whole foods

Bloom Where You're Planted in 2019

Since approximately 38% of Americans will get cancer in their lifetime, odds are someone close to you is in the 38%, if you yourself aren’t a member of the growing club. There’s also the heart disease club (15 million strong), the high blood pressure club (1 in 3 Americans), and the diabetes club (100 million members, including those who don’t yet know they’re headed that way).

In 2018 three bad cancer diagnoses struck those in my immediate circles. My father-in-law had multiple strokes, including the fatal one. My mom and sister have been on blood pressure medication for a while now. Well, we’re all going to die of something, but the something we’re going to die of varies, depending on where we live in the world and our diet. For Americans, statistically speaking, I’ve already named your eventual killer. The interesting thing about those killers is that their incidence is directly correlated with diet. Generally speaking, the more western the diet, the more your killer will take the form of cancer or cardiovascular disease.

Escaping the West’s most feared diseases is a colorful experience [Photo by  Allie Smith  on  Unsplash   ]

Escaping the West’s most feared diseases is a colorful experience [Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash ]

So I was surprised and excited to hear that my sister and her husband had seen a documentary on Netflix called Forks Over Knives and were going to try “going vegan” for a month or more. After watching the documentary myself last night, I realize “going vegan” is not an exact description of the food revamp, but it’s pretty close. Basically, the doctors and biochemists and nutritionists profiled in the show have become convinced of the overwhelming benefits of a “plant-based, whole-food diet.” Meaning, basically, a “vegan” diet because it’s free of animal products, but more specifically, it’s also free of oils(!) and processed foods.

Unless you’re a lobbyist for Big Food, I doubt anyone would find problems with their food recommendations. Of course fruits and vegetables and whole grains are better for you—the question is, can you stand to eat that way for the rest of your life, even if it makes that life shorter and unhealthier? I love whole-fat dairy myself: whole milk, sour cream, butter, and eggs. But the documentary has some pretty interesting and—unfortunately—compelling data on the benefits of purging your diet of animal products. The most intriguing was the data on Norwegians during WWII. When the Nazis arrived in Norway and commandeered all the Norwegian livestock, leaving the citizens to make-do on a plant-based diet, cardiovascular-disease incidents plummeted. After the war and the return of a “normal” diet, the disease rates also quickly returned to their corresponding “normal.”

There was even an interesting segment on high-performance athletes who stick to the same plant-based diet. Since I have a competitive swimmer in the house, I’ve always thought I have to keep up the meat-based protein levels. However, since the boy also likes black beans and sweet potatoes, I’m thinking we could safely veg out a little more. The Forks Over Knives website has some good-looking recipes I’d like to try, including this one for Black Bean and Sweet Potato Quesadillas.

Will yours look this good? Only time will tell. [pic from their website]

Will yours look this good? Only time will tell. [pic from their website]

After watching the show, my husband turned to me and said he would be willing to try going plant-based/whole-food, but, moderate that I am, I think that, if you aren’t diagnosed with something awful yet, will a daily egg, cup of milk, 1/2 Tbsp of butter, and Tbsp of olive oil be that bad? Probably not. Would pastured meat 2-3 times per week finish you off? Maybe, but it’d take a long while.

Whatever your health state of affairs, veering plant-based/whole-food can only help matters. And if doing it for your health doesn’t excite you sufficiently, maybe being ahead of the trend curve will? I’m betting you’ve heard about the global diet recommended by the international EAT-Lancet Commission. The commission espoused a diet worldwide of eating a certain (low) amount of meat, so that the planet can support and sustain us all. How low an amount? Well, for Americans, “84% less red meat but six times more beans and lentils .” The global diet allows for dairy, but its overall moderate consumption of animal products makes it look like one I could get on board with.

If your cholesterol and blood pressure have been creeping up with the years, consider shifting toward plants in 2019 and blooming where you’re planted.

A Whole Lotta Whole Foods Fix a Whole Lotta Problems

I made the kids blueberry pancakes this morning. And as I mixed in the frozen berries from the grocery store, I made the vow I always make when I have to use frozen fruit from the store: "This year, I'm going to buy a lot more fruit at the Market and freeze it." You heard me. For 2018, fruit isn't just for out-of-hand eating or for pies. This year I'm going to plan ahead for the smoothies and pancakes and muffins and cobblers of the off-season. Otherwise, what is the point of all the food preservation techniques available to modern cooks?

Memento berri  [Photo by  Brigitte Tohm  on  Unsplash

Memento berri  [Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

The Market can't come soon enough. We finished off our last jar of raspberry jam from Growing Washington last week and have been tolerating inferior storebought. I'm down to one last can of Fishing Vessel St. Jude tuna. I hear rumors that the first Washington asparagus is being harvested. Is it May 17th yet?

And then there's the latest book I read, The Other Side of Impossible, which is really a collection of true stories about people with medical conditions who (mostly) managed to get better. Sit up and pay attention if you have, or know anyone who has, life-threatening food allergies, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, MS, ADHD, or asthma.

31869153.jpg

I'll save you some time: one of the common denominators of the "cures" experienced in the book is a diet of whole foods, not always vegetarian, and often an avoidance of gluten and dairy. I'll tell you right off the bat that it would require a life-threatening condition to get me off gluten and dairy because I love them. Love love love. As does my husband. When I looked up from the book and said, "It's possible that your eczema is related to gluten-intolerance -- think of your cousin who has Celiac's," he answered, "I'd rather itch."

I did appreciate that this book was the first I'd read that actually explained why gluten might be a bad-guy in your gut, since avoiding gluten just because it's fashionable to do so is not a compelling reason for me.

Gluten is the one kind of protein our body can't fully digest, Dr. Fasano [visiting professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School] says...We don't have the enzymes to be able to break gluten down all the way. Its tight bonds are what we love about it -- they give bread its elasticity.  But the protein's recalcitrance seems to be the reason it can cause problems. Its distinctive chunkiness seems to be read by our bodies as harmful bacteria: Our immune system's response to gluten, including the release of zonulin [a protein that increases permeability of the intestine wall], is the same as its response to a suspected pathogen -- any microorganism that makes us sick. Our body treats gluten like an adversary that needs to be attacked and flushed out.

In other words, too much gluten, and our bodies might mount an immune response, including inflammation, which, when experienced chronically, leads to all sorts of health issues. Dr. Fasano's recommendation? Diversify your diet. 

I can get behind that. All the healthy and helpful bacteria in our guts needs food, and their favorite meal is dietary fiber, such as is found in whole fruits and vegetables. The more our healthy and helpful gut flora flourish, the less space there is for the unhelpful and unhealthy bacteria to find purchase. More good guys automatically means fewer bad guys. It's all about squatters' rights. If you are going to have billions of bacteria squatting in your digestive system (and you are -- it's how we've evolved to operate), at least encourage the nice squatters who take decent care of the property and even make improvements.

What happens if the bad bacteria take over? "An unbalanced bacteria population, or dysbiosis, is associated with a variety of diseases including autism, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, allergies, asthma, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and rheumatoid arthritis." Bold claims, and correlation isn't the same as causation. But it is true that too much bad bacteria leads to ye olde immune response and inflammation. And too much inflammation is certainly associated with all those conditions.

It wasn't just good food that effected unexpected cures in the book. Some also went in for admittedly kooky-sounding treatments like energy "wands" and such, which sounded less kooky once the author explored acupressure points. All in all, seeking out miracle cures requires a whole lotta time and money, options not open to all. But we lucky ones with access to good, whole food can at least start there. And our Bellevue Farmers Market believes "everyone should have access to fresh, healthy, nutritious food," and that includes those of us who qualify for EBT/SNAP benefits and seniors eligible for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). Better living through better eating!