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Thanks for the Trail Salad, Julia!

We spent Thanksgiving, not backpacking anywhere, but on a 10-day monastic meditation retreat on the outskirts of Santa Rosa under the auspices of Abhyagiri Buddhist Monastery. The monks of this monastery are in the Thai Forest Tradition; one could draw a tenuous connection between that tradition and backpacking, leading the wandering mind into discursive thought (yes, my mind) regarding the comparison of retreating & backpacking, of which I will offer here only the portion regarding food:

One striking similarity between retreat food & backpacking food is that there is no other food than the food one has. On retreat, as when backpacking, we can’t simply dash out to a restaurant for a meal or down to the local market to pick up some snacks. What we eat is what we have, whether provided by the talented & creative retreat cook or supplied by our own pre-backpack planning. Whether the food is what we are in the mood for, or whether it suits our immediate tastes or needs is, in either case, quite immaterial. We eat it; we are grateful for it.

Another interesting parallelism between meals in the back country and meals on retreat is the anticipation of those meals! While backpacking, anticipation is generally flavored with a real need for physical nourishment and a resting period for the body; on a meditation retreat, the anticipation may be more for an experience of sensual pleasure and comfort along with perhaps a rest for the mind. Concentrating on the savory, sweet, warm, cooling, smooth & crunchy aspects of a delicious meal seems a treat after hours of watching the breath, the usually unpleasant sensations of the body and the meandering of the mind.

In the end, though, the 2 meal experiences have a critical & unmistakable difference: salad.

The main retreat meal inevitably offers an abundant bowl of fresh raw greens: sweet, succulent, spicy and crispy leaves of various shapes, sizes, flavors and colors such as one might never see on a backpacking trip. Sometimes garnished with translucent slices of radish or red onion, orange segments, toasted nuts, olives, tomatoes, and always accompanied by the day’s lovingly composed dressing designed to accent the mouth-watering bowl of greens.

This Thanksgiving, eating silently & with great appreciation our vegetarian retreat meal with a generous heap of salad greens, I gave thanks to a very special John Muir Trail backpacker: Julia Storek, who generously gave me a bag of mixed salad greens that came as part of her Rae Lakes resupply.

So thank you again, Julia! And thank you to the other backpackers who donated food bars & extra nuts from their abundant supply to supplement my not-quite enough. And much gratitude to the retreat cook and all of his helpers, not excepting the most excellent evening tea brewer, my backpacking tea guy, Mr. Jack!


Dahl: a damn fine food, on & off the trail

Spent my morning tea time looking through the Ansel Adam’s masterpiece Sierra Nevada: the John Muir Trail. As both a Sierra lover & a a press aficionado, I must recommend this amazingly published art exhibit. If you haven’t yet seen it, find a copy & set aside some time to spend in the Sierras without having to change out of your pajamas. I’m full of memories of past hikes & dreaming ahead to next summer’s adventure.

While we’re on the trail, every night’s supper is pease porridge, which Mr. Jack refers to as a quick-and-simple dahl: a by-weight 1:1 mixture of chia seeds, dehydrated split pea soup and toasted quinoa flakes. For the 2 of us, it weighs about 6 oz, including the critical seasoning square of organic vegetable bouillon, which does include at least turmeric, if not the other spices more traditionally associated with dhal.

Dahl is a traditional Indian dish of rice, beans and spices, that has hundreds, if not thousands, of variations. Fran’s House of Ayurveda blog, for instance, has a great winter squash/lentil recipe with simple directions. With canned pumpkin on sale this month, this is especially appealing, although I would need to use another bean since lentils are on my “avoid” list.

I’ve been making a lot of dahl since our JMT hike when we discovered that rice & bean dishes supplied more energy than any other combination of food. So of course, I’ve developed a more slapdash approach than that suggested in other recipes, using pre-cooked rice & beans because it’s easier for me to cook a big batch of beans & freeze to use as needed. In a pinch, I use canned beans.

Turns out that dahl makes a perfect breakfast! It’s the kind of food designed to be made in a big pot & reheated as needed. I am aware of the 3-day leftover rule; at our house, however, that is completely ignored as neither Mr. Jack nor I have delicate stomachs and often find ourselves happily eating food more than a week after its initial appearance. Here’s my casual recipe, which you may enjoy trying on some cool fall or winter day, either for breakfast or later in the day:

You’ll need:

2 cups cooked rice
2 cups cooked beans (canned are fine if you don’t have the inclination to soak & cook your own)
2 cups mixed cooked vegetables

Note: If you are using frozen rather than fresh vegetables, you will not need to cook before adding to the dahl. Canned vegetables are not recommended as they get too mushy.

My current dal includes these vegetables, which I piled into a saucepan in this order, & steamed until just tender:

  • 2 golden beets, julienned
  • a handful of green beans, chopped into 1/2″ lengths
  • small chayote (or other soft-fleshed squash) cubed 1/2″

Fresh greens, a handful or 2 if available (chard, spinach, beet, turnip). Adding chopped, raw greens to the completed dahl is one of my favorite ways to enjoy more vegetables.

1 onion, chopped
fresh ginger, about 1″, minced
cooking oil: grapeseed, olive or coconut; ghee
basic dahl spices — adjust to your own taste; heat can be added as desired

  • cumin, whole, 2 TB
  • corriander, whole, 2 TB
  • fenugreek, ground, 1 TB
  • tumeric, ground, 1 TB

Salt to taste

You will need a big pan for all of this to end up in, as well as a few other pans for toasting seeds, sauting onion & ginger, and steaming the vegetables.

A coffee grinder works great for grinding the seed spices.

Ready, set, go!

Put cooked rice & 3 cups of water in a big pan with a lid (use a pressure cooker if you have one) — cook at low heat until the rice has broken down into a porridge
While the rice is porridging:

  • Roast about 2 TBs each cumin & corrieander seeds
  • Pour out & let them cool before grinding


  • In a oiled pan, low to medium heat, saute a chopped onion very slowly.
  • When about half-done, add finely minced ginger & keep stirring.
  • When the onions are nicely translucent & browned, add the toasted, ground cumin & corrieander, along with tumeric and ground fengreek.
  • Add some more oil — I like coconut for the extra flavor, but grapeseed or olive would work as well. Ghee would probably be perfect.

Finish up
To the rice porridge pot, add:

  • Spice/onion mixture into the rice porridge of rice, along with:
  • Cooked beans
  • Veggies, assorted
  • Salt to taste

Note: This recipe has no real heat. Feel free to add a chopped chili pepper along with the ginger, or a pinch of chili flake along with the spices at the end. Do remember that heat added on the first day may get hotter as the dish matures! For breakfast each morning, I put 2 cups into a small saucepan, along with a half-cup of water, cover & simmer on the lowest possible heat while I have my tea.

Hope you enjoy some dahls this winter season. If you decide to cook a big pot & dehydrate to enjoy on the trail, leave the rice out. Next blog, we’ll talk about rehydrating rice for backpacking.

Dates, Quinoa & Chia: Backpacking Sweet?

Last night Mr. Jack & I ran 8 miles, a record for both of us, but not quite the 13 miles we’ll be running in December for our share of the California International Marathon relay. Our first real chance, however, to try out a running snack. The fresh dates I’d gotten from the Davis international store were an obvious choice:

“Muslims around the world … usually break their Ramadan fast with dates. The reason that they are so beneficial is that their natural sugar travels quickly to the liver, and is converted more quickly than any other nutrient into energy that the fasting body soaks up like a sponge. This is the healthiest way of breaking the fast as it eases the body into digesting. Dates contain protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, vitamin A, and natural sodium. They also contain a high amount of dietary fiber, which makes them a good digestive aid.”

I decided that chia seeds would be a good addition to balance the sugar (so as not to shock the body). I just discovered chia seeds* as a food last year. After some personal experimentation, I reworked our supper standard, Pease Porridge, to incorporate these tiny fat-stable seeds & we ate them every night on the John Muir Trail. So I knew our bodies would respond well. Story is that chia seeds were used by ancient cultures such as the Mayan as mega-energy food, especially for their running messengers. Hard to argue with that kind of tradition!

But the date-chia mash was too sticky & we haven’t yet bought the little gel refill squirt bottles I crave (for just this reason!).

Rummaging through the refrigerator, I found some quinoa flakes left over from a backpack recipe & stirred in enough to stiffen up the mixture , made some little balls (about the size of a malted milk ball) & rolled ’em more quinoa flakes.

Perfect! I tucked 2 into a snack-sized baggy for me & 2 for Mr. Jack’s baggie. Into our pockets & out the door, into the lovely cool evening with a half moon rising to light the darkening route.

An hour in, we popped the sticky, gooey, sweet & slightly crunchy treats. Our bodies were happy. Looks like this is going to be our nourishment for long runs.

Trail sweets? Now I am wondering if these little energy balls would be a good backpack food. Probably still too mushy & I don’t know how they would keep on the trail, but if a workable mixture could be developed, it would certainly be a saner choice than the marshmallows, m&ms, or snickers bars I saw folks consuming on the John Muir this summer. I’m going to experiment. It was certainly easy to eat! (Nancy, this could be the snack for you!)

*MORE ON THAT: I buy chia by the 5-lb bag from Nuts on Line & happily recommend them.


Food you can eat! (probably)

After freezing 4-plus gallon of pomegranate nibs, and eating more than a few, I suddenly had the inspiration to dehydrate some. What a great addition to my backpacking menu! The tangy, sweet, crunchy red little jewels would certainly add some zest and–oh yes–antioxidants to the usual trail food. Dried pomegranate nibs are used in Indian cooking,* I’d heard, so obviously they dried well. Right? Right!

I had a quart of freshly shelled pips that I spread on paper circles on the 5 dehydrator trays in the early afternoon. Before going to bed that night, I re-stacked the trays since the bottom one was looking pretty close to done. By morning, before tea, everything was dry. Sticky, but dry. Yum! A quart had reduced to just over a cup. Not as red, but just as sweet, tangy & crunchy and certainly more appropriate for hiking food.

Aside: As usual, the whole fruit is better for you than the juice alone. Pomegranate seeds provide most of the antioxidents and the fiber. But don’t feel compelled to eat the rind!

Honestly, I don’t have any idea how I’m going to incorporate these delicious dried nibs into backpacking food, but I did make a scrumptious at-home treat by mixing a few tablespoons into some raw almond butter & honey. Candy! Just as good as the “fudge” I’d made a few days earlier with raw pumpkin seed butter, Dagoba cocoa and backyard honey. I’m thinking that recipe might work for backpacking, especially if I put it in one of those squeeze tubes. (Those 2 weeks ranting about sugar must have activated my sweet tooth. Hmm.)

For backpackers who have hot breakfast cereal, dried pom nibs would be great in oatmeal, cream of wheat or rice porridge, I bet. Maybe I’ll just drop a spoonful into my morning tea and eat ’em with a spoon once I get to the bottom. Or make some kind of savory pom cracker …

I did try a zucchini nut cracker on the dehydrator, too, but it had too much fat, even for me, and didn’t seem sturdy enough to go backpacking. I’m going to experiment with it and report back. In the meantime, if you’d like to try the original recipe, you can visit The Sunny Raw Kitchen I like to browse the raw food recipes for easy dehydrator foods. Sometimes they are good for backpacking & sometimes not.

Next time, I promise: the pease porridge recipe for which everyone is awaiting so eagerly. It’s just not as pretty as pomegranates!

*More About That: Anardana powder (ground, dried pomegranate seeds) is used as a spice in Indian cooking to add a sweet/sour flavor. It is also a thickener, I’ve heard. The blog Life Begins @ 30 provides a recipe for using anardana in a potato dish! Too bad I don’t eat potatoes …


Sugar & Your DNA

Sunday afternoon, Mr. Jack hosted a mini backpacking show-n-tell in our backyard. Five guys & their gear. Tents filled the grass, sleeping pads & bags, stoves, filters — you get the idea. Since a non-backpacking girlfriend had dropped in for a spontaneous tea & pomegranate party, I missed most of the convention, but I did mingle a bit at the end to chat about backpacking food & find out what folks had carried/planned to carry in their bear cannisters.

And I heard the classic backpack defense of pop-tarts (fill in your own favorite sugary backpack treat): “Oh, it doesn’t matter, I burn it all off.”

But it does matter:

Researchers in Melbourne found that a human tissue cell, when given a one-off sugar hit, will carry a related chemical marker for weeks.

“We now know that [sugar] can have very acute effects, and those effects continue for up to two weeks later,” says Associate Professor Sam El-Osta, of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.

“These changes continue beyond the meal itself, and have the ability to alter natural metabolic responses to diet.”

On a personal note, after last week’s sugar rant, I amused myself by taking inventory of the sweeteners in my pantry:

  • 2 qts of honey from the backyard hive
  • pint of maple syrup
  • cuppa brown sugar that I bought for last year’s holiday baking & is now hard as a brick
  • 1/4 lb of xylitol
  • 5-gal sack of processed white sugar Mr. Jack uses in his humming bird feeders
  • 1 cp of apricot jam from a neighbor last Christmas
  • qt of black strap molasses

Very few of these sweeteners ever make it to the trail. Just the honey, in the food bars.

As Rob was leaving the gear convention Sunday, he asked when I would put the pease porridge recipe up on the blog & I promised next week.

That’s an amazingly simple & versatile hot dish that we ate & enjoyed for 24 days’ supper on the John Muir Trail. You’ll like it, too.

Sugar is Not Your Friend

Hi, Kids. Sorry about the delay in posting the sugar rant. The music festival in Golden Gate Park last weekend absorbed the entire weekend, including Monday. And now I feel like I’m coming down with something feverish …

Please take this opportunity to visit Dr. Mercola’s list of 76 ways sugar is bad for you & then pop over to an article on the American Heart Association’s first-ever sugar recommendations:

Surveys have also found that the average American consumes around 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar every day. According to the new guidelines, we should really be eating a fraction of that amount. The recommended sugar intake for adult women is 5 teaspoons (20 grams) of sugar per day, for adult men, it’s 9 teaspoons (36 grams) daily, and for children, it’s 3 teaspoons (12 grams) a day.

The list at the end, of the added sugars in foods, is especially helpful.

One more thing before I take my aching body to bed: I bought an oatmeal raisin walnut Clif Bar today at the grocery; you know Clif Bar, “nutrition for sustained energy?” This 68g bar has 240 calories, 45 of which come from fat. It also has 20g of sugar that provide 75 calories, just over 30% of the calories in the entire bar. That’s a lot of sugar, yes? Of course some of that sugar is inherent in raisins, which are listed 4th in the ingredient list. But a certain amount comes from these ingredients (the number that follows lists their position in the ingredients)

  • organic brown rice syrup (1)
  • organic evaporated cane juice (5)
  • molasses powder (9)

And whether this is interesting to you or not, what about the fact that you could eat 100g of raisins to get 20g of sugar? That’s over half a cup of raisins! Or you could have an apple …

The short story here is that although our bodies do need sugar, and in fact, run on nothing but sugar, sugar in its free, or anarchic state — released from the released from the natural, protective whole-food state that includes the complexity of fiber, minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals — is not at all wholesome.

Even if you don’t suffer from cavities, sleeplessness, migraines, weight gain or diabetes 2, this negative-nutritional substance is working secretly to ruin your health

Added sugar, in its free (or anarchic) state is known to … reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by forty percent. The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours. In contrast, the ingestion of complex carbohydrates, or starches, has no effect on the immune system.

In short, there is no nutritional value in anarchic sugars, and only danger and ill-health can result from eating too much sugar, whether white, brown, honey-ed or molassesed. Have some fruit instead.

Next blog, I’ll tell you the story of the man who climbed Mt. Shasta on foiled-wrapped, semi-solid, brand name sugar. Not for the faint-hearted.


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