Friday, February 17, 2012

Potassium, Sodium and Chloride

How often have all of us heard someone say that they are eating bananas for the potassium and wondered what that meant or why anyone cared about their potassium intake?  When I was young my mother was always eating bananas for the potassium since she had high blood pressure.  It was decades later before I understood what was going on.  Since I assume that many of you didn’t learn this in school either I thought I would explain it so we all understand why we should care about our electrolyte intake and our ratio of potassium to sodium.

Potassium (K), sodium (Na) and chloride (CI) are all electrolytes (mineral salts) which conduct electricity when dissolved in water.  These electrolytes serve important functions in the body including playing roles in the maintenance of: water balance, kidney and adrenal function, acid and base balance, muscle and nerve function, and heart function.  Doctors have known for years that diet high in sodium and low in potassium was associated with high blood pressure. Additionally many studies have showed that a high-sodium and low-potassium diet is associated with both the development of both cancer and cardiovascular disease.  I hope you are starting to see that the balance of these electrolytes in your body matter, a lot!

I will not be talking much about chloride because chloride coexists in nature with sodium and table salt is actually sodium chloride (NaCI).  Foods which contribute sodium to your diet also provide chloride.  Sodium and chloride are highly bioavailable and are typically absorbed in the small intestine.  However people who experience intestinal malabsorption (either due to disease or GI infections) can find themselves sodium deficient.  People who experience severe diarrhea and vomiting can experience sodium and chloride deficiencies.  Healthy people are unlikely to be sodium deficient.

Most Americans consume a potassium to sodium ration (K:Na) of 1:2 or lower.  What that means is that they are consuming twice the amount of sodium as they are potassium.  However the problem is that scientists think the ratio should be 5:1 (potassium to sodium) or higher.  Now the question becomes how do we increase our potassium by 10 times and that is one way to look at the problem that we are faced with.   However don’t forget that you can always decrease your sodium as well. The good news is that fresh fruit and vegetables are packed with potassium while being low in sodium.   Most fresh produce contains at least 100 grams of potassium to a few grams of sodium.   Here are a few examples of foods comparing milligram of potassium to sodium so that you can see the difference in natural versus man-made items:

Acorn Squash, 1 cup cubed and baked (896:8)
Apple, 1 medium (182:2)
Asparagus, ½ cup (165:1)
Avocado, ½ (680:5)
Banana, 1 medium (467:1)
Black strap molasses, 1 tablespoon (498:11)
Bread whole wheat, 1 slice (71:148)
Cantaloupe, 1/8th of a large (315:9)
Catsup, 1 tablespoon (72:178)
Chickpea, 1 cup cooked w/o salt (477:11)
Ham lunchmeat 1 slice (56:283)
Mozzarella, 1oz part-skim (24:132)
Mustard, 1 tablespoon yellow (24:168)
Orange, 1 medium (263:1)
Parmesan, 1 tablespoon shredded (5:85)
Potato, 1 medium (782:6)
Prunes, 1 medium (63:0)
Pudding mix, fat-free sugar-free chocolate , 1 svg prepared (122:318)
Quinoa, ¼ cup uncooked (314:8)
Tomato, 1 medium raw (444:5)
Tomato, 1 cup canned whole (530:440)
Soup Cream of Tomato, 10.75 oz can (644:1690)
Soy sauce, 1 tablespoon (64:871)
Swiss cheese, 1 oz (31:420)

I intentionally included a number of foods that I think are commonly found in the American diet.  The reason was to show you how much sodium is in a tiny amount of these processed foods.  Did you notice that the man-made food (except canned tomatoes) contains more sodium than potassium but that the opposite is true of the natural items? Why do processed foods contain so much sodium?  Salt was originally added to food to delay spoilage.  However when you read the ingredient labels of food now you will see that there are chemical preservatives added for that job. Salt is primarily added to food because our tastebuds have all grown to expect it.  When you eat a diet full of salt and give up the salt food initially tastes bland.  Since most Americans consume a lot of sodium food processors continue to use a lot of sodium to make their food appealing to the majority of consumers.

Since so many of us consume a diet low in potassium should we be worried about potassium deficiency?  According to Dr. David Katz deficiency of potassium is not common but does occur.  Conditions which cause fluid shifts (like surgery or being in the hospital), or metabolic imbalances (such as diabetes) can produce life-threatening potassium imbalances.  Potassium deficiency at less dangerous levels results in symptom which can include:  high blood pressure, heart rhythm disturbances, muscle weakness, paralysis, mental confusion and irritability.  All this just from eating a diet low in fresh fruit and vegetables and high in sodium?  Did you realize that there are few commonly used items that rob your body of potassium?  Drinking alcohol and taking aspirin also reduce your potassium levels as do taking diuretics.  Eek!  I don’t know about you but I think it is simpler to eat my fruits and veggies than to think about this.  Also remember that herbal diuretics can reduce your potassium so you should use those sparingly as well.

The elderly are at a higher risk for potassium deficiency as are athletes.  In the elderly the problem is typically due to inadequate intake or diuretic use (common with cardiovascular disease), but in athletes the issue is usually potassium loss through sweat.  If you spend a lot of time exercising (and therefore sweating) it is recommended that you should be consuming additional potassium (produce).

I don’t recommend that anyone take potassium in supplement form since it can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  Consuming fresh vegetables and fruits in their natural form are unlikely to cause problems.  People with kidney problems need to be careful with how much sodium and potassium they include since the kidney is what balances our electrolytes. If you have kidney disease you need to talk to you doctor before you dramatically change the intake of potassium or sodium containing foods.  The adequate intake (AI) of 4,700mg/day for adults is recommended. However it is worth knowing that our ancient ancestors are thought to have eaten more than 10g of potassium per day.

What about sodium is there any easier way to lower it?  Actually it is easy to lower your sodium intake but it involves eating a diet which is once again based on whole plant-based foods.  Once you start reading labels and focusing on sodium content I think you will be shocked by the amount of sodium in foods. I was very surprised by the amount of sodium in bread and canned tomatoes.  Most bread is also a problem because it frequently contains both high fructose corn syrup and soy protein isolates not to mention preservatives and other things that I don’t eat.  Canned tomatoes contain not only a lot of sodium but also BPA.  *sigh* Sometimes it feels like nothing is safe to eat anymore doesn’t it?

There is no RDA for sodium but a daily intake of 115mg (which is very easy to both reach and to exceed) is considered essential.  According to Dr. David Katz 500mg per day is recommended, and we reach and typically exceed that every day either without adding salt to food or eating processed food if that makes you feel better about eating a diet like ours.  It is estimated that our ancient ancestors consumed less than 1,000mg of sodium per day, far less than the 4,000mg+ which the average American now consumes daily.

Asian foods tend to be very high in sodium so be careful with your use of soy sauce, liquid aminos, miso, and other Asian condiments and sauces.  As much as I love Asian food, I try to keep our consumption to a minimum so that our average sodium intake doesn’t get out of control.

If you still eat cheese that is also a hidden source of sodium that you should keep in mind. Cheese like feta is particularly high in sodium.  In addition to sodium, cheese contains an abundance of saturated fat which isn’t good for your arteries and it increases your levels of IGF-1 which fuels cancer growth.  As much as I love the taste of cheese I can’t look at it now without seeing something that I now consider a toxin.   There are days when I wish I could unlearn some of the nutrition facts that I have learned.  However I know it is in the best interest of my family to keep cheese out of our diet.  Darn it!  ;-)

If you eat lunch meat, bacon, smoked meats or processed meat like sausage you are also consuming a lot of “hidden” sodium. The next time you are in the grocery store look at the sodium content on lunchmeat and smoked salmon and I think you will be surprised by how high it is.  I calculated the potassium and sodium content of a ham and cheese sandwich assuming 2 slices of whole wheat bread, 3 slices of ham, 1 oz of Swiss cheese and 1 tablespoon of mustard and the potassium was 365mg but the sodium was 1,733mg.  Whoa!  Even I was surprised by those numbers.  However it makes it easy to see how the typical American diet would contain over 4,000mg of sodium doesn’t it?  Instead of a sandwich with lunchmeat and cheese how about a veggie wrap with hummus (no salt), roasted and raw veggies?  That would contain a lot of potassium, vitamins and micronutrients and not much sodium.  Are you starting to see why I order those when Ian makes my lunch?  ;-)

The bottom line is that most of us are consuming too much sodium and not enough potassium. We would all be healthier if we reduced our consumption of packaged or processed food and ate more fresh food.  If you just do those two things you will be making a huge difference in your health.


Breakfast for both of us was a green smoothie which was made with:  kale, frozen mango, frozen banana, walnuts cinnamon, water, coconut extract and a little stevia.  I ran out of frozen cherries but did have a frozen mango which is why you aren’t seeing the chocolate cherry green smoothies currently.

I spent some time reading a new textbook that I purchased on health psychology before it was time see my girlfriend Deirdre for lunch.  Deirdre is my friend who quit her federal government job to go back to school to get her PhD in psychology.   Have I said recently that Deirdre is my hero?  I am still in awe of her ability to quit her job and go back to school being a single girl.  Wouldn’t we all love to have chutzpah like that?

Lunch with Deirdre took place at the usual place. Since Deirdre lives in the neighborhood now we can get together at my favorite place.  Deirdre likes it enough that she now goes there without me as well. I think that speaks volumes.

I started lunch with a bowl of the white bean, kale and sweet potato soup.  Deirdre had tomato bisque, which I did not photograph.

For my entrée I asked if the kitchen would make the veggie and hummus wrap and put a small salad with that.  I never get tired of this combination.  Deirdre had a turkey burger and sweet potato fries which again I did not photograph.

Being girls Deirdre and I talked for hours and hours and that meant there was time for Deirdre to have a little dessert. She ordered a carrot cake cupcake which was so cute that I had to take its picture. Carrot cake was always my favorite cake but I was good and didn’t have a bite.  It smelled delicious even from across the table.  LOL

Dinner was a simple bowl of leftover curried lentil soup.  Thank goodness for intentional leftovers. Having intentional leftovers on hand is the primary reason that I am able to keep such an uber healthy diet. If you are trying to eat a healthier diet, start with making intentional leftovers.   I think you will be surprised by what a difference that makes.

Happy Thoughts:

·         Wednesday we had the most glorious weather. I went to the dentist got a little beat up but it was all good.  I took a few pictures leaving the dental office to give you a sense of life in the city.  While I was at the dentist I learned something new.  The outer covering of popcorn can get under your gums and when it does that it also does not degrade and can turn into an abscess. Thankfully mine just required some digging to remove (fun stuff!) but I won’t be having popcorn for a while now that is for sure. After that little revelation popcorn might just be off my “preferred” food list now.  It wasn’t all that thrilling without oil and salt anyway.  ;-)  Poor Binky, he is going to miss having popcorn when we watch movies.  Yes, Binky actually eats popcorn which we found out by accident one day and I had to snap the picture of him getting his own.  Only at our house would that be considered cute.  LOL

·         I stopped at the library on Wednesday and picked up more books. I know what you are thinking believe me.  How does she have time to read all these books?  Dan asks the very same question.  No matter where I am I have a book with me. Tuesday while I waited for Deirdre to arrive at lunch I was reading.  Wednesday I was reading while in the waiting room at the dentist.  I literally always have a book with me. You didn’t think I got all this nutrition knowledge from osmosis did you?  LOL

·         While I was in Hunt Valley I stopped at Wegman’s for provisions which in my case meant raw organic nuts and seeds (raw cashews, raw pumpkin seeds and Brazil nuts), many bags of dried organic beans, black strap molasses (an excellent source of potassium, calcium and iron), turmeric (always good to have one hand), and some hulled hemp seeds to name a few items.  I must be quite the sight checking out at the grocery store. I often wonder what the clerks think when they ring this stuff up and put in the bags.  ;-)

·         Thursday I spent most of the day at Hopkins again.  There are definitely positives and negatives to sitting in hospital waiting rooms all day. Every time we are here I am always reminded how fortunate we are with how things have gone for us.  However I am also struck by the pain and suffering that other people have to endure.  *long exhale*  When you are someone like me who feels for others it is extremely difficult to see other people suffering.  There were people in wheelchairs who obviously didn’t have the energy to walk.  Other people were on oxygen and many people without hair.  Cancer is a horrible disease that I probably see more often than the rest of you.  The fact that always surprises me is the number of people that I see who are very obviously younger than I am.  When I was in my 30’s I thought cancer was something that happened to old people but that is not the case now. There were plenty of people in their 30’s and 40’s in the waiting room again yesterday.  That is part the reason I am so dedicated to show you that it is more than possible to live a healthy life, and that it does make a difference.  You have no idea how much I want you understand that.  I don’t want any of you to be one of those people I see in the Hopkins waiting room who cause me to fight back tears when I see them.

·         Friday I expected to spend the afternoon with my friend Will who just came back from NYU where he did a nutrition certification program.  However he needed to run to the dentist for an emergency procedure so I ended up having a little time on my hands to get caught up on some tasks at home.

·         We had incredible weather again on Friday with temperatures in the med-50s and even a little sun.  I love this time of year!  Anytime it is still in the 50s at 8 o’clock at night is fine with me. We went for a nice walk this evening before dinner.

Signing out:

This has been a crazy busy week for me.  Every day this week I have been out of the house for much of the day.  Next week I have much more free time in my schedule which I am definitely looking forward to.  Do you ever feel like your to-do list is completely out of control?  That describes my life at the moment, too much to do and not enough time to do it.  On that cheery note I have to get back to my to-do list so that I can relax a little and enjoy my weekend with Dan. Talk with you again soon.  I hope that you enjoy your weekend.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Can You Tell a Craving or Emotional Hunger from True Hunger?

One question that I get often is how to tell the difference between cravings, emotional hunger and real hunger. For many people knowing how to identify real from false hunger makes all the difference in their life and health.  We all have that “gee, I really want something to eat” feeling that happens even though we suspect that we aren’t actually hungry.  My craving voice used to run my life.  The cravings would sneak up on me in the middle of the afternoon and tell me that I needed a little something starchy.  Until some of my girlfriends acknowledged that this happened to them too I thought I was crazy.  Now I know that there are many things that cause these cravings including: hormonal fluctuations; eating too much sugar, fat or salt; emotions; dehydration and more.  However with time and a lot of experimentation on myself I learned how to deal with this demon and I want to share a few ideas with you in case you are suffering with cravings in silence.

Hunger is it Real or Not?:

When I get hungry but suspect it isn’t true hunger I always pause to figure out what is happening.  All of us get into trouble when we just feed the hunger without trying to figure it out.  There are a few questions that I ask myself to determine if I am experiencing a craving, emotional hunger or true hunger.  These questions are as follows:

1.       How long has it been since I ate?  If it is less than three hours I am usually experiencing a craving or possibly it is emotional eating.  However if it is has been more than 4 or 5 hours since I ate then I am usually actually hungry.

2.       Do I have any physical signs of hunger?  Does my stomach feel empty?  Am I getting a little dizzy, do I feel light headed?  Sometimes when I am very hungry I get a sensation in the back of my throat. All of those things strongly suggest that I am actually hungry.  When I don’t have any physical symptoms of hunger I delay eating.

3.       Would a piece of fruit or some hummus and veggies satisfy my hunger? When the answer is no again that is another sign that this is a craving.

4.       Do I want something very specific to eat?  For me this would usually be something starchy or possibly dark chocolate.  I seem to crave both bready things and chocolate when I am repressing some emotion or possibly experiencing hormonal fluctuations.  Other women have told me the same thing happens to them only with chips, salty snacks and soda.  I find that these specific cravings are almost never actual hunger.

5.       Have I been exercising and eat healthy whole plant-based foods?  Something else that happens is that when you eat things which contain a lot of sugar, fat and/or salt you body starts to crave those things.  When I am eating a healthy diet and I am active I don’t have many of those cravings.  Have you read "The End of Overeating?"  The medical doctor does a nice job explaining the addictive nature of sugar, fat and salt.

6.       Did the hunger come on quickly or did it build slowly? Hunger that takes time to develop is more likely to be true hunger.  I have found that cravings or emotional eating can happen in an instant and true hunger doesn’t do that.

7.       Could there have been a trigger for the hunger like a commercial on TV, a disagreement or a habit?   Commercials that show pasta or chocolate get me every time but I know this so I can ignore them. Many people have told me that a disagreement (repressed feelings) cause them to eat.  However habits are sometimes harder for people to spot. I know one woman who eats in the middle of the night and has done this a long time so it is now a habit. The only way to identify habits is to keep a food journal and if you suspect that you have unhealthy habits you may want to keep a journal for a while.

8.       Is it possible that I am dehydrated?  I realize that most people are chronically dehydrated and because I know that I get myself a glass of water or a green tea if I suspect that I am dehydrated and that is causing in my hunger. You will be surprised how often fluid will be enough. However don’t get something to drink that has a lot of calories like soda, fruit juice or a sweet coffee beverage since those are providing calories and sugar with little or no nutrition.

The most important thing that you can do to get control of false hunger is to not give in to it immediately. There is nothing that says you have to eat right away although sometimes it feels that way.   Stop, step back and think about what is happening.  At least half the time I find that by asking myself the questions above I am able to figure out easily that I am not honestly hungry and I don’t act on the urge.  Other times it takes me a little while to understand what is going on and sometimes I am actually hungry.  ;-)

I know that I am not the only one who has cravings since all my girlfriends talk about this now.  Until I started to talk about this with friends I felt like I was alone with my crazy cravings. I think it is important to realize that these cravings are normal but that you can get control over your behavior in response to the cravings. Since we all have these cravings let’s share what we have learned to deal with them.  What suggestions do you have for dealing with cravings? Do you have different tricks, tips or questions that you ask yourself? If you do have any suggestions please share them with the rest of us.  Here is short video from WebMD that you might want to check out on the subject.

Book Review:  Strength Finder 2.0

I have been doing a lot of introspective work lately trying to understand myself better.  My premise was how could I help other people overcome their challenges if I didn’t understand myself. With this in mind I bought a copy of the book StrengthFinder 2.0 and took the online test to find out what it would indicate were my strengths.  Honestly I didn’t expect much from a 30 minute online test where you had to answer a series of questions with your gut reaction each in 20 seconds.  However I have to say that I was shocked by my results.  Both Dan and I believe the test absolutely nailed who I am as a person. I wanted to share this with you because I think it will give you a ton of insight into what makes me tick. But I also think it might encourage you to find out what are your strengths. The premise of the book is that we will all be more successful if we use our strengths rather than trying to improve our weaknesses and this makes a lot of sense to me.

According to the online test my strengths are as follows:

1.       Input
2.       Learner
3.       Strategic
4.       Achiever
5.       Intellection

Since those are just titles of the various personality components I will briefly explain them so that they make sense to you. 

Input simply means that I have a strong craving to know more. Gee, really? That doesn’t sound anything like me! Yes I am being sarcastic about that.  It also said that I would like to collect information.  Funny how a simple test figured that out isn’t it?  There are reams of information at our house. I have binders full of articles about health and nutrition as just one example.  I never grow tired of collecting information about subjects that interest me which is exactly what this trait would predict.

Learners like to continuous learn and grow. How does an online test know that I spend hours every day learning?  This clearly explains why I am always reading and why our house if full of reference books on many different topics.  I spend hours every day studying something. I am definitely an information junkie, just ask my husband.  One of my favorite topics is nutrition but there are many other subjects that interest and one the most recent is Buddhism.  Yes, I do realize that I am a bit eccentric.  ;-)

The strategic trait speaks to my ability to put together creative solutions to problems and the ability to spot patterns and issues.  I can’t tell you how many people have commented on my ability to put things I learn about nutrition into practice and I think this may explain why that comes easily to me.  I have always been a big picture person.  I think this trait is the reason that I was able to make the connection between nutrition and health so quickly which is what caused our dramatic dietary shift years ago. It also explains why I am frequently surprised that others can’t add A plus B and get C.  My poor husband has to listen to me talk about this all time.  The man is a saint; you know idea how difficult I can be.  LOL

Achievers are described as people with a lot of stamina who thrive on hard work. This type of person takes great satisfaction from being productive and that also describes me quite accurately.  When I worked in corporate America I would routinely work 12 hour days.  While I was never a morning person I was almost always the last one out of the office by many hours.  I have never had a problem putting in the time to get something accomplished.  Dan used to show up at the hospital after midnight with dinner and try to drag me out of the office so I could get some sleep.  I have been a hard worker my entire life.  Even when I “retired” I still continued to use a to-do list so that I could get a lot accomplished. I am definitely one of those people who had to learn to relax since getting things done is very important to me.

Intellection is used to describe people who are characterized by their intellectual activity.  This group is said to be very introspective and to appreciate intellectual discussions.  Once again I am guilty as charged. I love to figure out why I do certain things or what makes me and others tick.  I love a good conversation about psychology, philosophy or anything else that is outside my usual area of expertise.  Anything that takes me out of my comfort zone and causes me to think in a new way or about a new topic I love.

Anyone who knows me was probably nodding in agreement as this read what the book predicted are my strengths. I am still a little shocked by how accurate that test actually was.  If you are thinking about changing careers or just want to find additional satisfaction in your current profession this book would probably be a good idea for you. This isn’t a book that you can check out from the library however. Each book has an individual code in it so that you can take the online test.  You use the code to set up an account for yourself.  If you are someone who enjoys introspection I would recommend this book.

Have any of you read this book and taken the test?  If you did what were your top 5 strengths?  Did you feel like they accurately described you? I was very pleasantly surprised by how the test really seemed to peg me, particularly the first few traits.   A little piece of me had expected to see “positivity” show up in my top 5 traits but I also understand why I got the ones that I did. Other than that one missing item I didn’t really see any surprises.

The interesting thing about the results of this book was that it crystallized for me things that I knew about myself at a gut level.  The other book I am reading about marketing also asked me to list my strengths.  The reason that the when we use our strengths a few things happen. By leveraging our strengths we increase the probability that we will be successful. When we use our strengths results come easily and this increases overall satisfaction.  One of the things that I do well is my ability to remember facts and seemingly unrelated facts particularly involving nutrition.  I can talk about nutrition for days which all my friends can attest to.  This is one of the reasons that wellness coaching makes so much sense for me.  Do you know where your strengths lie?

Bean Cookbook:

Given that I have no come out of the closet in terms of my “need for information” you probably understand why I am always reading.  Yesterday morning I was reading Epicurious and came across this link for a bean cookbook.  I try not to add too many cookbooks to my collection now because it is completely out of control and I don’t really use them.  In fact when I buy a cookbook I read it like a novel and then it goes on the shelf where it will probably remain. I am definitely not someone who cooks from recipes; I don’t use my recipes or those from anyone else.  Cooking for me is more of a go with the flow experience. I like to taste, adjust and tweak as I go.  Are you starting to see why it is difficult to get me to actually write down a recipe?

When I was reading this article about the bean cookbook my first reaction was, I need this book.  Why?  Well I love beans and we eat them every day after all.  However I suspect this book will be like the all the others I will read it like a novel and it will go immediately to one of my bookcases with all its little cookbook friends.  The reason I am writing is twofold.  First if any of you have this book I would love to hear what you think of it.  Do you recommend purchasing the book? Second if you are stumped for bean ideas I wanted to let you know that this book exists. If you do buy it please stop back and share your thoughts on the book, I am sure that I am not the only one who would like to know more.


What happened to our 71 degree temperatures which started February?  Saturday was cold, snowy and incredibly windy.  Due to the weather we spent most of the day inside our nice warm house.  Snow is always more pretty when you are inside look out but that is particularly true when the wind is blowing.

Breakfast at our house was things you have seen before.  First we had some no-sugar and no-oil granola with homemade almond milk and fresh fruit. This is an old picture which shows bananas but I used blackberries today instead.

Dan and I shared a green smoothie (kale, cherry, banana, walnut, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla with a little stevia).

I had savory oatmeal for lunch. This time it included mushrooms, onions, garlic, Italian seasonings, nutritional yeast and I added thinly sliced Brussels sprouts at the very end of cooking. Since Brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferous family I try not to cook them much either to maximize the nutrition that we consume.

We met Lauren for dinner at our usual place and had a great time.  We started with the Middle Eastern plate.

Then Ian came to the table and we chatted about food.  He made some suggestions which sounded delicious to us and that was what we went with.

First there was a blood orange, hearts of plan, and avocado salad with sesame which was delicious.

Then we had a smoky grilled asparagus with a habanero salsa which I loved.  However I do have a secret love affair with habanero peppers so that may explain why I enjoyed this so much.

However we all agreed that our favorite dish of the night was the grilled oyster mushrooms which were drizzled with a sauce of:  balsamic vinegar, truffle oil, and sweet soy.  The mushrooms were served over baby arugula and came with pickled kumquats.  This is delicious!  Lauren and were both taken with the mushrooms and the kumquats.  It always amazes me that Ian feels like he doesn’t do vegan food well, because we think it gets it right every time.

Lauren definitely fits right in at the restaurant and is getting to know everyone.  She told us that the girls on th nursing e unit were getting together next Sunday to celebrate the February birthdays and she suggested the restaurant.  We might just have to stop in for dinner that night to say hello to everyone since we were there so long we feel like part of the crew.  ;-)

Happy thoughts:

There are so many things to be thankful for each day if you are open to the good things that happen in all of our lives.  Here are the things that I have been happy for lately:

·         We had a lovely dinner Saturday night with our new friend Lauren.  It is fascinating that we have so much in common with her since she is young enough to be our child.  However knowing people like Lauren gives me great hope that maybe the health of this country can be turned around.  *fingers crossed*  We lingered over dinner while we spent time talking about everything and nothing.  I love evenings like those don’t you?

·         Saturday the predicted snow and rain mix was nothing more than flurries though it was fairly windy (we had guts of 40+ degrees and it felt like I was back in Chicago). Thankfully the weather wasn’t bad enough to derail our dinner plans with Lauren.

·         Sunday Dan and I had a lovely relaxed day together. We did a lot of nothing and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The weather was cold and windy and it was definitely a great day to stay inside.

·         Monday I had planned to have lunch with a friend but I hurt my knee and thought it made more sense to stay home and keep the knee iced. While I am not happy about my knee I am grateful that I was able to stay home and keep my knee elevated and iced.  Being somewhat immobile I took the opportunity to get a little reading knocked out. You are shocked by that I know LOL.  Before you ask, no I never get tired of learning it is what I love to do.

·         Tuesday I am having lunch with my girlfriend Deirdre. We haven’t had a girl’s lunch in months. I can’t wait to hear what she has been up to.  There are few things in life that are better than spending time with a good girlfriend.  Can’t wait!

·         Wednesday I get to go to the dentist.  What, why is that a happy thought?  Okay so I am not weird and in fact I actually have a bit of a dental phobia from a bad childhood experience. However the people at our dental office are so nice that I don’t mind going in to see them and even enjoy it. The time at the dentist is more like seeing old friends than having work done.  What, you don’t email the people who work on your teeth?  Yes, I really do pick up new friends wherever I go.  Are you starting to see how much I love people?  LOL

Signing Out:

I have a crazy busy week planned with something planned everyday this week.  Yikes!  Someone seems to have overbooked her schedule again.  I will try to be pack at least once or twice this week with posts but it is going to be difficult. Please understand if you only hear from me once.

I hope you had a wonderful weekend and that your Monday was a good one.  Have a happy and healthy week and I will talk to you again as soon as I can.  Ciao.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Food Safety and Other Thoughts

Food Safety:

Last month I received an email from someone who was switching to a plant-based diet and was worried about microbes on vegetables and how to keep their family safe. This email came in during our time at Hopkins and I forgot about it until today (sorry about that).  The first thing that struck me about this email was that the person appeared unconcerned about cross contamination from meat yet they were worried about contaminated veggies.  In the interest of complete disclosure for everyone I thought a post about food safety in regard to pathogens on all food products was in order.

Foodborne Illness:

In 2011 the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 128,000 people in the US would be hospitalized due to foodborne illness and of those over 3,000 would die.   This is in spite of the fact that the US food supply is one the safest in the world.  Rather a disturbing thought isn’t it?

There are many different organisms (bacteria, viruses and parasites) which are capable of causing food borne illness.  Most foodborne illness is caused by microorganisms which are present in the intestinal tracts of healthy animals.  Meat can be contaminated during slaughter by coming into contact with intestinal contents.  Fresh produce (veggies and fruit) runs into trouble when water that is contaminated with animal or human manure is used to irrigate fields.  However one big risk happens in the home kitchen is cross contamination. This occurs when raw meat comes into contact with surfaces (reusable grocery bags, cutting boards, countertops, cutlery, refrigerator etc.) which were not sterilized before they are used for produce.

When you read the most recent publication from the CDC it is clear that salmonella is at the top of their list to reduce since it is the greatest cause of hospitalizations and deaths. They are hoping to make as significant a reduction in salmonella as has been seen with E. coli.  When you look at where salmonella contamination comes from it is almost exclusively meat and eggs.

Symptoms of salmonella exposure include:  fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.  People with underlying health conditions and weakened immune systems (old and young) can die from exposure if it enters the bloodstream.  However there are things that all of us can do to reduce the risk.

Actionable Steps to Reduce Your Risk:

According to the CDC here is what we can do to reduce our risk of getting sick from salmonella:

·         Clean. Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, and countertops.

·         Separate. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods.

·         Cook. Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: 145°F for whole meats (allowing the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or consuming), 160°F for ground meats, and 165°F for all poultry.

·         Chill. Keep your refrigerator below 40°F and refrigerate food that will spoil.

·         Report suspected illness from food to your local health department.

·         Don't prepare food for others if you have diarrhea or vomiting.

·         Be especially careful preparing food for children, pregnant women, those in poor health, and older adults.

·         Visit for the latest information on preventing food poisoning.

 As you probably noticed reading this list they focus almost exclusively on meat, and for good reason that is where most of the risk is located. However anyone who brings meat into their house needs to be extremely mindful of cross contamination.  The FDA warns that contamination can even occur after the produce has been purchased, during food preparation, or through inadequate storage.

FDA says to choose produce that isn’t bruised or damaged, and make sure that pre-cut items—such as bags of lettuce or watermelon slices—are either refrigerated or on ice both in the store and at home. In addition they suggest these recommendations:
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
  • Gently rub produce while holding under plain running water. There’s no need to use soap or a produce wash.
  • Wash produce BEFORE you peel it, so dirt and bacteria aren’t transferred from the knife onto the fruit or vegetable.
  • Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce, such as melons and cucumbers.
  • Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
  • Throw away the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.
  • Consumers should store perishable produce in the refrigerator at 40 degrees or below.

Additionally in my kitchen I also take the following steps:

·         Rewash all produce, including triple washed greens, at least once and sometimes twice.

·         Scrub all sturdy produce with a vegetable brush with a little castile soap that I am careful to thoroughly rinse off. In this category I include things like melons, winter squash, avocados, citrus, bananas, etc.

·         Softer skinned produce is sprayed with veggie wash or white vinegar and allowed to sit for a few minutes before rinsing thoroughly.  This includes things like grapes, bell peppers, and cucumbers.

·         Never wash produce before storing it since that dampness encourages bacteria growth.

·         Whenever possible I buy organic produce from farmers who I know.  For those of you who are local I know that Calvert Farms is very particular about the source of the water they use to irrigate their fields because of food safety concerns.

You all know that we don’t buy meat so that isn’t in our refrigerator. However if it were I would only store it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, and in ziptop bags, to avoid meat juices dripping on produce.  Additionally I wouldn’t rinse meat in the sink (I read others recommending to wash chicken) because when you do this you are spraying contaminated water onto other surfaces.


Today I just spoke of salmonella because that is causing more problems. However the same precautions apply to other sources of foodborne contamination. The bottom line is that good food handling procedures are critical to keeping your family safe.  If you are unclear about what you should be doing please ask and I will continue to write about this until it makes sense. Practicing safe food handling procedures is one of the most important things you can do to keep your family healthy.

Personally I would be much more concerned about food safety if I were bringing meat and eggs into the house.  The risk of contamination from produce is much smaller than for meat.  However I still take steps to make certain that our produce is as clean as possible.  Practicing good food handling procedures is very important if you have anyone in your family with a compromised immune system (the elderly, children, and people with chronic diseases). 

I am not a fan of using bleach because it is a carcinogen. However if you are bringing meat into your house you might want to consider a weak bleach solution (1 teaspoon of bleach to 1 quart of water) to sterilize your kitchen.   For those of you who eat chicken, you are already ingesting chlorine and might want to read this.  I can’t look at chicken without thinking of chlorine now.  :-P

Quick Update:

I am sure that you noticed that I haven’t put a post up this week.  After the month of  monster posts I really needed some time off to attempt to get caught up on my backlog of activities which are too numerous to list.   It is amazing how many things need to be done around here.  On the bright side I am making progress just not as quickly as I would like but that is usually the case. 

I had really hoped to share the second website with you yesterday but there was no way that was going to happen no matter how hard I pushed.  Darn it!  You have no idea how much I dislike missing a deadline.  However I am going to keep working on the other site each day. It is starting to shape up and I hope to have it ready to share soon.  

One of the biggest things that derailed my progress was that I started reading a marketing book earlier this week that caused me to rethink everything that had finalized including my target market.  As you can imagine when you change your target market that ripples through everything else that you do.  While I feel very good about the change I made in my target market (since it is now much more in line with who I am) I also have a lot of work to do now which was previously finished.  Having to do things twice is my own fault.  I knew all along what my target market should be but I didn’t think it was broad enough. However reading this book convinced me that I needed to go with my gut and that means I am now redoing everything. The second time is the charm right?  J

While I am on this topic I want to ask for your help.  When I get the other site up I would love to hear your thoughts on it.  I would like to make the second site something that everyone can benefit from and will use many of the things that I learned while blogging.   If you have any specific suggestions now feel free to share. Otherwise I will ask for feedback once the site is ready to share.  Wish me luck that I get it finished soon.  Dan is going to make certain that I don’t obsess too much and will let me know when it is ready for “public comment.”  ;-)

Since a few of you have asked if I am going to keep up with this site too the answer is that it my plan. At the moment I am planning to use this site as my personal journal of sorts (food, recipes, and life activities) and the other site will be focused on health and nutrition but there will also be recipes there too.  However I am also sure that things will morph and change over time in ways that I haven’t thought of yet.  If there is one thing I have learned in life it is that nothing ever goes as planned and you need to go with the flow.

Thank You for Your Thoughts and Ideas:

You guys had wonderful input regarding my last question about what holds you back from making dietary changes and/or what was the impetuous for you to change.  I particularly enjoyed the emails that talked about comfort foods and emotions and that will result in a post at some point since you guys had so many ideas about emotional eating to share.

If you have any other ideas about this in the future please drop me an email. I would love to hear any additional suggestions that you wish to share.  I appreciate everything that I have learned for all of you more than you know.  As I always say we are stronger together than we are alone.  J

Emotionally Rough Week:

When you have been touched by cancer anytime someone else is struggling with the disease it impacts you too.  Earlier this week we found out that the sister of a good friend (who has cancer) has been going in and out of a coma and that her end is now near.  Her original diagnosis was close to Dan’s and yet that is where the similarity seems to end.  Her sister (our friend) tried to get her to make some of the changes that we made but she was stubborn and wouldn’t do it. I still remember one comment she made years ago that “she didn’t have time to do all that, she had a job.”   A few months ago (November 2011) she was much more open to making changes but of course by that point it was far too late.

If there is one thing that I could say to all of you it is that life is precious and that you have much more control that you realize.  We should all take time every day to appreciate what we have to be thankful for, particularly our family and friends.  At the end of life you aren’t going to care about anything other than your relationships.  Please don’t make something else more important than it is. 

Specifically what I am thinking of are my friends who say that “they can’t possibly eat the way we do.” Seriously guys it is just food and nothing, and I do mean nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels.  I know you don’t want to give up your favorite foods, neither did we. However if changing your diet, adding daily exercise, maintaining a health weight, and reducing your stress means an improved quality of life isn’t that more important than what is on your plate?  You can do what we did and still be around to spend time with your loved ones or you can give up some of those quality years.  The choice is completely up to you.  How you treat your body does impact the doubling rate of cancer. No one actually knows how much impact food has but Dan’s health has remained strong and our friend’s sister is going in and out of a coma.  Of course you can’t compare two different types of cancer directly and point to lifestyle as the entire reason for the difference.  However no one would disagree that when you put healthy food (whole plant-based foods) into your body you are making it stronger. While I believe that health is complicated I also know that how we treat our bodies makes a difference.  I often think of the old computer phrase “garbage in garbage out.”  When you feed your body healthy foods you are giving it the best chance it has of fighting disease. Please think about that the next time you are making yourself something to eat.  What you put in your mouth matters!

Being at Hopkins yesterday brought the usual roll coaster of emotions that I feel whenever I am there. While we had a great visit I saw plenty of people around us who were not as fortunate.  After the appointment Dan went back to work and I hung around the hospital to pick up his prescription.  The wait was over two hours and I grabbed a comfy chair and proceeded to read the marketing book that I bought this week. However I couldn’t help but notice many people in wheelchairs, on oxygen, without hair and it made me a little sad.  You learn to appreciate all the things that are going right for you when you see so many people struggling.  I am so passionate about our lifestyle changes that my gut reaction was to go over to them and start talking about nutrition but I also know that most people aren’t ready to do what we did; they are more like our friend’s sister.  *sigh*  In my perfect world one day all people will understand the connection between nutrition and health.

While I was waiting for the refills I saw one particularly disturbing scene.  A man with three children one in a wheelchair stopped at the outpatient pharmacy (for a prescription I assume) and this man left with an extremely bad attitude. He was using plenty of loud vulgarity (lots of F-bombs) in front of everyone including his children. I assume this was because he didn’t want to wait for the meds.  Now I can understand two hours feeling like a long time but increasing your stress and teaching your children bad behavior isn’t going to help the situation.  Clearly this guy doesn’t practice meditation but I think he needs to.  Stress isn’t good for anyone’s health and I felt very sorry for his child in the wheelchair who had to experience this negativity.  This was a good reminder that it does no good to sweat the small stuff. As I watched this scene unfold I wondered to myself if the man had any realization of the stress he was having on his sick child.  People can be dense.

I hope that something that I wrote causes you to stop and think about your loved ones, the quality of your life, and whether your habits are good or bad for your health.  Remember you really can make a difference in your health it just takes the willingness to change your habits one at a time.

Random Food:

I was very busy this week so I didn’t take time to photograph all of our food.  We ate of lot of old favorites like crudités and hummus (you know I love that right?).  

We had many different salads.  I made a dressing this week based on something that I saw Dr. Fuhrman do that turned out pretty well. In the Vitamix I included:  raw cashews, raw sesame seeds, peeled and seeded orange, fresh ginger and white balsamic vinegar.

There was also soup. This one was in a “cheezy base” that was a thinner version of the cashew queso and included white beans, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and thinly shaved Brussels sprouts that I added right before serving. Dan enjoyed this so you will probably see a recipe for it at some point.

I also made one of my favorites, artichokes and mushrooms in a southern Italian seasoned red sauce over quinoa.

There were also many green smoothies with kale and cocoa.

Like I said at the beginning we had a lot of old favorites nothing really out of the ordinary.

Happy Thoughts:

It has been a very good week, and I have many things to be thankful for today which include:

·         I just noticed that the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom even though it is early February. Sorry for the picture quality I took this with my cell this morning and couldn’t get it to focus on the flowers. We have had a very mild winter as you can see.  Also I am very happy that we went to DC forthe Cherry Blossom festival last spring since I have no idea how it will be this year with our crazy winter, warm, cold, warm and cold weather changes.

·         Speaking of crazy weather. Last week it was 71 on Wednesday and snowing on Saturday.  I snapped a picture to show you because I found it so odd.

·         Also on the bright side the predicted rain and snow mix we were supposed to get earlier this week didn’t amount to much which was very nice. While I love the beauty of a pristine white snow covered landscape I am ready for spring now.

·         I love the marketing the book that I started reading earlier this week. Even though I have taken marketing class in both undergrad and grad school this book (not written by a marketing professor) definitely caused me to ask myself some hard questions.  I love books that make you think.

·         We had a very good medical appointment on Friday which was a follow up to the unplanned January trip to Hopkins.  Who wouldn’t a beaming doctor who is saying “you are doing great, don’t change a thing.”  Love that!

Signing Out:

Saturday we are expecting more frozen precipitation this time in the evening.  We are having the strangest winter this year. It just makes no sense how we go from 71 degrees to snow in a matter of days.  Hopefully winter is almost behind us now. Personally am looking forward to the start of sailing season. 

Do you have any fun planned for this weekend? We are getting together for dinner with our new friend Lauren.  I am looking forward to introducing Aimee to Lauren since I think they will enjoy each other they and will be seeing each other this sailing season.   Is there anything better than spending time with people who you enjoy being around?  Don’t you just love spending time with friends?  J

Whatever you are doing I hope you have a wonderful weekend. I will talk with you again soon.  Ciao.

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