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You Can Now Feel Slightly Less Guilty About Putting It In You

gatoradeWhenever I see the Gatorade marketing slogan “Is it in you?” I have an overwhelming urge to scream, “NO!”  Energy and sports drinks are some of the most unhealthy things you can drink, but these companies trick health enthusiasts with claims of “all natural energy boosts” and “electrolytes.”  While there are indeed B vitamins and electrolytes in some of these drinks, they’re usually hidden beneath a long list of toxic additives.  But thanks to a petition posted on Change.org by fifteen-year-old Sarah Kavanagh, PepsiCola is removing one of its harmful ingredients, brominated vegetable oil.

Never heard of it?  It’s a flame retardant used as an emulsifier in sports and soft drinks to keep the water and flavoring oils from separating.  It’s banned in Japan and the EU due to its pesky penchant for causing such health problems as reproductive and organ cancers, autoimmune diseases, thyroid problems, fertility issues and birth defects, behavioral problems in children, and schizophrenia, to name a few.  But though PepsiCola is removing BVO from Gatorade, there are dozens of other soft drinks out there that are swimming with this stuff.  Be sure to read labels – or just avoid them altogether.  They’re nothing but empty calories and sugar anyway.

GatoradeAnd don’t think this makes Gatorade the perfect sports drink.  It’s still jam packed with sugars – two kinds, actually, sucrose and dextrose (another name for glucose) – as well as neurologically harmful artificial colors (made from petroleum, yumm!) and wood.

Wait, what?  Wood?

Yep.  The second to last ingredient in Gatorade (right before BVO) is Ester of Rosin.  Which is essentially processed pine sap, and it’s used as another emulsifier.  There’s not a lot of research out on it but I’ve read a few accounts of people who are allergic to evergreens having a reaction to this ingredient.  So… My advice?  Skip the Gatorade and grab some coconut water instead.  You’ll get all the electrolytes and none of the additives.  Or wood.

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If You Didn’t Believe Me Before, Take a Second Look a Fracking

I’ve mentioned fracking before.  I introduced you to the Dangers of Fracking, which include contaminated water, air pollution, severe health risks (including brain cancer), well explosions, animal and livestock sickness, and the spread of more toxins than I care to count.  (Side note: 596 have been identified so far, but like McDonald’s “secret sauce,” the ingredients of the chemical soup used in fracking is a trade secret and so is not required to be made public.)

Bayou_Corne_Sinkhole.png.492x0_q85_crop-smart

TreeHugger.com “Mystery Sinkhole Threatens Bayou Corne, Louisiana”

However, my last fracking post was pretty superficial; fracking hasn’t taken over Maryland yet, and so I could ignore that little dot on my environmental radar.  I read a few articles, watched some interviews, got angry, and after posting a few links, moved on.  But then, two days ago, I saw a picture of the Bayou Corne sinkhole in Louisiana, which was caused by a collapsed production hole drilled by the company Texas Brine.  And I got angry again.  And this time, I stayed angry.

Let me tell you a few of the reasons why I got so angry.  I’ll start with a brief history of fracking.  Before he was VP, Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton, one of the largest oil companies in the nation; from 1995 to 2000, Cheney led a company that is not only a leader of one of the most corrupt and anti-green industries on the planet, but one that was accused multiple times of corruption.  In 2005, Cheney led an Energy Task Force that put together the Energy Policy Act, which Bush signed into law.  This Act, also known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” makes the oil industry exempt from the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Safe Drinking Water Acts.  I’m going to repeat that: Cheney engineered a law which gave the oil industry – of which he was formerly a leading member – exemption from the laws that protect us and our land from pollution by companies that only care about the spendable kind of green.

The government claims that no energy is perfect, that despite its risks, fracking will free us from the even more dangerous foreign oil and all the Arab entanglements it brings.  But that brings little comfort to the people whose water has been contaminated, who’ve gotten sick from exposure to gas and chemicals, whose land has been made barren by the waste water fracking produces.  If you need more convincing, watch Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland.  Watch him interview people as they set their tap water on fire.  See the dead wildlife and the pets whose fur is falling out.  Listen to the stories of sickness, cancer, and family properties destroyed.  See water so polluted by chemicals like glycol ethers that even a reverse osmosis filter is eaten away by it.  Watch a man set a creek on fire after a company dumped their leftovers in it.  Watch as oil companies evaporate the water they don’t dump so it pollutes our air as well as our water.  Get angry.  Then go to Josh Fox’s website and see what you can do about it.

still-gasland

Gasland

Also, check out the Independent Water Testing Website to see where current wells are and whether or not you are close enough to be at risk.

And while you’re at it, watch Promised Land, Matt Damon’s movie about the fracking takeover.  I can’t vouch for how accurate the portrayal is, as I don’t own any land over a natural gas shale.  But it’s a good movie, and it’s always heartening to see celebs on the green side.

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Cuckoo for Coconut Oil

imagesI used to hate coconut growing up, which led me to miss out on so many delicious treats (namely Samoas – oh, how many Girl Scout cookie seasons did I waste!).  Then one day, my parents came home from a wedding with a giant piece of coconut creme cake, and I was instantly hooked.  It was like crack.  Nutritious crack.  Only I didn’t know it at the time.

A few years ago, my former boss introduced me to the book The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith.  I highly recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in nutrition; this book changed my life, setting me down the path of amateur investigative health journalism.  It also reintroduced me to coconut; or rather, introduced me to coconut’s healthy side.

In her book, Keith addresses many of the nutritional lies Big Ag has spread to nourish America’s reliance on cheap, processed foods.  One of which is the Lipid Hypothesis, or the claim that saturated fats lead to high blood pressure which leads to heart disease.  Fats are actually an extremely important part of your diet, but only the good fats.  And, despite the claims of Big Ag’s health experts, saturated fats are on that list, along with monounsaturated fats – both of which are found in abundance in coconut oil.  It’s the polyunsaturated fats you have to look out for; those pesky vegetable oils that are touted as “heart healthy” actually cause a world of problems – including heart disease.  Keith breaks down the science of fats in her book (starting on page 179 for those interested) but here’s the quick version: fatty acids are chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached.  Saturated fats, like butter, coconut oil, and palm oil, have a hydrogen in every available bond, so they form a straight line and are stable at all temperatures; monounsaturated fats, like olive, avocado, or peanut oil, are missing two hydrogens, so they have a slight bend but are still stable; and polyunsaturated fats, which come from vegetable oils coconut-oil-DSC_1718like corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, and canola, are missing four or more hydrogens and are extremely unstable, meaning they go rancid when heated.  These PUFAs contribute to a long, long list of health issues, including many types of cancer, organ damage, heart disease, immune system deterioration, neurological disorders, and digestive problems.  So… why do we cook with them?

Keith cites several studies done by Weston Price and other researchers on the diets and overall health of indigenous peoples.  All of these peoples – including Eskimos, Aborigines, African tribes, and other peoples whose diets had not been contaminated by modern processed foods – had little to no instances of cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, or other “diseases of civilization.”  Their diets comprised of animal products, some vegetables, very few if any grains, and lots of saturated fats.  Say hello to the original Paleo Diet.

One ounce of coconut oil contains about 24g of saturated fats, 1.5g of monounsaturated fats, and .5g of polyunsaturated fats; among those goods fats is a large amount of lauric acid, which has powerful antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.  In addition to not causing a laundry list of health problems, these good fats can do a lot of, well, good.  The antiviral and antibacterial properties of lauric acid help fight infections and diseases, and its high concentration of good fats helps fight many neurological and degenerative diseases.  The Coconut Research Center lists the many benefits of coconut oil, but here are a few:
-used topically to cure skin problems such as acne, psoriasis, dry skin, dandruff, and wounds
-great for the hair as well (I use it as a deep conditioning treatment about once a month or so)
-its antibacterial properties make it a great deodorant (you can easily make your own with it, or use coconut oil-based products like Truly’s, which is what I use)
-helps reduce the risk and symptoms of diabetes and heart disease
-has recently been shown to stop and even reverse Alzheimers by feeding the brain with its good fats
-fights viruses that cause influenza, STDs, measles, hepatitis C, SARS, AIDS, the flu and other illnesses
-gives you a great, healthy energy boost when added to smoothies, tea, etc. (I always add a tablespoon or so to my hot chocolate or coffee to make it extra rich and creamy)
-controls hunger and boosts metabolism, so it’s a great tool to use in any diet plan, plus it improves digestion, helping you absorb more nutrients
-when used for oil pulling, it detoxes your body of harmful bacteria and improves oral health (I started oil pulling a few days ago, and I will let you know how it goes soon!)

CIMG2799So next time you have stir fry or curry for dinner, use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil.  (Also, use some of Pappardelle’s Spicy Thai pasta – it’s fabulous!)  It won’t give you cancer, and it will make your food taste fabulous.  After all, why coat your delicious, nutritious veggies with tasteless, toxic vegetable oil?

Oh, and check out Delicious Obsessions’ 122 uses for coconut oil.  There are indeed some downright odd uses for nature’s miracle oil, including using it to clean showers and heal new tattoos.

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Recipe Book: Cream of Kale & Mushroom Soup

cream-of-spinach-soup
Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

 

I loved Lewis Carroll’s books growing up, and while the latest movie adaptation of his stories had little going for it aside from Johnny Depp and his wonky hat, it reminded me of how fabulously nonsensical his poems are.  I’m starting to think his “Beautiful Soup” poem is the source of my obsession with soup…

This week’s experiment combines my favorite and least favorite vegetables in a creamy, super-nutritious soup.  After binging on snacks and not-so-healthy foods during Sunday’s football party, both my fiance and I weren’t feeling so hot.  In order to soothe our unhappy tummies, I made a big pot of cream of mushroom and kale soup.  While I absolutely abhor whole mushrooms (can you say slimy?), pureed mushrooms add a delicious, smoky flavor to soups – and of course kale makes anything fabulous.

2011-02-21-02Ingredients:
-4 to 5 cups of kale, de-stemmed and torn into bite sized shreds (Red Russian kale is my fav!)
-2 large portobello mushrooms (Feel free to use more than 2 – and other varieties – depending on your level of mushroom love.)
-5 large scallions
-5 cloves of garlic
-olive oil for sauteing
-1 cup heavy cream
-2 1/2 cups whole milk (Of course, Nice Farms milk is always my first choice!)
-salt & pepper to taste
-spices (I love experimenting with new combinations of spices in my soups, so feel free to adventure through your spice rack.  For this soup, I used lemon pepper, turmeric, and fresh ground oregano.)

Directions:
images-Dice the garlic, scallions, and mushrooms.  (Don’t worry about dicing them super small as they’re going to be pureed.  No need to get your hands unnecessarily garlic-ized.)  Saute them in the olive oil for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms start to brown.  You don’t want them to get mushy, though.  (Helpful hint: the shrooms will absorb a LOT of oil, so don’t be surprised when you have to use unholy amounts.)
-Once the shrooms are cooked, set the mix aside to let cool a bit.  While you’re waiting, pour the cream and milk into a large pot and start heating over medium heat.  Once the shrooms mix has cooled enough to work with, puree in a food processor until smooth.  Add to pot and stir until thoroughly mixed.
-Once the creamy mix in the pot has warmed almost to boiling, add the kale shreds and reduce to low heat.  Season to taste.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow kale to cook.
-Serve with delicious bread and enjoy!

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Prohibition, Round Three: Guns

It didn’t succeed with alcohol.  It didn’t succeed with marijuana.  But the government’s going to try it again anyway, this time with guns.  What’s that saying?  “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  So where the does the shame lie the third time around?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Second Amendment to the Constitution

As a tax paying citizen, I am guaranteed by the second amendment the right to “keep and bear Arms.”  While I personally don’t own a gun, I do believe that is one of the most important rights protected by the Bill of Rights.  I damn sure don’t trust the government to keep its people safe; any government who supports GMOs, fluoridates its drinking water, and forces a corrupt health care plan on its citizens obviously places public safety pretty low on its priority list.  It therefore falls to me to protect my own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.  And when those things are threatened, there’s nothing I’d rather have at my side than a gun.

Yesterday, Obama and Biden presented their new gun control plan, prompted by the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and the Dark Knight showing.  There are a slew of conspiracy theories surrounding the Sandy Hook shooting, most of them claiming that it didn’t actually happen, that it was a big fat hoax concocted by the government to further its gun control agenda.  (Hmm, this sounds familiar… 9/11 anyone?)  If you value truth at all, take half an hour of your time and watch the Sandy Hook Truth video.  And if that horrifies and angers you, check out the website.  But whether you believe the theories or not, you cannot deny that Obama got just what he wanted out of this tragedy.

The new gun control plan is comprised of four basic steps:

1.  Background checks to prevent criminals and other untrustworthy people from owning guns.
2.  Ban assault rifles and limit ammo magazines to 10 rounds.  Also strengthen gun control by giving police and government official more power to enforce gun control laws.
3.  Make schools safer by increasing the number of police on school grounds and bolstering security.
4.  Improve mental health services.

CNN’s article goes into more detail on the specifics of each step, which really are just common sense objectives that should have been in place all along.  While I do believe that this is just the prologue to Gun Prohibition, I really can’t object to any parts of this plan as they’re described (though I’ll bet all those “executive powers” mentioned turn into “dictator powers” sooner or later).  Guns should not be in the hands of convicted murderers, and even the most upstanding citizen has absolutely no need for an assault rifle.  The only thing that saddens me is that this is only the beginning.  So long, Bill of Rights, it was nice knowing you.
gun-free-cartoon-3-1

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Health Food Advice From the Queen of the Underworld

persephoneWhen the Greek goddess Persephone was abducted by Hades, lord of the Underworld, she doomed herself to half a life of darkness by eating six pomegranate seeds from his platter.  Even after her rescue, those seeds left their mark on her spirit, and for six months of the year she was bound to return to Hades as his queen.  Persephone’s mother, the nature goddess Demeter, spent those lonely months in mourning, allowing no crops or flowers to grow while her daughter was kept out of the sunlight.  We know this time as winter, the time of rest for the land, the barren months that give mother earth time to gather her strength for spring.

Persephone probably doesn’t eat pomegranates anymore.  But you should.  Because actually, pomegranates can help keep you out of the underworld – or whatever place/state of being you believe follows death.  They have some of the highest antioxidant levels of all fruits, including the super potent flavonoids and polyphenols.  These phytochemicals have potent anticarcinogen properties,  and they stimulate estrogen production, increasing bone mass and preventing osteoporosis.  They are also amazingly beneficial to heart health.  Poms contain phytochemicals called punicalagins, and studies have shown that these compounds can not only significantly lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels, but they actually help break down the plaque that causes dangerous heart and artery blockages.

images3When we visited my (actively anti-holistic health) family for Christmas, we spent the first half hour or so listening to my relatives compare the side effects of their blood pressure meds – this one caused a bad cough, this one caused insomnia, this one caused muscle pains but hey, as long as The Doc says it’s ok…  The best part about using pomegranates for heart health: zero side effects.

Actually, poms have the exact opposite effect as pharmaceuticals.  One of the benefits of the wide array of phytochemicals is an increase in serotonin, which improves mood.  Imagine that, something that tastes good, keeps you healthy, AND makes you happy – without crappy side effects!  Beat that, Big Pharma!

Pomegranates can be somewhat of a pain in the butt to eat, what with the tough skin and the billions of seeds you have to dig out (think of it as buried pirate treasure – it helps), but pom juice is a delish and healthy alternative.  However, Dr. Mercola cautions against drinking too much fruit juice.  It’s high in fructose, which is naturally occurring in fruits but which triggers the release of large amounts of insulin when not tempered by the nutrients and fibers found in the fruit flesh.  Dr. Mercola recommends choosing brands that contain only 100% juice, lots of pulp, and only dark, anti-oxidant rich fruits like pomegranates, blueberries, and cranberries.  After all, what’s the sense in protecting your heart while giving yourself diabetes?
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Chocolate and Culture

Maryland is a very small state.  And since I don’t get to travel too often, after a while I start feeling stifled.  Smothered.  Stagnant.  Just downright stuck.  My usual cure is to turn on the Discovery channel and dial up a program about someplace fabulous – Egypt, India, Africa, the rainforest.  Exotic places I’d love to visit but can’t because farm hands don’t exactly make top dollar.  But recently, my fiance, in a rare moment of thriftiness, hansen-stranger-in-the-forest-covercancelled our subscription to every educational channel in our cable plan – Discovery, Animal Planet, NatGeo, History, you name it.  (He kept only the “essentials,” which are of course sports and movie channels.)  Since winter means a a big slow down at the farm, I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with my couch (you can only walk a dog for so long before even he gives up on you) with no NatGeo to keep me from drowning in the same Maryland air I’ve been breathing for 25 years.  I’ve therefore turned to my bookshelf, which looks far less full that it did before I was staring down two to three months of winter boredom.

Travel memoirs, I’ve found, are a great alternative to NatGeo.  I recently finished reading one called Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo by Eric Hansen.  It’s both amusing and enlightening; his adventures in the rainforest are bold and brave, and his encounters with the native Penan people shed a bright light on how far from the earth modern civilization has roamed.  One quote from his memoir stuck with me, buzzing around my mind until I acknowledged its presence.  It’s a perfect encapsulation of American culture in all its consumerist glory:

I wandered over to the small corrugated metal mission warehouse next to the landing strip.  I was curious to see what things were essential to village life in the area.  I expected medicines and tools, perhaps educational material.  I stood with my hands and face pressed against the wire-mesh window, peering into the dim interior.  When my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could see the vital mission supplies that Ian had referred to.  I listed them in my journal.  There were Eveready flashlight batteries, Roma and Ayam brand tea biscuits, Baru Baru laundry soap, Tancho lavender-scented hair pomade, souvenir-quality headhunting knives from the coast, Jackson Super Milk Toffee Sweets, Super Bubblegum, linoleum, white sugar, tins of instant chicken noodle soup, infant formulas from Switzerland, soft drinks, Bliss Peppermints (“Sweetens the breath”), and wind-up plastic penguins from Hong Kong.  It was all neatly arranged in colorful cardboard boxes.  Looking into that storeroom, I caught a glimpse of my own culture.  The taste of chocolate lingered in my mouth, and I could feel my roots.

Sugar, unnecessary personal care products, poor-quality products.  Hello, natives, welcome to America.  Please, let us share our culture with you.

Cliche as the name has become, America is mostly definitely the “Fast Food Nation.”  We want what we want, frivolous as it is, and we want it now.  We want two cars, we want to change our hair color every few weeks, we want new clothes for every season, we want this and that knick knack to fill up our shelves, we want to go out to eat several times a week, our children want every Barbie or video game at the toy store, we want the latest home workout equipment so we can pretend to be healthy without ever leaving our homes.  And then we want to throw it all away when the new latest craze come along.  Remember Furbies?  Tickle-me-Elmo?  Do your children still play with them?  Do you still use those Shake Weights that were supposed to magically transform your body into Carmen Diaz?

Wake up and smell the landfills, folks.  America is the nation of trash, of useless, single-serve commodities.  The NY Times places America at the top of the list of trash-producers.  Maybe it’s time to curb the consumerism a bit.  Recycling is lovely, too.