Tag Archives: clean eating

The Unhealthy Truth (with giveaway)

Along with some other writers, I was invited to lunch one day in July with a woman named Robyn O’Brien, founder of AllergyKids, for an event sponsored by Stonyfield Yogurt  — which, to its credit, seemed mostly interested in getting Robyn’s word out and not so much in promoting its product.

I had no idea who Robyn was, but I can tell you that she rocked my world.

If you’ve read my last two food-related posts, you know that I was ripe for Robyn’s message. I had already decided to eat for my ayurvedic dosha and eat cleaner food (meaning reduce my intake of processed/refined foods). But what I learned that day gave my efforts some urgency — not just for my own health but for that of my children, my parents, and my loved ones (you included!).

The invitees were given Robyn’s book, The Unhealthy Truth, and many of us are participating in this blog hop, probably with differing views. So after you’re finished here, please hop around for others’ perspectives (links at bottom). Thanks to Stonyfield, there is a giveaway basket being offered on each participating blog.


Mom and oThe Unhealthy Truthverachiever Robyn O’Brien unleashed her inner Erin Brockovich several years ago when a routine breakfast served to her four children (toasted waffles with syrup, tubes of blueberry yogurt and some scrambled egg) ended with her youngest, in a high chair, enduring full-blown anaphylactic shock.

Once the crisis was over (the daughter is fine but has some severe food allergies), Robyn, trained as an equity analyst,  put her research skills to work. She found that from 1997-2002, the number of children with peanut allergies doubled. She explains that food allergies happen when a person’s immune system sees a protein as something foreign and it launches an inflammatory response to drive out the foreign matter.

Her next question was, is there something foreign in our food that wasn’t there when we were kids? She learned that yes, beginning in the 199os new proteins were engineered into our food supply.

Robyn found that in 1994, scientists created a synthetic growth hormone that helped cows make more milk. No problem there — societies have always tried to get more output for the input, especially when it comes to keeping their people fed. Unfortunately the growth hormone also mad the cows sick, which required the use of antibiotics.

Robyn O'BrienWhen faced with imports of engineered US milk products, governments around the world erred on the side of caution. Because the new science had not yet been proven SAFE, these governments would not allow US dairy products into their food supplies. The US, on the other hand, said that since it hadn’t yet been proven DANGEROUS, well, belly on up to the frankendairy, everyone.

“How many sippy cups have I filled with this milk?” thought Robyn. “How many bowls of cereal have I poured it on for my husband, not knowing that Canada, the UK, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and all 27 countries in Europe didn’t allow it?”

Other tidbits Robyn shared:

  • Scientists engineered soy in 1996, used primarily to fatten livestock. This engineering allowed soy to withstand higher doses of weed-killer. Once again, other governments decided that safety had not been proven so our soy products were banned. And once again the US agencies responsible for keeping our food supply safe took the approach, “We don’t need no stinkin’ proof it’s safe!” Not yet having proof of danger was sufficient.
  • Scientists then engineered into the DNA of corn its own insecticide. Consequently, that corn is now regulated by the EPA. Big Ag found a loophole, pioneered by the tobacco industry, that allowed such foods to be deemed safe even though no human trials were ever done. We are all guinea pigs in this experiment.
  • One of the concerns about these growth hormones, these  synthetic proteins, is that they also elevate hormone levels that are linked to breast, prostate and colon cancer. Sure enough, the US has the highest rates of cancer in the world.
  • Robyn wondered how major US food companies like Kraft and WalMart were able to export their products if other countries don’t allow such engineered ingredients. She found that these companies offer  formulations that DON’T include frankenfoods. The shelves of our supermarkets, though, have hidden and scary toxins in them that wreak havoc on our digestion and health.

Find 18 minutes in the coming week to watch and listen to Robyn on your own. Here is her TEDxAustin speech earlier this year.

While I was alarmed about what I’ve been feeding myself and my children, I also had reservations about making changes.

But healthy eating is SO expensive!

Robyn put is this way: You can manage your health at the grocery store or you can manage your disease at the hospital.

Or, in the words of that old oil filter commercial, Pay me now or pay me later.

Later is almost always more expensive. I vote for paying more at the grocery store (or farmer’s market). The costs of working it out at the hospital go beyond the financial.

It’s just too much to take on.

Robyn said repeatedly, Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Some of you have mentioned the discipline and willpower I must have in abundance regarding my new eating habits. Really, I have neither. What I do have is mindfulness. I’m paying more attention to what nourishes me.

And Robyn’s quote above rings true. At one time, the Perfectionist Lori would never have undertaken such a dramatic set of changes because, well, taken together they are simply too dramatic.

But as any athlete will tell you (and it’s only been 3 years that I consider myself any sort of athlete, of the yoga variety) a steady force will bring change. Water droplets will carve a canyon. Poses that were impossible to me just a year ago are now in my practice. All because I finally realized that steady effort and aim is so much more effective than all-or-nothing.

So what can I do?

If you’re called to action, as I am, consider these ideas.

  • Become aware of what you feed yourself and your family. Begin reading labels and ask, “Do I want that in our systems?” Beware of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), GMO (genetically modified organisms) and “artificial,” as in flavors and colors (oh, not, not the fluorescent mac & cheese!).
  • Begin shopping at markets that offer organic food. The more demand we create for healthy food, especially at the expense of frankenfood, the more available and cheaper healthy food will become.
  • Every time you go to the grocery store, ask the grocer and the butcher to show you the organic section. If you’re snarky like me, pooh-pooh how few offerings they have and ask if they intend to get more soon.
  • Watch for bills that would require labeling of foods. (I’ll report here if one comes to life.) At that time, mobilize to get your representative and senators to vote for such a measure. Ask your representatives to stop subsidizing frankenfood. If anything is to be subsidized, it should be healthy food.
  • For a demonstration on just how much trusted food companies rely on you  to NOT read labels, see this video from the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center. You’ll never buy blueberry products the same way again.
  • Do one thing.

To see what other bloggers thought of our lunch with Robyn, check out the entries on LinkyTools, below.

Comments here are to discuss this post. If you’d like to enter a giveaway (Stonyfield is offering a package that includes The Unhealthy Truth, The Stonyfield Yogurt Cookbook, 5 coupons for Stonyfield Oikos Greek yogurt and 5 coupons for Stonyfield YoBaby yogurt) click over to my giveaway blog.

Ayurveda 2: Pitta, Kapha, ama and a bit of time travel

In my last post on the subject, I explained what Ayurveda means, what doshas are, and gave you a link to determine what your primary dosha might be. I mentioned some dietary considerations for my type, Vata.

I want to even things out and give you some dietary consideration for the other two doshas because many of the comments were from people deemed Pitta and Kapha.

Pittas, typically the mesomorphs or athletically-built people, are fiery. In balance, they are achievers and accomplishers. Out of balance, they are hyper-critical and hyper-competitive, putting others down and winning for the sake of winning (not just finding a personal best). They are prone to heartburn, acne, and other flare-ups. To tone down the fire, Pittas should minimize spicy or fried foods, caffeine, alcohol and competitive sports. They would do well to embrace instead cooler foods such as milk (ice cream!) grains, vegetables and fully-ripe fruits, and participate in inward-turning activities like Tai Chi or yoga.

Kaphas are sturdy, blessed with naturally good health and calmness of mind. The elements are Water and Earth. In balance Kaphas are solid and reliable. When experiencing imbalance, they can be seen as immovable objects: couch potatoes and lazy bones.  Though well-suited for rugged life prior to the 20th century, excess Kapha (stagnant fluids and solids) is connected with the rise of obesity and heart disease in modern times. Unlike Vatas (Ether/Air), Kaphas are already moist, dense and grounded, so their diets should counter that with less density and more dryness. Fewer fats, sweets, dairy and beef; choosing instead and drier foods like salads, crisp veggies, dried fruit, cereals, grains, beans and poultry. Movement/exercise  is important to keep fluids flowing.

Source: Eat-Taste-Heal


So why does ayurveda encourage us to balance our inherent nature with complementary elements?

Because when we go all lopsided (for example, airy Vatas choosing popcorn and a carbonated beverage, fiery Pittas opting for a spicy burrito and tequila, earthy Kaphas munching on a burger and fried potatoes) we create ama in our bodies.

From Eat-Taste-Heal:

If water and blood are the sweet nectars of the body, ama is the rotten sludge. Ama is undigested food residue that lodges itself within the organs and channels of the body. With the consistency of a sticky paste, ama is whitish-yellow in color and has a putrid smell.

When our ability to digest food becomes impaired, the body can no longer absorb essential nutrients. Undigested and partially digested food lingers in the body, leading to the formation of ama. Ayurveda views ama as one of the most threatening opponents to good health, linking the majority of health disorders in some way to the presence of this substance. Simply stated, ama is undigested food that begins to eat you!

So besides beginning to eat for our type, what can we do to get rid of accumulated ama? Deep breathing is one way, sweating, too, and cleansing fasts are yet another. The granddaddy of detox is called panchakarma, and it can include any combination of five treatments (a few, such as “therapeutic vomiting,” are too harsh for me to consider).

The concept of ama makes me wonder if Grandma Marshmallow‘s seemingly unexplainable disease and death might be understandable if reframed. Western medicine couldn’t make any sense of it — in spite of her healthy lifestyle she got lung cancer that spread to her liver. But perhaps ayurvedic medicine does — she was a Kapha-Pitta whose healthy* western dietary choices imbalanced and eventually overwhelmed her system. She died of an accumulation of ama, which manifested as cancer once it reached a tipping point.


In July Dr Desai said my digestion had calmed down and we could go to the next step: detoxifying my lungs. She believes that I have had low-level inflammation in both my digestive and my respiratory systems for most of my life, and once we  drastically reduce the ama, I will be on my way to greater health and higher energy levels.

She gave me ayurvedic powders and potions (St Elsewhere is helping me decipher the ingredients on the Hindi labels) to clear my lungs, and — boy! Three weeks of these concoctions did as much clearing as 9 months on prednisone and a second potent drug did in 2009. Only without the liver and kidney toxicity.


Watching Grandma Lisa’s decline and observing her children caring for her during her decline caused me to time travel (How do I get frequent flyer miles for doing so?).

Someday *I* might receive a death-knell diagnosis. Someday Tessa and Reed might be charged with taking care of an increasingly withering me. Some day *I* might be faced with dying of an avoidable system failure.

My queendom for a chance to go back and make different decisions! What I wouldn’t do to go back to, say, 2011 and begin detoxifying from my past choices and nourishing my body and soul from then on! If only I could go back back back…

And here I am.


* I am convinced that many “healthy” food choices are really not so much. More on that in a bloghop post I’m now researching that will appear here next week.

Ayurveda: how I Kicked a Craving and Began Eating Clean

Earlier this year I interviewed the owner of a salt spa in Boulder for an article published at MileHighMamas.com. When I found out that Dr Nita Desai was both an MD and a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, I was intrigued. Over the years I’ve been treated for a lung condition with western medicine and with eastern medicine separately, but I’d never found one person who could see me through both lenses and treat me from such dual knowledge.

The term Ayurveda is taken from the Sanskrit words ayus, meaning life or lifespan, and veda, meaning knowledge. It has been practiced in India for at least 5,000 years and has recently become popular in Western cultures. The basic principle of Ayurveda is to prevent and treat illness by maintaining balance in the body, mind, and consciousness through proper drinking, diet, and lifestyle, as well as herbal remedies.

— Source: University of Maryland Medical Center

My first appointment with Dr Desai was in April (I’ll never forget the date because it was the day before Grandma Marshmallow died). Dr Desai looked over the questionnaires I’d completed and examined me — felt my pulses, looked at my face and tongue, hair and skin, and asked me further questions about my eating and sleeping habits so she could figure out my primary dosha.

Before I explain the doshas, let’s first look at the elements. You are probably familiar with these: Ether, Air, Fire, Water, Earth, in order from least to most dense.

  • Vatas, typically ectomorphs, reflect the qualities of Ether and Air. Think wind. In balance, Vatas are a spring breeze. Out of balance, they are a raging hurricane.
  • Pittas, typically mesomorphs, reflect the qualities of Fire and Water. Think flame. In balance, Pittas are a warming campfire. Out of balance, a wild and uncontrollable forest fire.
  • Kaphas, typically endomorphs, reflect the qualities of Water and Earth. Think where water meets earth. In balance, Kaphas are meandering, gentle streams. Out of balance, they are sludgy swamps.

What are doshas?

Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, according to Ayurvedic beliefs, each person has a distinct pattern of energy — a specific combination of physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. It is also believed that there are three basic energy types called doshas, present in every person:

  • Vata — energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and heartbeat. When vata energy is balanced, there is creativity and vitality. Out of balance, vata produces fear and anxiety.
  • Pitta — energy that controls the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and temperature. In balance, pitta leads to contentment and intelligence. Out of balance, pitta can cause ulcers and arouse anger.
  • Kapha — energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin, and maintains the immune system. In balance, kapha is expressed as love and forgiveness. Out of balance, kapha leads to insecurity and envy.

Everyone has vata, pitta, and kapha, but usually 1 or 2 are dominant in a particular person. Many things can disturb the energy balance, such as stress, an unhealthy diet, the weather, and strained family relationships. The disturbance shows up as disease. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe treatments to bring the doshas back into balance.

 — Source: University of Maryland Medical Center

I am a Vata. This means that by nature I am light, dry and cold and not very dense (because Vata is on the weightless, cold and dry end of the element spectrum — Ether and Air). So it makes sense that to balance out my constitution, I crave things that bring me density, moistness and warmth, like sugar and fat, which are calorie-dense and oily.

Yay, sweets and fats!

Previously, I had no problem consuming sweets and fat. The problem was, I had not been choosing good sweets and good fats. With Dr Desai’s guidance, I have (mostly) given up refined sugar, sweetening instead with agave and other whole, natural sweeteners. Dr Desai also switched me from vegetable or canola oil to healthy saturated fats like coconut oil and ghee (clarified butter) and avocados. Olive oil is acceptable, too.

Dr Desai said to stay away from gluten and refined or processed foods. I had never realized how much pre-prepared foods I ate and served until I tried giving them up. Yakisoba bowls from Costco? Frozen raviolis with sauce from a jar? A pan of turkey enchiladas from the grocery store? Previously I had thought these were healthy choices.

Each meal is to include some good protein. Sunflower seed butter is in. As a Vata, though, beans are not easily digestible (airy, remember?). Clean meats make the cut. By “clean,” Dr Desai means animals that aren’t treated with hormones or antibiotics, and she includes grass-fed cattle, free-range chicken, and wild caught, non-colored fish, among other carnivorous offerings. In other words, creatures that eat what THEY are supposed to eat.

And each meal for my type should also  include cooked fresh vegetables, steamed or sauteed in some of those good oils and seasoned with spices that are good for balancing Vatas.

I feared I would gain girth with these new dietary instructions. But Dr Desai said as long as I did BOTH parts — staying away from refined foods as well as adding in healthy oils — I would actually become more healthy and thus, find my best weight and girth.

Other parts of my regimen include taking appetite-regulating herbs in warm water before each meal (Vatas are known to skip meals), sipping on naturally sweet herb and spice tea (made from dried cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, licorice, ginger)  all day long, and abyanga, or self-massage of the scalp, face, joints, limbs and body with dosha-balancing oils — twice a week.

It took 3 months to conquer my life-long craving of sugar, but I finally did it by my July appointment. In addition, I’ve lost 5 pounds of icky fat. Not that that was the point.

In ayurveda, digestion is fundamental. What and how we eat, how we nourish each cell of our bodies, that is the most important factor in our health. So Dr Desai’s first charge to me was to get my digestion working better.

That few months dramatically changed what I consider food. The thought of putting a slice of Wonder bread into my mouth feels as ridiculous as eating a sponge. And I’d be equally inclined to sip a Diet Co.ke as I would be to sip drain cleaner. These items no longer seem like food to me. I am much more conscious  — not only with my mind but also with my body’s visceral reactions to foods — about how I nourish myself.

In July at my second appointment, my pulses and other measures indicated that my digestion was calmer. Now we could begin to work on the next level: my lungs.

To do that, we would have to clear up a lifetime’s worth of ama. The more I know about it, the more I wonder if ama is what really took the life of my mother-in-law (underlying the lung and liver cancer that she battled). More about ama and my lungs in a future post.

In the meantime, if you’d like to determine your primary dosha and get some insight into balancing it, take this quiz.  And if your interest is really piqued, find out if the excellent and complete Eat Taste Heal is available at your local library.