Minimize it, don’t criticize it

Sung to the tune of Legalize It by Peter Tosh

A Sattvic Planet is GREEN

Last week in honor of Earth Day I asked the question, What color is a Sattvic Planet? Continuing with the momentum generated from that post I want to write about another environmental topic this week. It is so tempting for me to write about food every week because it is a topic that I am passionate about, and I suspect many of you are drawn to this site because you share that interest. However, since one of the primary themes of this site is that human health can’t exist without environmental health, and environmental health can’t exist without human health, I need to focus on environmental topics on occasion.

Greenlandia

Portland, Oregon has become famous for being perhaps the most environmentally conscious city in the nation. This is evident in the large percent of commuters who walk, bike, bus, or ride the light rails and streetcars. Further evidence can be seen in the vibrant food scene there, which emphasizes locally grown and sustainably produced products. LEED built green buildings covered with solar panels and living roofs are not difficult to find in this progressive city. However, despite all these successes, Portland does encounter obstacles while biking down the path to sustainability. City leaders have a goal of reducing waste by 25% from 2009 levels by the year 2030. One of the ways they plan to do this is by offering curbside compost pickup, which is a way of diverting food and yard waste from the landfill. Recently Portland hit an obstacle to reaching its waste goal when it was forced to ban compostable food containers generated by businesses from the compost program.

Fred and Carrie from the show Portlandia.

Wastelandia

The primary problem they faced came from commercial customers, not residential customers. Too much of the compostable materials were the bio-based forks, cups and containers that have gained popularity among environmentally friendly businesses recently. These containers and utensils, often made of corn based plastic, were taking too long to breakdown for the business model to be successful. Interviews with local environmental leaders describe the popularity of these bio-based products as a feel good measure that allows people to continue their lives as usual, but without the guilt of being wasteful.

Real change requires more thought than effort

I’m sure that there are benefits of using these bio-based products, and I appreciate the intention of the businesses and customers who have made an effort to use them for the purpose of reducing our impact on the environment, but the reality is that even in a green city like Portland many people are still not making the effort to truly adjust their lifestyle to live more harmoniously with the planet. I see this all the time at the Bellingham food co-op when people order a meal from the deli. Despite the large seating area and the option to use real plates and utensils, people will order their food to go, and many of them will then thoughtlessly sit in the seating area eating out of bio-based corn plastic containers. Minimizing waste can be as simple as eating at the restaurant instead of carrying it home in a plastic container. Often times I bring a reusable container to the deli, or bulk section, and sometimes I even bring a container to the restaurant for my leftovers.

Agent Smith

The Matrix

Agent Smith says the following to Morpheus during a scene from the movie The Matrix:

“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

Dark, I know, but I’ve always been fascinated by that quote because it is an interesting way of viewing our interactions with our surroundings. However, I should try and end this post on a more positive message. There are so many things we can do differently with our daily routines to help create a healthy environment, and that environment in return will help create a healthier you. I could make a list a mile long of individual actions to take in your daily routine, but for now I simply want to encourage you to be aware of the consequences of your purchases, decisions and actions.

“Minimize it, yeah, yeah, and I will advertise it”

 

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12 months since I was sick

Alex_Grey-BodyMind_Vibrator

Why should you care?

The purpose of this post is not to boast about my accomplishments, although I am quite happy to reach my goal, the purpose of this post is to open your mind to the possibility that sickness is not mandatory. Yes, becoming sick is a part of life that we have all accepted, and it happens even to the best of us, but it can often be avoided with some simple changes to your daily routine. Recently while listening to my instructor’s presentation he made the extraordinary claim that he has not been sick in over 3 years, and I believe him. If I can reach the one year milestone then why shouldn’t my teacher be able to reach the three year milestone?

Optimal health

I frequently write about “optimal health”, but I rarely stop to define this term. It is easy to imagine how the average person could benefit from the knowledge I share with you here at Sattvic Planet. The topics I write about are relevant to people suffering from obesity, lethargy, depression, pain and other common ailments, but what of the people who consider themselves to be healthy? If you are already jogging, drinking your smoothies, and eating your salads, is there anything for you here? If you think that getting sick a few times every year is normal then the answer is most certainly yes. Imagine all the time wasted lying in bed and feeling miserable; time that could have been spent having fun, relaxing, or being productive. The definition of health varies from person to person. Is health simply the lack of disease? Are marathoners healthy? Are people who take daily vitamins and supplements healthy? Are people who strictly drink soy milk healthy? It may surprise you that the answer is no in some cases. With so much conflicting information available today I don’t think that many people really know anymore what good health actually looks like.

Antibacterial soap?

How you ask did I survive 12 months in this hostile world without becoming sick? Did I use copious amounts of antibacterial soap and home cleaning products? No, in fact I avoid those as much as possible. Creating a sterile environment by using harsh synthetic products is highly overrated in my opinion and likely creates even more problems by exposing you and your family to toxic chemicals. Listen, when I know a sick person is nearby I definitely try to avoid contact as much as possible, but the most important factor in remaining free of sickness is to have a strong immunity, not a strong antibacterial. For more information on the benefits of bacteria, see Fermentation Nation (sauerkraut recipe)

The secret revealed

Last week I asked, Do you want to know the secret to abundant energy, weight loss, and looking attractive? I then revealed that there is no secret; there is no magic pill or superfood that will instantly produce these results, or prevent illness. You develop a strong immunity by eating a proper diet and following a daily routine. In addition to diet and lifestyle, the most important factor is to avoid stress, and be aware when the stress reach a critical level. Of course we can’t always avoid stress in our lives, but if we monitor ourselves closely we begin to notice when our body sends us messages. Listen to those messages! Perhaps you develop a headache from staring at the computer all week, maybe you feel lethargic from a week of poor sleep, or you are frustrated from mounting financial and relationship problems. When you begin to notice those messages pay attention and make some changes because your body is saying that if you don’t then sickness is coming. People often tell me they don’t know why they got sick, but in my experience every sickness I’ve had in recent years has originated from me becoming overly stressed, and subsequently having a weakness in my immune defense.

In Ayurveda…

One of the ancient texts lists 15 signs of good health, and among them are the following:

  • Arising easily with renewed energy in the early morning
  • No noticeable signs of the digestive process
  • Clear complexion, strong aura

I find this fascinating because these are symptoms that I doubt people consider when they evaluate their state of health. You may be wondering what exactly a strong aura is. In Ayurveda the term ojas is used to represent the strength of the immune system and the vitality of the person. Have you ever seen a person that looks really energetic, vibrant and healthy? This is ojas; this is what a strong aura looks like. A good example of this can sometimes be seen on people after day two or three of deep wilderness backpacking. Ojas comes from deep within and can only be imitated with substitutes such as cosmetics, or coffee. I understand that we all want to look good and feel energized, and this can be difficult in our hectic world, but I am simply trying to demonstrate the difference between true optimal health and our common perception of health. Ojas can only come as a result of consistently eating a proper diet and following a daily routine. If all goes well then I will be telling you one year from today that It has been 24 months since I was sick, wish me luck!

Do you want to know the secret?

“With a proper diet and lifestyle there is no need for medicine,

but without a proper diet and lifestyle then medicine is useless”

food as medicine

Everybody has the answer

What exactly is the secret to feeling great, having abundant energy, losing weight, and looking attractive? We all want to know that secret, don’t we? Well I’m here to tell you that I have that secret. By now you have probably noticed that I’m not the only one claiming to possess this knowledge. There are hundreds of companies fighting for your attention and trying to sell you their product. Pharmaceutical companies manufacture a pill for nearly any ailment you have. It’s so convenient, all you have to do is swallow a little pill once per day and let the benefits come rolling in. Supplement companies promise you that the most recently discovered plant from the depths of the rainforest is the best superfood to come along in decades. Modern chemical laboratories using sophisticated technology have discovered ways to isolate what is thought to be the primary ingredient responsible for health benefits. Using these methods you can now take super concentrated doses of isolated biochemicals extracted from plants. Weight loss diets guarantee that you will shed pounds in weeks if only you follow their special plan, why not give it a try? Energy drinks have become enormously popular with their claims to boost your energy by simply drinking a can of their special blend. Who wouldn’t want to have the energy of a bull, a monster, or a rock star? If an energy drink isn’t really your style, don’t worry because there is a coffeeshop on nearly every corner. What an amazing world we live in to be surrounded by so many options available to instantly improve your life. Isn’t life grand?

My secret

I’m here to tell you people that I have the secret, are you ready for this? The secret is that there is no secret. The secret doesn’t come in a pill, jar, can, or cup. Do you really think it could be that easy? In what can only be described as pure marketing genius, corporation after corporation, for year after year have repeatedly been able to convince us that they have the secret to all our problems, and all you have to do is swallow. It’s effortless, fast and convenient. The best part is that you don’t have to change anything else in your life, just keep living exactly as you do now. In the process, they have taken billions of dollars from us, and our health has arguably gotten worse over the years.

Food as Medicine

When I said there is no secret I was not being totally clear. There is actually a very simple way to feel great, have abundant energy, lose weight, and look attractive; it is called Food as Medicine. For full disclosure I should say that is the title of a book my instructor Todd Caldecott wrote, but I’m not here to sell his book, though if you want to read it I would highly recommend it. Food as Medicine is more than the title of a book; it is a concept, and the concept is that optimal health is available to all of us if we simply put more effort into how we shop, prepare and eat our food. One of the first articles I published was called What is the number one step you can take to improve your health? If you read that post then you would know that my answer to that question was simply to cook your meals.

In Ayurveda…

If only we knew what the corporations have known all along, there is not much money to be made in freshly prepared nutritious meals. How much profit is there in steamed kale? Not much, but if you harvest the acai berries from the Amazon rainforest, or extract curcumin from the turmeric root that is where the dollars add up. Let me be very clear, Ayurveda is a form of preventive medicine very much dependent on plant based medicine, so I’m not saying that these companies selling superfoods are 100% wrong. There are however, very clear distinctions; let’s look at curcumin for example. In Ayurveda you might add turmeric powder to your meal during preparation, but you would never extract isolated chemicals from the plant because the benefit of the turmeric comes when it is eaten as a whole food. Also, in Ayurveda these plant based medicines would not be taken so randomly. Instead, specific herbs would be prescribed to specific people in specific situations for limited durations. Would you rather pay a few dollars for a substantial supply of turmeric powder from the bulk section at the grocery store, or $30 for a couple weeks supply of curcumin from the supplement store? One of my instructors, Dr Suhas, once told our class an old adage “with a proper diet and lifestyle there is no need for medicine, but without a proper diet and lifestyle then medicine is useless”. If you read those wise words carefully there is a powerful message that I think requires little explanation. Now that you know the secret do yourself a favor, save some money and start buying fresh and nutritious foods that you prepare and eat daily, then watch the benefits take effect.

Confessions of an Ayurvedic Counselor: Part 3, Pharmaceuticals

A one month supply.

A one month supply.

This is personal

Please forgive me; I take pharmaceuticals. To be more specific I take Acetaminophen, Lorazepam, and Allegra infrequently and at low doses. There are two questions I imagine you are thinking right now:

  1. Why would an Ayurvedic Counselor be taking pharmaceuticals?
  2. Why would anybody share this kind of personal information for the whole world wide web to read?

This is the third part in my “Confessions Series”, and I have already made some shocking (sarcasm) revelations in my posts:

With my “Confessions Series” I am trying to show you that despite my best intentions I am not perfect, and I am also trying to show you that some concepts that may at first appear unhealthy are actually quite beneficial when used properly and in moderation.

I live in the same world as you

I too have minor health concerns. I live in the same environment that you do, I am exposed to the same stresses and toxins as you are, so I am not 100% immune to health problems. This is not a Sattvic Planet yet, and until it is there will always be challenges to achieve optimal health. Sure, I could move to Central America and spend my time surfing and eating fresh fruit at the beach all day long. In the evenings I could write to you about how easy it is to practice Sattvic Living, but I suspect that those of you living in the big cities would have a difficult time relating to my experience. I believe that my message is much stronger when you realize that I am not much different from you, and I am vulnerable to the same health problems as you are.

Acetaminophen

I take 325 mg of acetaminophen about twice a month to treat minor headaches caused by lifestyle imbalances such as dehydration, lack of sleep, alcohol, excessive exercise, and too much time in front of the computer. The good news is that I seem to take these pills less often than in the past, and I attribute this to mindfully avoiding situations that trigger these headaches. I have also become quite good at recognizing the onset of these headaches, and finding natural methods of pacifying them.

Lorazepam

I take 125 mg of lorazepam about twice per week to avoid insomnia. This is a ridiculously small dose, but since it is the pharmaceutical I take most often it is one of my biggest challenges. There are many natural herbs and techniques available to deal with insomnia, in fact I once read a book by Deepak Chopra called Restful Sleep that explains good sleeping practices from an Ayurvedic perspective. However, the reality is that good sleep is elusive for many Americans even when we read books on the subject and put forth our best efforts. I am very dysfunctional without a good night of sleep, and ultimately I decided that the minimal side effects from taking these tiny pills is less than the harm caused by insomnia.

Allegra (Fexofenadine HCl)

I take 180 mg of Allegra approximately once every 6 weeks to reduce a very unusual and unexplainable localized swelling that I experience. Western doctors are unable to help me in this case, and eastern doctors haven’t done much better. Normally I ignore the swelling as much as possible, but when my upper lip swells to the size of a sausage I’m sure you can understand why I might want to take a pill on occasion. This problem represents my greatest personal health challenge, but it is a mystery that I believe in time will be solved. I think the problem originates in my mind, and I have now moved beyond looking at physical causes such as food allergies, and have begun focusing on stress reduction remedies for my state of mind.

Minimize it

In sharing my dose and frequency of pharmaceutical consumption I hope to emphasize two major ideas:

  1. I take small doses, and I take them only when absolutely necessary.
  2. I am continuously trying alternatives that will allow me to be completely free of pharmaceuticals in the near future.

For example, the doctor prescribed 1-2 lorazepam during times of insomnia. Instead I take a knife and delicately cut the pill once into halves and again into quarters. The purists out there may say that I should be using plant based preventive medicine 100% of the time. I’m striving for that, really I am. It’s funny how an Ayurvedic Counselor seems to be held to a higher standard than a western doctor. Would it be odd if your doctor smoked cigarettes? I’m sure there are many who do.

Strive to thrive

Since my target audience is people who have not yet mastered their diet and lifestyle I don’t want to scare people away by acting like I’m perfect, and by giving the impression that you need to be perfect to improve your health. The reality is that it is very difficult to practice Sattvic Living in this world we’ve created, and often times all that we can do is to strive for the best that we can do. Ayurveda provides us with the guidelines necessary to look good, feel good, avoid illness, and lose weight. If you want to achieve optimal health and you follow these guidelines exactly then there is no doubt in my mind that you will succeed. However these guidelines are merely goals to strive for, and some of them may not be possible given your current situation. Don’t worry about it, take the long term approach and slowly include more healthy practices into your daily routine when you are ready and when your schedule allows it.

Is Agave really a healthy sweetener?

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Avoid agave?

Recently a friend commented on the inclusion of agave in the recipe from my post Best oatmeal recipe ever, for dinner. She advised me to reconsider the promotion of this popular sweetener due to scientific evidence that conflicts with marketing claims that agave is a healthy sweetener. After a quick search I realized she appears to be correct. Agave is actually comprised of more fructose than the highly targeted high fructose corn syrup. Advocates often tout agave as ranking low on the glycemic index, and therefore eating it allows you to avoid the characteristic blood sugar spike and crash. The problem is that the low glycemic ranking is due to the fact that your body doesn’t know how to properly metabolize highly concentrated fructose. In other words, you get the benefits of sweet taste, and you can avoid the energy spike and crash, but only because you are eating a food that your body doesn’t know how to deal with. Since your body does not metabolize concentrated fructose efficiently researchers think it can lead to a list of serious health problems. See this post by Gary Taubes in the New York Times for details.

Who to trust?

With all the conflicting health and diet information available to us today, it is easy to understand how some bad choices could be made. Everyday we are either: given advice from the federal government, reading a new study from the university, hearing of a new product from our friends, or seeing an advertisement from a corporation. Many of these sources often conflict, so the question becomes, who to believe??? Since each of these sources is sometimes right and sometimes wrong it can be confusing for sure. Here is a brief summary of the agave phenomenon:

  1. High Fructose Corn Syrup and cane sugar came under attack after years of being added to the food supply.
  2. Marketers recognizing a rising public reluctance to buy HFCS and cane sugar advertised agave as a healthy alternative sweetener.
  3. Natural food stores began carrying agave and customers enthusiastically bought the product often advertised as “raw” and “organic”.
  4. Researchers recognized the link between concentrated fructose and multiple serious diseases.
  5. Upon learning of the high fructose content of agave, negative customer reactions begin.

One of the reasons I study Ayurveda is because it has been practiced for thousands of years. Now compare the ancient knowledge of Ayurveda to a new supplement, weight loss drug, or scientific report that has existed for only a few years. If there are negative health effects then hopefully modern science will eventually come to the rescue by revealing the truth, but do you really want to use a product for 10 years before science comes to that conclusion? By using Ayurveda as my guide I hope to avoid the hype of breaking news stories and stick to time tested techniques that are safe and effective.

Alternatives?

Despite this small misstep I think the remainder of my article was rock solid. Let’s not forget that the primary purpose of the article was to recommend avoiding sweets entirely during the morning, and to only eat them in the evening if desired. In my defense, I did mention that sweeteners were optional in the oatmeal recipe, and I also listed maple syrup as an alternative ingredient. I haven’t heard anything terrible yet about maple syrup, so this is what I enjoy on occasion. What about honey you say. Honey is often used in America as a sugar alternative in many recipes and food products, but in Ayurveda the ancient texts clearly state that it is best to avoid heating honey, for health reasons. Instead Ayurveda frequently uses honey for medicinal purposes, but always in a raw form. Agave’s success was born out of a desire to find a healthy sweetener alternative. I believe this way of thinking is where the problem originates. Instead of searching for alternatives we should be trying to minimize our sugar intake from ALL sweeteners. I’m not trying to sound like the sugar Grinch, but we clearly eat too much sweeteners in our modern diet, for a historical perspective see my earlier post Our Paleolithic ancestors rarely ate sugar, should we do the same?

Honesty counts

I posted this update because it represents the ever changing body of knowledge that is food and health science. Even after years of studying and experimenting with food and lifestyle I am still learning. On that note, if you ever see me make a statement that you think is incorrect then I encourage you to please inform me. Until we meet again…

Fermentation Nation (sauerkraut recipe)

By now many of you have heard of the resurgence of fermented foods in America. Fermented foods never really left our lives; they are present in many common items we buy at the grocery store such as beer, bread, and yogurt. However, after declining for several decades the practice of homemade fermented foods has received widespread attention lately thanks to separate appearances on the NPR program Science Friday by popular food based author Michael Pollan, and fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz. The history of fermented foods is really very interesting if you think about it. One of the reasons our ancestors fermented foods was to preserve them from spoilage. The acidic environment created by the bacteria growing in the food acts as a preservative that protects food from decay by microorganisms such as mold. Of course with the invention of the modern refrigerator, we have less need than before to protect our foods from decay. This is evident in the gradual fading away of this type of knowledge from the American consciousness. However, because of people like Michael Pollan and Sandor Katz, this knowledge has not yet gone extinct, and renewed interest in the practice of homemade ferments is exactly why Katz is called the fermentation revivalist. Just because we have refrigeration doesn’t mean we should abandon the practice of fermentation; there are other benefits available besides preservation. In addition to protecting your food from decay the bacteria partially break down the food in a process similar to cooking. Think of fermenting the same way you think of cooking, it is a technique used to make food easier to digest. This biological process increases nutrient bioavailability, and reduces anti nutrient factors. Eating fermented foods is also thought to replenish the community of beneficial microorganisms present in your intestines.

If you are new to do-it-yourself fermented foods then an easy and delicious way to begin is with a simple sauerkraut recipe. My teacher Todd Caldecott introduced me to fermented food preparation through his book Food as Medicine and I will be sharing his sauerkraut recipe below. I’ve really been enjoying this sauerkraut recently because not only does it taste great, but as I mentioned in my post Bitter is better, eat wilder foods the brassicaceae family of which cabbage belongs should definitely be represented in your diet. The important thing to remember about sauerkraut recipes, and really any recipe, is that it doesn’t need to be followed exactly. Following a recipe is a great idea the first time you make something but it can definitely be modified to your preference on your subsequent attempts. Remember, nearly any fruit or vegetable can go into your sauerkraut. Other possibilities include grated carrots, beets, parsnips, or daikon. I have also enjoyed using chopped cauliflower, garlic, thin sliced cucumbers, and even pieces of apple. Spices can also be added or removed as desired. Here it is:

1 small cabbage head

1 small onion or scallion

1 Tbsp salt

½  tsp dill seed

½  tsp coriander seed

½  tsp black pepper powder

½  tsp caraway seed

Create surface area by chopping or grating the cabbage and onion. In a large bowl mix the cabbage, onions and spices and then squeeze, smash, crush, and/or bruise the cabbage for around 5 minutes. Stuff the ingredients in layers into a reused glass jar, or a canning jar. With each layer pack and crush the cabbage as much as possible. By now there should be enough water released from the cabbage, but if you need more then top off the jar so that all cabbage is completely submerged. Mold will not grow on submerged vegetables, so a weight can be used to prevent the cabbage from floating on the surface. You could use a sterilized rock from your yard, or whatever you want, but I haven’t been using any weights. Put the lid on, but be aware that much gas will be produced during the fermentation. Most people recommend unscrewing the lid daily to release the gas, but I find that you can also leave the lid on loosely. I like to wait 3 weeks before eating, but earlier is also possible depending on your preference. After 3 weeks I pour off the excess water and refrigerate to slow down the fermentation process.

We’ve all heard the saying “you are what you eat”, which basically refers to the fact that the food we eat goes through a transformative process and eventually becomes our bodily tissues, but in Ayurveda people say “you are what you digest”. Just because you eat something doesn’t mean that you will efficiently digest it, and if you don’t digest it then it can’t be transformed into your tissues, or used for energy.  Adding fermented foods to your diet is an easy way to improve your digestion and ensure that you are extracting as many nutrients as possible from your meal. One last comment, people often mistakenly associate the food poisoning that results from improperly canned food as a possibility during the fermenting process, but Katz reassures us that there are no documented cases of food poisoning deaths from fermenting. In fact, fermented foods are actually safer than fresh foods because they have been naturally preserved, so don’t be afraid, the bacteria are our friends, go ahead and give it a try.

Time to Abolish Daylight Savings Time?

TheFertileDesert-playa-starsIt’s that time of year again, and if you have anything in common with me, it is a time that you are not very excited about. Tomorrow, we as a nation will change our clocks one hour forward, unless you are one of the people having the good fortune of living in Arizona or Hawaii. For me that means waking at my normal time of around 6 and then realizing that it is actually 7, one less hour in my day until my normal 10 pm bedtime. On Monday I will wake at 6 which only two days ago would have been 5, and instead of watching the sky brighten during that first hour I will be in darkness almost until I arrive at the office. It’s likely that I will feel groggy Monday due to possible sleep problems, or due to the unfamiliar dark mornings. I’m not writing this to share my complaints with the world, I’m writing this as I always do, to make the connection between the way we live and the quality of health that we experience.

Why do we do it? There is no sense in me explaining the history behind daylight savings time since there are already many well-written articles available. For example, National Geographic recently published an article that explains the controversy behind this semi-annual ritual, and the Los Angeles Times has done the same. In summary, we do it because it is thought to reduce electricity consumption and give us more outdoor time in the evenings. I am an absolute advocate of saving energy and enjoying free time, but I don’t think it is a good idea to be adding more stress to an already overworked and under rested nation, and as the articles show there are many health professionals who would agree.

Daylight savings time is really quite symbolic of our need as a culture to control nature. How bold we are to think that we can manipulate the rise and fall of the sun. This reminds me of a book I am currently reading called The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka practiced what he called natural farming in Japan during the later half of the 1900s. He grew rice and oranges with no inputs such as pesticides, fertilizers, or diesel fuel. He strongly advocated an observational approach to agriculture with as little interference as possible, and practiced this to the extent that plowing the soil was strictly forbidden on his farm. The results of implementing his philosophy were that the yields of his harvests rivaled and even exceeded any farmer in perhaps all of Japan at the time. At one section of the book Fukuoka states that if a single bud is snipped off an orange tree that may bring about disorder that cannot be undone. He states that pruning fruit trees is often done to make it easier to harvest fruit, and to combat the onset of insect and plant disease. However, according to Fukuoka, based on years of observation and trial and error, the reason we have insect and plant disease is because we pruned in the first place. We are caught in a cycle where we prune to make the fruit more accessible, but that pruning causes pests and disease, so we prune and spray chemicals to reduce the pests and disease. In other words, it all begins with the need to try and control how the fruit tree naturally grows; yet the tree already knows how to grow without our assistance. The tree will send branches towards the light, not toward our fruit baskets. We would be better off getting taller ladders, or maybe leaving the upper fruit for the birds to eat.

In Ayurveda it is important to observe the constantly changing cycles and adjust our lifestyles accordingly. We would never wear shorts in Minnesota during winter, or wear a down jacket in New Mexico during summer, yet we don’t think twice about eating cold raw salads with ingredients imported from the southern hemisphere during winter, or eating processed food from cans, boxes and bags during the abundance of summer harvest. Though you may not have ever thought about it before, the time of day, the season of the year, and the stage of your life all influence your health in some way. For further details on this concept, and to understand why I chose the header image for this website, see my first post Meaning of the Sattvic Planet image. Masanobu Fukuoka observed that snipping a single bud from his orange tree could cause disorder that cannot be undone, and I see parallels of this to the changing of our clocks. It’s time to observe, and loosen our controlling grip on nature, or as the Beatles said, “Let it be”.

How to make Spicy Oil and take another step beyond the low fat era

fat...

fat…

...low fat

…low fat

In an earlier post I explained How to make Ghee and move beyond the low fat era, and in addition to providing a recipe I gave a brief description of why we need to end what I call the low fat era. As you all know, during the past few decades we were told repeatedly that a low fat diet was essential for a healthy low fat body, yet according to the CDC 36% of Americans are obese. Either the low fat diet hasn’t worked, or there are other reasons for obesity in America, I suspect both. The message we received seems to be that if you eat fat then you become fat. This has not been the case in my experience, in fact it seems that the more fat I add to my diet the leaner I become. A majority of my meals are prepared by sautéing food in some type of oil such as ghee, sunflower, sesame, or occasionally lard. I also regularly add olive or coconut oil to my meals even when sautéing isn’t necessary, for example, in my post Best oatmeal recipe ever, for dinner I recommend adding ghee or coconut oil to the oatmeal. When I purchase dairy products, which is not very often, I always choose the whole fat option. When I eat meat, which is not every day, I never trim the fat. Listen people, I understand that my personal experience doesn’t count as a valid scientific study. Could other factors such as genetics, exercise, lifestyle, and body constitution account for my lean physique? Absolutely. I’m not trying to declare a universal law here, I’m simply trying to demonstrate that eating fat does not always equate to being fat. Now, let’s move on to the recipe…

This recipe produces one pint of spicy oil. I store my oil in a canning jar and leave it on my counter top for easy access. Any time I need a convenient way of adding some flavor to my sauté, I add 1-2 spoons of spicy oil to my cast iron skillet. This is a great way to make eggs.

2 cups refined sunflower oil

2 tablespoons mustard seed

1 tablespoons cumin seed

2 tablespoons turmeric powder

2 teaspoons hing (also known as asafoetida)

Heat the oil on medium for approximately 20 minutes. Add a few mustard seeds starting around 10 minutes and wait for popping. If the seeds pop in 16 seconds you need to heat longer, if they pop in about 8 seconds that is a good temperature, but anything less than 4 seconds and your oil is probably too hot, so add seeds often and monitor closely. Your spices will burn if the oil is too hot, and it is best to avoid overheating oils, see below for more on choice of oils. Once you have reached optimum temperature turn off the heat and quickly pour in the mustard seeds and cover. I say to cover because there will be a reaction, but covering prevents the moisture that is released from escaping. An alternative to covering would be to use a pot tall enough to prevent an overflow from the reaction. After the popping is complete quickly add the cumin seeds and cover if necessary. After a few minutes add the turmeric and hing. Wait for the oil to cool, stir, and then pour the oil and spice mixture into a sturdy jar.

It is important to be aware of the smoking point of the oil you use. I like Spectrum oils because they tell you the temperature range appropriate for each oil. Normally I choose unrefined oils for improved taste and nutrition, but for the higher temperatures required of spicy oil you must choose a refined oil to avoid the smoke point. I have been using refined sunflower oil with good results, though I have learned that sunflower oxidizes rapidly, along with many other popular oils including canola, hemp and flax to name a few, so in the future I am open to trying different oils. Hing will definitely be the most difficult ingredient to find, but if you are having difficulties try an Indian store, Asian market, or herb shop. For the gluten free people, be warned that hing is often mixed with wheat flour to counter its sticky qualities. I found a rare variety that is mixed with fenugreek powder instead of wheat at an herb shop in Seattle. You could skip the hing if it is too much of a hassle.

The concept of using food as medicine is a defining component of Ayurveda, but diet alone is simply not enough. In Ayurveda there is great emphasis placed on digestion because your food cannot be your medicine if your body is not efficiently processing it. One way that digestion can be improved is through the use of spices such as those found in this spicy oil recipe. Go ahead and try this recipe, it is an essential ingredient in my kitchen because it enhances digestion, improves taste, is convenient, and nourishing. Take another step beyond the low fat era, enjoy!

 

Advertisements, you are what you watch

You are what you watch

You are what you watch

With Seattle still feeling the high after smoking Denver at the Super Bowl two weeks ago I thought now might be a good time to share my perspective on the big game, from a health perspective of course. While you may have been expecting another recipe from this preventive medicine blog, I want to change the subject material on occasion to reflect the major current events happening around us. More specifically I want to draw the connections between our lifestyles and our health, especially with subjects where that connection may not be so obvious.

Like most young men growing up in the US I watched the NFL. I could tell you all the rules of the game just as well as the next guy, and had no problem identifying the star players. However, I rarely watch football anymore. Perhaps it is my distaste for all the commercials, the recent revelations of brain injuries to the players, or maybe I’m just too busy floating in sensory deprivation pods. Regardless, as a Washington resident I felt compelled to watch my first game of the season in the playoff game against San Francisco. I couldn’t ignore this team anymore as the buzz around me grew louder, quite literally as they were measured during home games to be the loudest fans in the league. After a thrilling victory in that game, there was no doubt that I would be watching Seattle attempt to win their first championship in team history.

The Super Bowl was excellent, if you were a Seattle fan, as the Seahawks completely dominated the Broncos. It really was fun to watch, but in between all the Seahawks touchdowns I was exposed to a barrage of commercials, and reminded why I rarely watch TV anymore. Now I know that many people enjoy the commercials almost as much as the game. At a cost of $4 million per 30 second advertisement, corporations are certainly going to put a lot of effort into making those 30 seconds as funny, exciting, heartwarming, and memorable as possible. While the Super Bowl ads may be considered entertaining to some, I couldn’t stop thinking about the tens of thousands of commercials people watch throughout their lives.

In Ayurveda the term ahara refers to anything that we consume and includes some obvious materials such as food, water and air. It may come as a surprise to learn that emotions and information that we perceive through our sense organs are also considered as ahara. This means that we are consuming sights through our eyes and sounds through our ears, in other words not only are we consuming food, but we are also consuming TV commercials. You probably think that I smoked a super bowl before writing this, but before you judge think about what happens when you watch a comedy versus a drama. You feel different right? Watching two types of movies can make you feel different in the same way that eating deep fried onion rings makes you feel different than eating a kale smoothie. If you were trying to practice a healthy lifestyle you wouldn’t consume junk food, so why would you ever consume junk information? Everyone has heard the saying “you are what you eat”, but in this case I would ask you to consider the possibility that “you are what you watch”. Just as the food that we eat requires digestion from our gastrointestinal tract, the information we perceive requires digestion from our mind, and just as eating food improperly causes indigestion, I would argue that watching excessive TV commercials causes mental indigestion. The problem as I see it is that corporations care only about making money. They don’t care about your health, and if you don’t believe me then look at all the Super Bowl commercials for junk food and beer, and don’t forget about the car and technology advertisements telling you that you don’t have enough already. If you want style, and if you want happiness then you need to buy more, more, more. Profits are made, your health suffers, and the planet suffers from resource extraction and waste generation.

In summary, what I’m recommending is to reduce or eliminate your exposure to commercials and mindless junk information in general, from radio to magazines to TV to internet. Replace the time you spend consuming this information with silence, see my post Today I floated in a sensory deprivation pod for details. If silence is not what you’re looking for then try other beneficial activities like cooking, exercise or gathering knowledge that will make you a better person. Listen to an educational podcast, read a good book, or watch a revealing documentary. What you should really be doing is reading Sattvic Planet more often, though I am slightly biased.

Best oatmeal recipe ever, for dinner

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After trying this recipe you will never again consider buying those little packets of oatmeal, but before I share my recipe with you let me explain the dinner reference in the title. For the past 3 months I have avoided sweet breakfasts and have been preparing savory breakfasts instead. The basic idea behind this change in my lifestyle is that we typically eat too much sugar in our daily diets, see my post Our Paleolithic ancestors rarely ate sugar, should we do the same? for more details. In addition to the obvious long term problems with sugar such as diabetes and obesity, in the short term sugar is a fast burning fuel that can cause your energy level to rise and fall like a roller coaster. Your body will process a savory breakfast consisting of vegetables, fats, and proteins much more slowly and the result will be an energy level that should be steady for many hours. This steady energy level will help you perform when you need it most, during those first few hours of work, and it should allow you to last until lunchtime without snacking. Yes I know, there is a lot of debate about whether snacking is good for you, but for now I will make a very general statement and say it should be avoided. Snacking will be covered more thoroughly in a future post. I give credit for this change in my lifestyle to my newest mentor, Todd Caldecott. For a very thorough explanation of the savory breakfast concept visit Todd’s blog at the website for his book Food as Medicine. I took the savory breakfast concept one step further and developed my own theory, it would be best for me to eat sweet foods later in the day because maintaining a steady energy level is less important for me at the end of the day. Simply put, if I get sleepy then I will just go to bed. The heavy slow burning foods can be eaten in the morning to power me through the day, and the quickly processed foods can be eaten in the evening so that I go to bed without feeling full. In other words, if I’m going to eat eggs, kale and turnips for breakfast then why not reverse the entire day and have some oatmeal for dinner? The reality is that I only occasionally eat oatmeal for dinner when I am short on time or groceries, but for the past 3 months I have regularly eaten a savory breakfast, and the results have been good. For the savory breakfast concept we are defining even grains and starches as sweet, so I haven’t been eating foods like oats and potatoes for breakfast. As you’re about to see the recipe isn’t as sweet as I may have led you to expect.

TRY THIS TONIGHT!!!

½-1 C oatmeal

1-2 C water

4-6 apricots cut into quarters or sixths

1-2 large spoons of ghee (see my post How to make ghee and move beyond the low fat era)

1 large spoon of agave (optional)

**Revision, see why I removed agave from this recipe here   

1 tsp coriander seed powder

Variation:

½-1 C oatmeal

1-2 C water

small handful of raisins

1-2 large spoons of coconut oil

1 large spoon of maple syrup (optional)

1 tsp cardamom powder

Simmer the oats and apricots in hot water for 5-10 minutes until the water is absorbed. Add ghee, agave and coriander to a bowl. Mix everything together in the bowl and enjoy your breakfast for dinner.

Raw honey is an important ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine, and I could have substituted honey for the agave or maple syrup. As you might expect from any 5000 year old system of medicine there are going to be a few rules that seem eccentric to us. In Ayurveda there are a few food combination and preparation rules regarding honey such as always buy raw honey and never heat the honey. Also, honey should not be eaten with ghee in equal parts. We can save this conversation for a later date, but for now the idea is that different combinations and preparations for food can change their qualities and the effects they have on your body.

Try this recipe, or maybe even try a week of savory breakfast, I’d like to hear what kind of results you have in the comment section below.