Monday, July 26, 2010

Going through Grandma's Recipe Box

I am almost done reading/ listening to the audio of In Defense of Food by Michael Pollen. It is a good book, though I struggled with his struggle with "nutrition-ism". He went back and forth about if we should stress so much about what we eat. But in the end, his conclusion echoed a similar conclusion I came to writing my research paper last semester.

One of his suggestions, to eat foods that our grandparents would recognize as food, peaked my curiosity.  So I pulled out my grandmother's recipe box and starting going through the recipes. And there, in the little boxes, was the evidence of what has caused the diabetes and CVD in my family. Upon first run through of the little boxes, it looks as though 80% of recipes I inherited are desserts.  I always did associated my grandmother's house with cookies and sweets.   I have fond memories of her making a point to have special days with just me and her in  her kitchen. She showed me how to make her famous Peanut Brittle and Aunt Julia's (her sister) Divinity.  I really do appreciate that she made time for me, and showed me the things she knew how to do well. But it is clear where my sweet tooth came from.

As I dug through the box I did come across a couple of non dessert recipes but there was hardly a recipe in there that had more than one fresh vegetable. So I think I am going to have to look back at least another generation to find some whole food recipes.  More than likely I will be comprising my own collection of more modern whole food recipes. Hopefully, a generation or two from now, when (or if) my grandchild goes through my recipes, she will be able recognize that her grandmother's vegetable stir fry is still a healthy meal.  It is my hope that the family history of chronic disease will truly be history by then.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Today’s Link

I'm in the process of listening to Michael Pollen's audio book version  In Defense of Food. I'm just in the beginning and but his premise so far, speaks of thoughts I have had over the last year about the state of the food we eat. He talks about the confusion health science has brought to our dinner table's over the last 5 decades.

Curious, I went to his website. So I thought I would share with you his 'Today's Links.'

Today’s Link

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mentioning the Gorilla

I like parables, and surprisingly I found this one in a scientific paper...gotta love the Europeans...

Mentioning the Gorilla

There is a parable that speaks to us about the state of nutrition science now. The parable is about a gorilla in a room full of people. Nobody mentions the gorilla. Why? Some people think that everybody else knows why the gorilla is there. Some believe that gorillas are found only in zoos and African jungles. Many are too shy or sophisticated to be the first to mention the gorilla. Some have nothing to say about gorillas, or else think that gorillas are not their business. Some suppose that the gorilla is a puzzle to which they do not know the answer. Some think it is a joke stuffed gorilla. Some would prefer to say nothing about the gorilla until it has been measured and weighed, when they will know what it means and what to do about it. Some are frightened that if they mention the gorilla it will kill them. Some are nervous not about the gorilla but its implications: if this is true, what else is true? Many hope that the gorilla is an illusion, or else that if they say nothing it will go away. So nobody mentions the gorilla – The New Nutrition Science Project (Cannon et al. 679)

reference: Cannon, Geoffrey et al. "The New Nutrition Science Project." Public Health Nutrition 8.6a (2005). 2005. Web. 28 Mar. 2010.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trying to Understand the Science of Diet and Gene Expression

In my previous post I mentioned that during my son's chemo it hit me that if a little pill or bag of fluids could make my son so painfully sick and strip his immune system, the food he put in his body had to be doing something more than just providing energy.  It seemed only logical that part of sustaining a healthy life requires good calories.

NOTE: Chronic disease refers to the following: obesity, cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, diabetes mellitus. There are other chronic diseases such as different types of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, even some mental disorders that are thought to have a diet/lifestyle connection.
According The World Health Organization (WHO) report of Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Disease, "79% of all deaths worldwide that are attributable to chronic disease are already occurring in developing countries." (WHO 4) WHO also projects that by 2020 "The number of people in the developing world with diabetes will increase more than 2.5-fold, from 84 million in 1995 to 228 in 2025." (WHO 5).

Most experts agree that chronic disease is largely preventable (WHO 5). "Modern dietary patterns and physical activity patterns are risk behaviors that travel across countries and are transferable from one population to another like an infectious disease, affecting disease patterns globally." (WHO 5)


   (Elliot and Ong 1439)
Nutrition research is difficult because "Humans live all sorts of different ways, have different genetic backgrounds and eat all sorts of different foods…Perhaps most importantly, food, lifestyle and health interact through such complex multifaceted systems that establishing proof for any one factor and any one disease is nearly impossible" (Campbell and Campbell 38). But what is understood is that "... diet is a key environmental factor affecting the incidence of many chronic diseases is overwhelming. The precise extent of this contribution is difficult to judge, but a reduction of 35% in the age standardised incidence of cancer in the United States has been proposed to be achievable via "practicable dietary means" (Elliot and Ong 1429). 

It seems it has become clear to nutrition and health researchers the impact diet has on gene expression. A person can carry the gene for a certain disease and never have that gene turned on through environmental factors helping to regulate the genes expression.

(Elliot and Ong 1439)
The schematic demonstrates the proposed ability for diet to have an effect on gene expression. It demonstrates that the food comprised of all the protein, carbohydrates, antioxidants, and minerals can perpetuate a gene to go 'bad' thus causing disease. Nutrition Researcher and Professor Dr. Campbell mentions in The China Study, "Animal-based foods lack antioxidant shields and tend to activate free radical production and cell damage, while plant-based foods, with their abundant antioxidants, tend to prevent such damage" (Campbell & Campbell 219).

Genetic factors can increase the risk level "but environmental factors also play a key role, most probably the dominate one." Gene expression, what expresses the physical and mental challenges we will face throughout life proves the old saying, 'you are what you eat'. 

This is just my simplistic understanding of what happens to our bodies as the food is processed and how it maybe correlated, along with other environmental factors (such as stress and exercise), with the diseases we may or may not face.




Cannon, Geoffrey et al. "The New Nutrition Science Project." Public Health Nutrition 8.6a (2005). 2005. Web. 28 Mar. 2010.

Campbell, T. Colin, and Thomas M. Campbell. The China Study: the Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. Dallas, Tex.: BenBella, 2005. Print

Elliott, Ruan, and Jin Ong. "Science, Medicine and the Future Nutrional Genomic." BMJ 324 (2002). 15 June 2002. Web. 2 Apr. 2010.

World Health Organization. Diet , Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Rep. The World Health Organization, 2003. Web. 5 Apr. 2010.






Figuring Out the Path to Health

As a child, my mom and dad where apart of a 1980's version of a co-op. We had natural peanut butter before it was more mainstreamed, my mom kept the salt shaker off the table to help my dad control his high blood pressure but still canned vegetables were found most nights on the dinner table. At least they were trying. But I can honestly say I was never given Chef Boy R Dee as a child, I don't even remember the school serving such type of food. We always had a group of lunch ladies making sure we got a mostly fresh made meal.   (Just as a side bar - in the early 80's my parents also heated our in-ground pool with a solar panel system my dad built  and placed on the roof of our suburban home.... much to the chagrin of the neighbors...I admire they were pretty progressive at that moment in my childhood)

At seventeen, 10 years later,  I was introduced to the connection between monitoring my fat intake, exercising in order to watch my waste-line and to keep my muscles from becoming entangled in a web of lard (a.k.a fat) by my gym teacher (in case she thought no one was listening, I was).  In my early twenties I watched my grandmother die slowly and painfully from diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  My uncle had a debilitating stroke in his 40's and my own father has battled high blood pressure since his 30's.  About 7 years ago I was becoming friends with Carole, who started to teach me about nutrition and the connection to health. While Carole and I were building our friendship, her husband was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. It was then I was introduced to Dr. Gonzales program that connected food, supplements and nontraditional cancer treatment. Unfortunately, Carole's husband quickly lost his battle with the brain tumor. But the experience was not lost on me. I started slowly moving my family to a  more organic diet as best I could (despite the resistance I faced).

When we moved into our new home I really wanted a garden, so we built one.  I wanted to have some control over the produce we get, so that my kids would have an opportunity to eat really fresh food and learn where food comes from.  I do not have a green thumb, but with a little help from a some friends whom I have shared my garden with I have learned to grow peas, broccoli, cucumbers, etc.

A couple of years ago my family faced our own cancer crisis when my oldest son was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 7. While spending time in the hospitals (we spent close to a year in the hospital) it was difficult not to notice that the nutrition rooms were filled with Chef Boy R Dee types of processed foods. Rarely did a fruit not come from a can, and the milk was never organic. It seemed to me, few doctors openly agreed that nutrition was as important part of my son's healing as with the multitude of therapies he had to go through. 

As with most moms who are put in a position where their child's life hangs in the balance I read everything I could find about cancer and surviving. I found stories of other cancer survivors, mostly adults, and many mentioned nutrition as part of the healing and wellness process. I pushed the organic diet even harder with the rest of the family that was not quite on board with me earlier. It doesn't take a doctor to figure out that if a little pill can make my son so painfully sick and strip his immune system, the food he put in his body had to be doing something more than just providing energy.  As I learned more about cancer cells, tumor growth and the machine we call our bodies it seemed only logical that sustaining a healthy life requires good calories. But my yearning for knowledge on chronic disease and cellular function did not end with my son's treatment.

When I returned to work after my son's treatment I found that my heart was no longer in my work as the Operation Officer for the small company where I worked. The work felt empty, and it showed in my lack for productivity. It has caused me to return to school to get my degree as a Dietitian.

This past March  my almost 60 year old dad suffered a debilitating stroke. It wasn't really a surprise. He was battling diabetes and high blood pressure and the meds were starting not to work. Still, after arriving in the emergency room, seeing my dad unable to speak clearly or move half of his body, the fear that this could happen again to someone I love, or even me, has motivated me even more. Honestly, I am sick of diseases that seem to be hitting those I love younger and younger.

I have since made the decision to make sure I get at least 80-95% of my diet from plants.  I have completely cut out meat and try to keep all dairy to 5% of my diet. To some it might sound crazy, some even believe it is unhealthy, but my research shows that is wrong.  I've decided  to document my path to this change - to talk about what has brought me to this radical idea that maybe I can avoid the CVD that plagues my family history; maybe even take a few people with me to less dependence on medicine, more days of health.