 2009

Food Investigation Shortcuts

Ayurvedic eating
Last blog, I promised a shortcut to discovering food intolerances that may be impeding your backpacking pleasure & energy. Without further ado, let’s jump into “other people’s research.” Depending on your temperament, you may find that this step requires a little more trust than you are wont to expend. It’s okay. Nothing here is going to hurt you. Think of it as an exciting experiment with your body!

I confessed last week that I simply abandoned wheat, then tried it again, noticed the unpleasant results, and determined that wheat was not my friend. I’ve come to the same conclusions regarding dairy, coffee and sugar, so although I may occasionally indulge in these substances, I always find myself face-to-face with the realization that they, along with wheat, are not my friend. I hope that you, too, will find the substances that drain your energy & turn your back on them while continuing to indulge yourself with wholesome nutrition.

Investigate these 2 sources for ideas about which foods you might be wise to pay attention to:

  1. The traditional & time-honored Ayurvedic* model in which each person has a distinct pattern of energy — a specific combination of physical, mental, and emotional characteristics — comprised of the three basic energy types (doshas) that are associated with elemental forces: vata (air), pitta (fire) & kapha (water)
  2. The controversial blood type food plan, Eat Right for Your Type by Dr. Peter D’Adamo: Since being published in 1996, the Eat Right book has spawned a series of spin offs, the most recent being D’Adamo’s new research on genotypes, which I haven’t had a chance to fully investigate yet. (I get so distracted when doing research for these blogs!).

Ayurvedic lifestyle/medicine has been popularized in the Western world primarily by Depok Chopra & while his website does provide an ayruvedic quiz I don’t like it nearly as much as the one in Maya Tiwari’s book Ayurveda : A Life of Balance. Ms Tiwari’s quiz not only seems more thorough, but also respects the mixed-dosha types, which most of us are. (I checked this book out of my public library before investing in my own copy.)

This test gave me the same results as Ms Tiwari’s & you can get a basic food list here.

Both of the Blood Type diets & the ayurvedic references can be used to point toward food choices. Neither of them should be considered “gospel,” as they may not take into account all individual factors (such as individual allergies, such as eggs or shellfish, for example) and will probably not even agree with each other.

For example: I’m a blood type O (note to self: eat red meat rather than poultry, avoid wheat, coffee, lentils, corn & brussel sprouts; exercise intensely for stress reduction) who’s also a pitta-kapha ayurvedic type (note to self: avoid sour fruits, bread, coffee, most nuts, and beef; enjoy wheat bran, white-meat chicken, popcorn, brussel sprouts).

Okay, what did you notice? Both systems agree with me that coffee is a bad choice. They differ regarding wheat, the chicken/beef question, and brussells sprouts.

What’s a girl to do? Try & see, of course.

The brussel sprout question, I must admit, is not high on my list. I am happy to forego as I have many other beneficial vegetables to choose from. The wheat issue I have already conclusively settled. The chicken/beef? I’m pretty set on beef after noticing my energy levels over the years when eating chicken & then noticing the difference when I eat beef. Experimenting is always the best method.

I would be interested in hearing your own experiments with this triangulation method of discerning food choices. Next blog, the long-awaited sugar rant, unless I get distracted.

More on ThatThe “contemporary” form of Ayurvedic medicine is mostly derived from several sacred Indian texts which were written in Sanskrit between 1,500 – 400 AD. The basic principle of Ayurveda is to prevent and treat illness by maintaining balance in the body, mind, and consciousness through proper drinking, diet, and lifestyle, as well as herbal remedies.

Uncovering food intolerances

Once we’ve accepted the concept that our individual bodies might require individual food choices, the question remains: How to discover which foods aren’t good for us? I first wondered if I were allergic to wheat after finishing off half-a-loaf of delicious whole-wheat bread one day while working at home on an editing project. I didn’t wait to have a screening of any kind once I discovered that wheat allergies actually existedI just quit eating wheat. No bread, no cookies, no biscuits, no pasta, no crackers. (This was in the early ’90s, when wheat-free wasn’t as mainstream as it seems to be today.)

Within weeks I was feeling much happier, more energetic and less irritable. I also seemed to be losing weight, as one might expect when avoiding all those yummy baked goods. Several months later, still feeling remarkably happy & energetic, but now assuming that cheerful & vigorous was my natural state of being, I blithely ingested a tempting wheat product … and woke up the next morning cranky, depressed and achy. After several cycles of that, over the ensuing decades, I can now truly call myself wheat-free.

Aside: Celiac Disease is not a wheat allergy. It is an autoimmune disease in which eating gluten damages the villi of the small intestines, which can cause malabsorption and a variety of health problems. Since I have never been tested for this, I label myself either wheat-intolerant or allergic to wheat. Darn unscientific, but it works for me.

A friend of mine who suspected his skin condition might be an allergic reaction refused to consider being allergic to eggs (a food he’d eaten every day of his life, he protested); eventually badgered into having an allergy test, he was aghast to find eggs listed as his most reactionary food. When he gave them up at last, however, he also gave up itchy, rashy skin for the first time in years. His general energy level increased as well. And yes, he tested it, too. Once on purpose, with a gently poached egg, and then a month later, accidentally, with a restaurant caeser salad. Both times, the itchy skin recurred within 24 hours.

Both of us, I might point out, considered ourselves healthy, fit folks with adequately balanced & nutritionally appropriate eating habitsfolks just like you, in fact.

If you want to fine-tune your food choices, don’t wait until you hit the trail. Start now. You can spring for a full-on food allergy testing (which won’t indicate any intolerances, but will include any low-level, non-deadly allergies) or experiment with careful attention to your body and record-keeping of your meals, an approach approved by the good Dr. Weil. Or you could try the Jo-method of research/investigation, which I’ll lay out in the next blog (it’s a shortcut based on other people’s research).

Probably the best method, if you have the inclination, is the tracking what you’ve eaten at each meal, and then noting any physical symptoms that pop up within the next 24 hours: sleepier than usual after lunch? can’t sleep? do any joints ache? do you feel cranky or irritable? how’s your stomach feel? your head? bad dreams? groggy in the morning? clothes don’t fit right? itchy, flushed, cold or clammy? can’t run as far, walk as fast, lift as high, stretch as much?

Notice especially if any food you eat creates a sense of mild euphoria, which can have an addictive quality. It’s certainly not uncommon for us to crave the foods that are especially harmful to us. (Chocolate cake, anyone? Or a big diet soda pop?)

As you become more aware of the affect on your body of the foods you are eating every day, you may feel inspired to cut back or even eliminate some of those foods. As you do, continue to monitor your body and notice any changes that may occur. Some folks propose “pulse testing” to check for food sensitivities; I haven’t tried this yet, so I can’t whole-heartedly endorse it, although I plan to try & will let you know my results.

What I can & do endorse is being aware that all good foods are not equally good for all bodies. Your body is individual & unique.

By taking the time & energy to determine the foods that best nourish your body, you’ll not only enjoy better health now & in the future, but also a better backpack adventure! And isn’t that what we all want?

Remember: Short cut suggestion next time!

Ounce by Ounce: Allergies & Intolerances

Experts draw a fine line between food allergies & food intolerances:

  • Allergies always create a reaction within the immune system.
  • Intolerances, or sensitivies, create symptoms, but leave your immune system unperturbed.

Some folks are allergic to dairy, for example, while others are lactose intolerant. Others are sugar intolerant or caffeine intolerant, but we will save those 2 particular poisons for another day.

For our purposes, howevergetting real value from the food we’re carryingwe can address food allergies and food sensitivies as the same problem: these are foods that boobytrap our backpacking!

Most of us know if we are allergic to peanuts, shrimp or tree nuts and we usually notice the obvious signs of food allergies — tingling mouth, hives, swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat, trouble breathing, dizziness, fainting, nausea, vomiting, cramping and diarrhea — if the reaction happens closely enough to our food consumption. Some intolerances can create similar symptoms and we quickly learn to avoid the foods that make us overtly uncomfortable.

But how many of us are aware of the more subtle signs of food allergies or intolerances? Minor disturbances that may not seem at all food-related? Common symptoms such as anxiety, distraction, moodiness, fatigue, headaches, insomnia/sleep disorders, bloating, “brain fog,” muscle or joint aches or pains?*

In 1994, 50 million Americans had diagnosed food allergies, with the numbers expected to increase. Indeed, just 5 years later, the American College of Allergy, Ashma & Immuniology reported that “38% of Americans suffer from allergies, twice as many as experts previously thought.” Not all of those folks suffer from food allergies, but many of us do & never even notice! And these numbers do not include food sensitivies and intolerances. Did you take a look at the top-20 allergen list in the previous blog? Did you notice yourself thinking “I couldn’t be allergic to that?!” It’s possible, in fact, that you are.

Next blog, more about uncovering food intolerances & what you can do about them.

*More on That: In addition to the short-term symptoms associated with food intolerance, many folks have linked delayed-onset food allergies & intolerances with long-term medical difficulties such as arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, celiac disease, colitis, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. It’s worth noting, however, that food intolerance could be another symptom of the underlying causes of these diseases & not the cause. A stong immune system, well-fortified with antioxidents, probiotics, omega-3s and all the other nutrients available in a healthy vegetable- centric diet, is still our best bet for energy & health. Notice how very few fruits & vegetables showed up on the top-20 allergen list? Hmmm …

Ounce by Ounce: DNA-driven menus?

Last month, I got all excited about DNA testing when I read this introductory paragraph to an article in Delicious Living Magazine:

Nutrigenomics evaluates how nutrition influences gene activity; in other words, the food you eat provides information to your genes about how they should function. One person’s food can be another’s poison. For instance, your immune system may have an inflammatory response to gluten that causes your genetic uniqueness to see the protein as a foreigner that must be rejected. Same goes for lactose, sodium, and cholesterol. Not everybody needs to be on a salt-restricted diet; not everybody needs to be on a cholesterol-restricted diet.

I immediately imagined that I could send a swab from my inside cheek & get back a totally individualized power diet to fuel not only my daily life, but my backpacks! I’d know exactly which foods to ignore & which to chow down with. Maybe the food list dictated by my genetic make up would even tell me how much of each food I should eat! Finally, all the experimentation & having to pay attention to my body’s food responses would be unnecessary.

Nope. The more I investigated, the less real information became available about how, exactly, a cheek swab would change my grocery gathering. At best, it seemed I might be sold some extra supplements. Certainly I could find out if my genes made me sustible to some chronic diseases such as diabetes, but a whole food diet plan? Not yet, Jo.

The science of nutrigenomics, it seems, is still in the making:

‘‘There is a solid base for nutrigenomics, no doubt about it. The potential is there,” Lineback said, comparing the science to the potential shown by biotechnology 10 years ago. ‘‘The science will develop, but there is a lot to learn.”–David Lineback, director of the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in College Park, a partnership of the University of Maryland and the Food and Drug Administration

NPR’s Science Friday, December 2003, provided perhaps the best introduction to nutrigenomics, explaining the original (& ongoing) research in understanding genetics and chronic disease as well as the more recent embracing of the science as a way to optimal health by a wealthy 30% of the population.

“Are we using only 50% of the [food] value because of our genes? Can we increase that to make 90% efficiency of our food?”

I’ve wondered this myself! Exciting to hear from Raymond Rodriquez (Professor of Molecular & Cellular Biology, Director of the Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA). His affirmative answer made my heart sing: nutrigenomics, as it continues to develop, could help us “make a better match” between our genonomes and the food we eat.

For now, though, we will need to use other methods than nutrigenomics to discover the dietary components that, as Raymond remarked later in the program, are “benefiting some, not benefiting others, sometimes harming other groups.”

Nutrigenomics is not, as I had excitedly anticipated, going to help us plan our backpacking menus. Yes, you can pop around the internet & find more than 1 company willing to send you a report for optimal health based on your cheek swab. It won’t, however, include information about food allergies, sensitivies and intolerances, all of which could limit our bodies’ ability to optimize food values.

Next blog, more information about the foods & food additives that might not benefiting, or even harming you and how to make sense of the information.

In the meantime, please ponder this Top 20 list; one of more of your favorite foods might be featured:

Common delayed-onset food allergies

  • cow’s milk
  • gluten grains (wheat & wheat varieties, rye, barley)
  • yeast
  • egg whites
  • cashew nuts
  • egg yolks
  • garlic
  • soy
  • brazil nuts
  • almonds
  • corn
  • hazlenuts
  • oats
  • lentils
  • kiwifruit
  • chili peppers
  • sesame seeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • peanuts

Ounce by Ounce: Organics for Antioxidents

What’s a quick way to get more nutrition from your backpacking food choices?

Go organic.

Sure the organic/non-organic nutrient research is controversial:

  • Recent study indicates organic food is not more nutritious than conventional
  • Environmental Working Group (EWG) sets the organic record straight

Germ theory was controversial, too, back in the mid-1800s! In the same way, however, that most of us days wash our hands regularly to prevent the spread of disease, so too might we consider eating organic food in order to more fully nourish our bodies.

Organic food is important at home, but even more so on the trail. Doesn’t it make sense that when we are asking our bodies to carry us up & down sometimes shocking elevation changes, at a rate of 10-15+ miles per day, on limited rations, that we provide the highest quality support we can? You drink pure water, breath clean air, wear good shoes & socks, rest in a warm sleeping bag and eat—opps!

What’s in that foil bag, kids? Modified Corn Starch, Hydrolyzed Corn Soy Wheat Gluten Protein, Chicken Fat, Sugar, Onion Powder, Spices, Citric Acid, Soybean Oil… Try some home-dried organic food instead & see how your body likes THAT.

Organic for Antioxidants

More & more
evidence suggests that eating organic not only benefits the planet, and our long-term health, but also provides us with immediate nutritional pay-back:

  • more antioxidents, including critical vitamins A, C & E along with flavonoids including quercetin, kaempferol, phenolics & anthocyanins
  • higher food quality
  • higher concentrations of minerals such as potassium, magnesium & phosphorus
  • possible increase in salicyic acid (the anti-inflammatory “active ingredient” in aspirin)
  • fewer nitrates
  • higher levels of beneficial fatty acids such as CLA & omega-3, especially in milk & meat from pastured organic cows

Antioxidants are a critical phytonutrient/phytochemical for hikers. As the Mayo Clinic* explains:

Antioxidants … can neutralize free radicals, which are toxic byproducts of natural cell metabolism. The human body naturally produces antioxidants but the process isn’t 100 percent effective and that effectiveness declines with age.

Notice that key phrase “cell metabolism” & think carefully about what is going on while you are hiking. Lots of cell metabolism!

Avoid Pesticides

Organic food also provides fewer nitrates & lower levels of pesticides to slow your body down while on the trail. Pesticides—substances used to kill a variety of pests, including insects, weeds, and even fish—can’t possibly be good for your body. A multitude of studies link the everyday, regular ingestion of pesticides by humans to numerous diseases, from asthma to cancer, especially prostate and breast cancer.

A quick & inexpensive way to
avoid pesticides in your backpack without going organic is to choose foods from the “consistently clean” list and avoid those on the “dirty dozen.”

*More on That: Other websites, such as Dr. Weil’s, may provide more information than the Mayo Clinic regarding individual phytonutrients; I chose a more conventional mainstream source to demonstrate the wide-spread acceptance that these nutrients are in fact useful.

Next post, we’ll explore more individual ways to increase the nutritional content of your foods.