Friday, July 30, 2010

Sweetened drinks: an American addiction

In my quest I had no problem at all cutting on soda and any other sweetened drink. This is because I am Italian and I grew up considering water a drink, and everything else a snack or some kind of guilty pleasure to be enjoyed only in seldom special occasions. We did not buy Coke in my house, and not because my mum was some kind of health nut, it simply was not normal for us to spend money on something that offered no nutritional value at all. I had fruit juices growing up, and looking back at the ingredients of my favorite ones I realize that they were full of unnecessary extra sugar. But I always had them as a part of a snack, rather than as a way to quench my thirst. I think this is an essential and saving difference. I crave water when I am thirsty, and water only. I can have a juice or a coke but it's more like having a treat than anything else. My husband instead grew up drinking soda and almost no water at all. My mother in law candidly told me that pediatricians recommended adding honey to the kids water, to help them "get used" to it. Almost as if water wasn't what we are naturally supposed to drink, while sugar is. If it's true that Americans are used to associate drinking with a sweet taste since infancy, it is no surprise that there are so many obese people in this nation. Mums nowadays are not doing any better, since apple juice seem to be the drink of choice of most kids. In the store I saw organic apple juice for sale, and while this is a better solution than a soda or sugar water, it is yet another way to get people used to drinking something sweet instead of water. It only adds unnecessary calories to the kids' nutrition and the little nutritional value is definitely surpassed by eating a real apple instead.
For these reasons I haven't researched on artificial sweeteners vs. real sugar. I will from now on  take my coffee with real sugar, and I will keep not drinking soda. Artificial sweeteners are just another chemical product that add to the many artificial ingredients we ingest everyday in highly processed foods, there is no "organic" or "natural" alternative. In a way it is like the fight between margarine and butter. I'd much rather have old fashioned butter, although in moderation, than artificial margarine any day of the year.

The Quest for the Reusable Bag

Since I started the quest I have also finally adopted reusable bags. I have 3 bags that I keep in my car, when I come home I immediately put them near the entrance to the garage to remind me to put them back in the car as soon as I get out. So far I have been pretty good at remembering to take them with me, but I have to say I did have some concerns about putting produce in the bags with no kind of external "protection" like at least a paper bag. So I was using the paper bags to separate produce and then I was putting them in the reusable bag. I now realize that that defeated the purpose of the reusable bag itself. It is true that paper bags at least are biodegradable and recyclable ( plus I love using them to store my home made bread for example ) but making them is still very expensive in terms of energy and of trees. So I will try keeping my produce "free to roam" in the bags from now on. The only downside is that I will have to start using some kind of bleach spray to clean the inside of the bags once I bring them home, since it seems like repeatedly using the same bags can foster the spread of bacteria and fungi.
According to Wikipedia,  from the sheer number of reusable bags imported every year, each and every family in the States should already own enough bags for a lifetime, yet plastic bags are still being heavily used. Moreover it's interesting to note that most of the bags are imported from China, couldn't the U.S. produce their own bags ? Maybe out of recycled materials? I am referring to the bags commonly found at supermarkets like Jewel or Meijer or Walmart. I am sure that it is possible to find bags made in the US if I bought them online, but shouldn't they be readily and easily accessible? As usual California seems to be ahead on this kind of issue, and apparently Walmart there sells the bag for 15 cents ( instead of 1-3 $ like the rest of the country) and it is preparing to switch completely over to reusable bags. This is a perfect example of how the choices we make can influence even the biggest corporations. Evidently Walmart is trying to have a better image in California because there are more environmentally conscious customers over there. It is time for the whole country to change, but there is still a lot of work to do, even in such a small matter as reusable bags. First of all they shouldn't be another reason for large profits for supermarkets. A reusable bag costs between 15-25 cents to a store and they sell them at a minimum of 99 cents. Secondly the use of reusable bags should be promoted while the use of plastic bags should be discouraged.

 In Ireland , plastic bags have been subject to an Environmental Levy since 2002, according to which the retailers have to pay a levy of 0.15 euro cents for every bag they give to customers. The funds thus raised go directly into an environmental fund used to finance a range of waste management initiatives.

This levy has resulted in a dramatic decrease in ‘single-use’ plastic bag consumption over the past
year and a substantial increase in reusable bags. The levy does not apply to paper bags, and many
retailers have switched to paper, but these have not replaced plastic shopping bags in supermarkets.
Since its introduction, the levy has raised 3.5 million euros for waste management and
environmental projects. It has been reported that the use of plastic bags has fallen by 90-95%. The

Many other countries have adopted similar methods, with good result. From what I found, in the U.S. some states, like New Jersey, tax directly the companies producing such pollutants, but that doesn't impact the consumer to make him change his habits. I know some stores offer a minimal discount if customers bring their own bag, but I am sure that a levy on the use of plastic bags would definitely change the behavior of Americans that are very economically minded. Why is it that the U.S. always have to come last when it comes to this kind of issues? The more I read about environment the more I find that many other countries have found viable solutions to most of the problems, while the U.S. resists any kind of change. The reason is usually the excessive power of big corporations on the political power. My question at this point is: are the United States a democracy or a plutocracy? I am starting to think the second is most true.

Our CSA experience - first box

Our first box from the CSA
Yesterday we got our first box from the CSA. We got:

  • 12 eggs
  • 4 ears of sweetcorn
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 1 large summer squash
  • 1 red cabbage
  • 1 kohlrabi
  • 1 bunch of parsley
I will be honest, I was hoping for more zucchini. I think probably the sweetcorn ears took up a lot of the space. I like sweetcorn but there isn't as much you can do with it except eating it boiled or grilled. I prefer more "creative" recipes. My challenges are going to be the kohlrabi and the red cabbage. I have been scouring the internet for interesting recipes, hopefully we will find something useful. We are also going to eat a lot more eggs, but since we are cutting back on the meat I suppose that is not so bad. I already made frittata with some leftover potatoes yesterday, and I am planning some tasty pasta for tonight.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Bread Quest - First Attempt

Ideally, we would like to start making our own bread for a variety of reasons:
  •  One is that the bread that we buy at the store is not entirely to our satisfaction anyway. I am from Italy and I miss the crusty bread that lasts fresh and tasty for more than one day that I ate everyday at home, and I don't even consider "toast" bread a real bread to be eaten with a meal. 
  • I also noticed that in the bread I buy at the store, even the fresh one from the bakery, there are a bunch of ingredients that I don't recognize as "natural" . 
  • By making our own bread  we could use organic ingredients, since there are no organic breads in the stores near our home.
  • My husband loves making bread and there is nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread in the house. 
4 grains plus flax roll
A couple of days ago my husband tried  making a white French bread. It looked perfect and it was pretty good although it was a lot heavier and more solid than we would have liked. Besides I would like to eat whole grain, since it's so much healthier and the higher amount of fiber help me with my diet. So yesterday I tried to make a 4 grains and flax bread, following the recipe indicated by Arrowhead mills, the makers of the 4 grains mix. It did not turn out too good. I made 8 small bread rolls shaped like mini-baguettes. First of all it took much longer to cook them than indicated in the box. Secondly they are way too solid and dry so they were a big disappointment. I am starting to think a breadmaker would probably solve our problem, also because it seems to take so long and so much effort to make the bread from scratch that it doesn't seem feasible,especially with a baby in the house.

Why It Is a Good Idea to Join a CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture)

We just joined a CSA farm, which is a farm that sells shares of its crops at the beginning of the season and then gives a share of its crops weekly to its members during harvest season. The farm we joined is called Freedom Organix  and is located in Harvard, which is not too far from us. We joined when the season had already begun, but we are still going to enjoy 12 weeks of organic and fresh vegetables and pastured eggs! We also subscribed for their Harvest Box and reserved a turkey for Thanksgiving. Today we are going to get our first box and we are very excited about it. To us, it made sense to join a CSA because it offered multiple advantages

1) All the vegetables that we will eat will be organic and locally farmed without having to go every few days to the farmers' market and at a cheaper price than that of the farmers' market

2) The money that we spend will go directly to a small family farm and not in the hands of some big corporation or distributor

3) We will have the chance to visit the farm where our vegetables are grown and I think that is not only a pleasant experience for us but also a valuable lesson for our son as he grows older

4) We will eat whatever comes in the box, which means we will have to eat any vegetable we get depending on what is in season. For us that will probably mean more variety throughout the year as we tend to buy always the same "favorites" at the supermarket without risking to try vegetables that we are not familiar with. It is purely a psychological factor but while for example I ate everything my parents presented me, I never voluntarily bought certain kinds of food that I like less. This way we will feel like we don't want to waste anything and we will be challenged to find new recipes for foods we are less used to

5) Eating fresh and in season means also getting more vitamins and nutrients

So these are the theoretical advantages of the CSA. As we get the box and we actually try the vegetables I will post about the practical advantages/disadvantages.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Product Review : Organic Pork Chops from R-family farm

Last Saturday we bought pork chops from R-Family Farm at the Farmers' market in Woodstock, IL. They raise their own Berkshire pigs that are free to graze and pasture while also fed the organic feed that they make on their farm. The meat is slightly darker than the one you would find at the store and it's obviously more expensive, since we bought 4 pork chops for 15.00 $.
I cooked the chops in the pan simply seasoning them with salt and pepper, so that the natural flavor of the meat would be more clearly detectable. I have to say the chops were much more flavorful than the store bought ones and maybe also a little more firm and a little less fat than what we usually get. I also noticed that the meat didn't lose as much "water" while cooking. We were very satisfied with them and we would recommend them to anyone.

VICTORY! USDA Sets Clear Pasture Standards for Organic Dairy

On the website of the Organic Consumers Association I finally found further information on the issue of pasture access for organic cows. Apparently new regulations are on their way of being approved ( as I understand from the official document they started having effect on June 2010 but the producers have 1 year of time to comply). Cows will have to be pastured for at least 120 days of the year, but although that is a giant step forward, cows are still allowed to be grain fed for 120 days for finishing. On the OCA website there is a petition that can be signed to change this part of the regulations. Here I report the whole news about the regulations and the concerns of the OCA regarding finishing.

VICTORY! USDA Sets Clear Pasture Standards for Organic Dairy
WORK TO BE DONE: 4 Months In Feedlots to "Finish" Organic Beef? Organic Consumers Say "No!"

USDA Press Release:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2010 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced details of the final regulation regarding access to pasture for organic livestock operations. This rule amends the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations to clarify the use of pasture in raising organic ruminants.

"Clear and enforceable standards are essential to the health and success of the market for organic agriculture," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The final rule published today will give consumers confidence that organic milk or cheese comes from cows raised on pasture, and organic family farmers the assurance that there is one, consistent pasture standard that applies to dairy products."

The final rule provides certainty to consumers that organic livestock production is a pasture based system in which animals are actively grazing pasture during the grazing season. The majority of organic dairy and ruminant livestock producers are already grazing animals and maintaining pastures that meet the requirements of this rule. These standards contain clear requirements that will provide greater assurance that all producers are being held to the same standards.

USDA received a substantial number of comments on provisions of the rule affecting finish feeding practices of slaughter livestock, and has extended the comment period for this provision for 60 days. Finish feeding is commonly used by organic farmers and ranchers to improve the grade of beef and involves feeding livestock grain

"It is difficult to decouple standards for milking cows from standards for finish feeding," said Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. "Since finish feeding gets swept up into this dairy rulemaking, we are taking an extra step and inviting public comment on the finish feeding requirements. We want to be certain that our actions pertaining to finish feeding are aligned with organic principles."

This final rule is the culmination of a process that was initiated in 2005 when the National Organic Standards Board recommended that ruminants obtain a minimum 30 percent dry matter intake for at least 120 days. The proposed rule, published on Oct. 28, 2008, received over 26,000 comments from producers, retailers, handlers, certifying agents, consumers, trade associations, organic associations, animal welfare organizations, consumer groups, state and local government entities and various industry groups.

The main components of the rule include:

-Animals must graze pasture during the grazing season, which must be at least 120 days per year;
-Animals must obtain a minimum of 30 percent dry matter intake from grazing pasture during the grazing season;
-Producers must have a pasture management plan and manage pasture as a crop to meet the feed requirements for the grazing animals and to protect soil and water quality; and,
-Livestock are exempt from the 30 percent dry matter intake requirements during the finish feeding period, not to exceed 120 days. Livestock must have access to pasture during the finishing phase.
The final rule becomes effective 120 days after publication, June 17, 2010. Operations which are already certified organic will have one year to implement the provisions. Operations which obtain organic certification after the effective date will be expected to demonstrate full compliance.

Although this is a final rule, comments on the exceptions for finish feeding of ruminant slaughter stock may be submitted before April 19, 2010. This 60-day comment period pertains to the finish feeding provisions only. The specific questions to consider and instructions for submitting comments are available on the NOP website at .


There is still work to be done. The Organic Consumers Association recognizes serious environmental and health concerns with the USDA's plan to "finish" organic cattle in feedlots, a.k.a. factory farms, for up to four months.

Organic cattle grazed on pasture produce food that is healthier, safer, and more nutritious than cattle "finished" on organic grain in a feedlot. The use of pasture also protects the environment and removes dangerous greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The safety of the meat is also a concern. Cattle fed grass rather than grain are less likely to harbor the deadly pathogen E. coli.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Diet to fight the daily symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

I asked my sister to contribute with her personal experience on the relationship between food and her health. As I say in the page How the Quest Began she was one of the reasons why I started my quest to eat a better and more conscious diet. Here is the translation of her post.

My experience:
My Diet to fight the daily symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

A few words on MS

Not everybody knows that MS is not an age-related disease. It usually is diagnosed very early, on average before the age of 25, although the symptoms become more evident in older age, after many years of re-lapses. For those who don't know it, MS is a degenerating disease of the myelin that is a layer that protects neurons in the brain but also in the peripheral nervous system. The immunity system attacks the myelin, in one point or in more than one point at once, and this can cause the interruption of the function located in the point of the brain that was attacked. For example, it is possible to lose sensibility in one limb, or the ability to move, or sight. In the first phase of this disease, this kind of blackouts are temporary. Almost every time the brain can restart the interrupted functions by activating, if necessary, alternative circuits ( vicarious circuits) to transmit the necessary nervous messages.
Sometimes though, and with the progress of the disease, the damages are not bypassed anymore. For this reason, a person with MS risks losing most of her mobility and, more rarely, cognitive functions.
These are the most well known facts about this disease, but most people don't know that, even in moments of quiet between one attack and the other, the disease influences heavily the daily life of the affected people, even in the case of people that has no disability or mobility problem. It is typical of MS, in fact, a diffuse sense of asthenia, that makes the person constantly tired making the normal development of work and daily life harder. Besides, the person affected by MS has a very hard time recovering from stress and requires a much longer period of rest than a healthy person does.

My Diet

Many believe that they can control the disease thanks to a more or less strict diet, and this is not the place to analyze the different approaches. It is not my intention to mantain that, thanks to the diet, I have avoided any relapses, as I have no proof of that. I would like to talk about how my daily life has improved with the diet, and how thanks to it I don't feel everyday that terrible sense of tiredness that, at 30 years old, forced me to give up most of my free time activities, because after working 8 hours I had no energy left to face a dinner, a walk, the gym or simply a party.
My diet is based on three principles that, based on my experience, are the staples of my well-being:

1. Refined flour and gluten are bad for me

They are the worst enemies of my intestine, and therefore of my immunity system that is stimulated in the wrong way by the toxins that are created when the intestine doesn't work properly. The solution is to eat as much WHOLE GRAINS as possible and, if possible, alternate foods that have gluten ( like pasta and other grains) with foods that don't have any ( like brown rice, quinoa...)
Please note:
a) I am not affected by coeliac disease, but gluten is a protein that is hard to absorb for anybody's intestine, even for a healthy person. For this reason, it is useful to let the intestine "rest" every once in a while.
b) Refined flour, besides not having enough fiber, are a source of fast assimilated sugars that end up in the blood spiking instantly the glycemic index. These cause high insulin spikes that are dangerous also for people with diabetes and overweight or obese.

2. The importance of antioxidants:

Vitamin A, C and E should be abundant in my diet. When they are missing the tiredness clearly worsens and it is possible to notice even on my skin the signs of a tired metabolism. Therefore, obviously, I eat fruit and vegetables as much as possible. To help, I add wheat germ oil to my salad ( Vitamin E!) or I take vitamins with Q10. It is important to remember to take the vitamins during meals, so that they can combine with other substances, otherwise their antioxidant power is wasted. 

3. Good fat vs. Bad Fat

Myelin is substantially fat, so obviously I can't eliminate all fats, because I run the risk of making it weaker. Useful fats in this case are the monounsaturated fats ( like Omega-3) that are available in fish and in flaxseed oil, while the saturated fats that are in eggs, milk, cheese and red meat should be avoided. The saturated or long-chain facts have the ulterior defect of keeping our system busy in the process required to absorb them thus preventing the absorption of the monounsaturated fats.

From these three notions I created a diet that avoids, as much as possible, animal fats, except from fish and that is based on fruit and vegetables with a very keen eye on fiber absorption.
Obviously , the more you are careful with the quality of your food, the lower the risk of eating any toxins, and the lower the possibilities of starting a reaction in the immune system. Therefore, besides the kind of food, it is necessary to pay attention to where this food is from.

The effects of my diet

As I said earlier, MS is an autoimmune disease, and maybe for this reason it is easy to imagine that if I ingest a  lower amount of toxic substances my immunity system will leave me alone for longer. But even in the short term, I can testify that I have recovered the energy that I thought was lost, and a general sense of well being that is very important to better deal with the psychological aspect of the disease.
I am not extremely rigid applying the diet. I am a food lover and I often allow myself the luxury of a grilled meat or a heavily seasoned pasta, but the benefits that I get from the diet are such that in general it does not require a big effort to keep the diet up in my daily life. And, more importantly, when I feel more tired than usual, having a stricter diet has always worked to see immediately a quick improvement.

Food can be poison and it can be medicine

It might seem like an obvious statement but it is simple chemistry: our body is made by the substances that we put in it with the food, so it is obvious that food is not only fuel to be burned. The chemicals that we introduce in our body by eating are like poisons or like medicines, and their role goes well beyond the concept of diet as an instrument to lose weight.
The scientific studies and the medical treatments are more than welcome ( treatments that, for MS, don't yet exist: the medicine that are given nowadays are simple palliatives and sedatives of the immune system) but why should we make things harder by getting sick because of a wrong diet?
Even if your neurologist is not a believer in the impact of a diet on MS, he cannot say that it will be harmful. At most he can say that it has no effect, but I would recommend anyone to try: after all, taking care of yourself is already something that will improve your attitude toward the disease and, as far as I am concerned, it has already improved the symptoms.

La dieta per contrastare la sintomatologia quotidiana della Sclerosi Multipla. ( Italian Article )

I asked my sister to contribute with her personal experience of the relationship between food and her health. As I say in the page How the Quest Began she was one of the reasons why I started my quest to eat a better and more conscious diet. I will post her post here in Italian and I will immediately start translating it so I can post it in English too.

La mia esperienza:
La dieta per contrastare la sintomatologia quotidiana della Sclerosi Multipla.

Due parole sulla SM

Non tutti sanno che la SM non è una malattia della vecchiaia. Essa insorge molto presto, in media prima dei 25 anni, anche se è nella vecchiaia che i sintomi, accumulatisi in anni di ricadute, diventano più evidenti. Per chi non lo sapesse, la SM è una malattia degenerativa del rivestimento mielinico delle cellule nervose, in particolare nel cervello, ma può riguardare anche i nervi periferici. La mielina viene attaccata dal sistema immunitario, in uno o più punti contemporaneamente, e questo può provocare l'interruzione della funzione residente nel punto attaccato. Ad esempio, si può perdere la sensibilità ad un arto, o la capacità motoria, o la vista. Nella prima fase di questa malattia, questi blackout sono temporanei. Quasi sempre, infatti, il cervello è in grado di riprendere le funzioni intaccate, attivando, se necessario, dei circuiti alternativi (detti circuiti vicari) per trasmettere i messaggi nervosi necessari.
A volte, però, e con il proseguire della malattia, i danni non sono più recuperabili. Per questo motivo, una persona affetta da SM rischia di perdere buona parte della sua mobilità e, più raramente, della sue capacità cognitive.
E queste forse sono le informazioni più scontate sulla malattia, ma non tutti sanno che, anche in periodi di quiete fra una crisi e l'altra, la malattia influenza pesantemente la vita quotidiana dei malati, anche quando si tratta di persone che non hanno accumulato nessuna disabilità e nessun problema motorio. Tipico della SM, infatti, è uno stato di astenia diffusa, che affatica la persona in modo tale da rendere difficile il normale svolgimento del lavoro e degli impegni quotidiani. Inoltre, il malato di SM fa un'enorme fatica a recuperare la stanchezza e necessità di periodi di riposo molto più lunghi di una persona sana.

La mia dieta

Molti sono coloro che sostengono di poter tenere sotto controllo la malattia grazie ad una dieta particolare, più o meno proibitiva, e non è questo il luogo per analizzare i diversi approcci. Non è mia intenzione neppure sostenere che, grazie alla dieta, io abbia scongiurato ulteriori ricadute, perché di questo non ho le prove.
Vorrei invece parlare di come la mia vita quotidiana sia migliorata con la dieta, grazie alla quale non sento più tutti i giorni quella terribile stanchezza che, a 30 anni, mi costringeva a rinunciare a molte attività extra lavorative, perché dopo 8 ore di lavoro non avevo più nessuna energia per affrontare una cena, una passeggiata, la palestra, o semplicemente una festa.
La mia dieta si fonda su tre principi che, per quella che è la mia esperienza, sono alla base del mio benessere:

1. Le farine raffinate e il glutine sono dannosi:
questi sono i nemici peggiori per il mio intestino, e quindi per il mio sistema immunitario che viene stimolato in modo scorretto dalle tossine che si formano quando l'intestino non funziona. La soluzione è mangiare quanto più INTEGRALE e, se possibile, alternare alimenti con glutine (pasta e altri grani) ad alimenti che ne sono privi (riso integrale, quinoa....). 
a. io non sono celiaca, ma il glutine è una proteina difficile da assimilare per l'intestino di chiunque, anche per una persona sana. Per questo motivo, è utile lasciare che l'intestino "riposi", ogni tanto.
b. le farine raffinate, oltre a non fornire fibre sufficienti, forniscono zuccheri a rapida assimilazione, che finiscono nel sangue alzando il tasso glicemico in maniera istantanea. Quindi hanno anche la controindicazione di determinare forti picchi di insulina, pessimi per diabetici e persone con problemi di peso.

2. Il ruolo degli antiossidanti:
Vitamine A,C ed E non devono mancare nella mia dieta. Quando mancano, l'affaticamento peggiora sensibilmente e persino ad occhio nudo è possibile notare, sulla pelle, i segni di un metabolismo stanco. Quindi, ovviamente, frutta e verdura a volontà. Per aiutarmi, aggiungo olio di germe di grano all'insalata (vitamina E!), o assumo integratori vitaminici con Q10. Importante ricordare di prendere gli integratori durante i pasti, in modo che si possano combinare con le altre sostanze, altrimenti il loro potere antiossidante viene sprecato.

3. Grassi buoni vs grassi cattivi:
La mielina è una sostanza grassa, quindi è ovvio che non si possano eliminare indiscriminatamente tutti i grassi, perché il rischio è di indebolirla. Bisogna però sapere che i grassi utili sono quelli a catena corta, presenti nel pesce e nell'olio di lino, ad esempio, e non quelli a catena lunga, presenti nel grasso animale: uova, latte, formaggio, carni rosse...
I grassi a catena lunga hanno anche il difetto di impegnare i nostri enzimi nelle scissioni necessarie alla loro assimilazione, ostacolando l'assimilazione dei grassi a catena corta.

Da queste tre nozioni, ne deriva una dieta che evita, quanto più possibile, grassi animali, fatta eccezione per quelli del pesce, e che si basa sostanzialmente su frutta e verdura, con un occhio molto attento all'assimilazione di fibre.
Ovviamente, quanta più attenzione si fa alla qualità del cibo, tante meno tossine si ingeriscono, e tanto più basse sono le probabilità di innescare una reazione del proprio sistema immunitario. Quindi, oltre alla tipologia di alimento, va prestata attenzione alla provenienza dello stesso.

Gli effetti della mia dieta:

Come dicevo, la SM è una malattia autoimmunitaria, e forse per questo è facile immaginare che meno sono le sostanze tossiche che ingerisco, più a lungo il mio sistema immunitario mi lascerà in pace. Ma anche nel breve termine, posso testimoniare di aver recuperato l'energia che credevo perduta, e un benessere generale molto importante per sopportare meglio anche l'aspetto psicologico della malattia.
Non sono estremamente rigida nell'applicare la dieta. Essendo una persona golosa, spesso mi concedo il lusso di una barbecue o una pasta molto condita, ma il benessere derivato dal regime alimentare è tale, che non è un grosso sforzo mantenerlo nella vita di tutti i giorni.
E, soprattutto, nei giorni in cui mi sento più stanca di solito, irrigidire la dieta ha sempre funzionato per vedere subito un rapido miglioramento.


Sarà una banalità, ma è chimica: il nostro organismo è fatto delle sostanze che introduciamo con il cibo, quindi è ovvio che il cibo non sia soltanto energia da bruciare. Le sostanze chimiche che introduciamo nel corpo mangiando sono come veleni o medicine, e il loro ruolo va ben al di là del concetto di dieta come strumento per dimagrire.
Ben vengano i ritrovati scientifici e le cure mediche (cure che, per la SM, non esistono ancora: quelle che vengono somministrate sono palliativi il cui unico ruolo è sedare, e non curare, il sistema immunitario), ma perché complicarsi la vita ammalandosi di cattiva alimentazione?
Che il vostro neurologo sia o meno propenso a credere nel ruolo della dieta, non potrà dirvi che è dannosa. Al massimo, potrà dire che non avrà effetto sulla malattia, ma consiglio a tutti di provare: dopo tutto, prendersi cura di se stessi è già qualcosa che può migliorare l'approccio alla malattia. E, per quel che mi riguarda, ha migliorato anche i sintomi.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Power of Misinformation: Organic, Cage Free and Factory Eggs

 The first thing I decided to do as I started my quest was to get more information about the food I was going to buy. I want to know more about where my food is from, how it was cultivated or raised and who is getting my money. I use the internet as a main source of information but I know the risks involved. You simply google any kind of question and you will get a multitude of answers, but it is like yelling a question and having a crowd answer to you, how many people really know what they are talking about? How many are answering you for their own agenda? How many have verified what they are saying? I usually sift through the answers and avoid personal blogs, yahoo answers, forum discussions and other personal websites unless they offer some official link in support of their posts, in which case I will go and verify the source. I also try to go directly to the companies' websites and read through what they directly have to say about their products. Most brands will offer you the story of their ingredients and it is easy to read between the lines of what they say and what they avoid saying in order to determine if the food responds to my needs. I also usually stop to read articles from important news sites like CNN or TIME magazine and I do it just because I thought that journalists are supposed to check their sources before publishing their articles and therefore there must be a basis of truth in what they say. I forgot that journalists can also pick and choose their sources if they want to, so that they can twist the truth however they want.

A Perfect Example of Misinformation by Time Magazine

Today I was doing some research on cage free and organic eggs, trying to understand the different labels and what they really meant and I ran across an article from the Time Magazine called "Organic Eggs: More Expensive, but No Healthier" by Jeffrey Kluger. Most of the people don't read past the title or the first couple of paragraphs of an article and it is easy to  tell in this case what they want people to think from those first few lines. I was very shocked to see how biased and superficial the whole article was. It was based on a study ( based on a method developed in 1937 ) that took into consideration only the amount of protein in the albumen. Hey, what about vitamins, omega-3, saturated fats? Ever heard of those? But even if organic and factory eggs had the same nutritional value, do we want to talk about the impact on the environment and the fact that the chicken are treated humanely? Or that doesn't matter at all? Organic chickens are fed organic food, so at the very least we are eliminating some pesticides and toxins from the soil used to cultivate the crops that are going to be fed to these chickens, doesn't that matter too? But the journalist felt that saying that the two eggs were the same wasn't enough to boost the factory farmed eggs market, so decided to go beyond that. He underlined how in some studies it was proved that pastured eggs contained pollutants due to the environmental conditions of the soil where the chickens where raised. What about the fact that for sure the chickens that are fed non-organic feed will ingest a certain amount of pollutants? What is the incidence of those cases anyway? What about giving us some numbers and compare them to the cases of salmonella and arsenic poisoning through factory farmed eggs?
Reading through the comments under the article I was happy to notice that many people replied by posting alternative studies and informations. One that was very interesting linked to a study that compared values like Beta Carotene, Vitamin E, Saturated Fat and Omega-3 content. Now, this study was made by Mother Earth News and I am not saying that is to be taken as gold, I would have liked to see a similar study conducted by the USDA or some other governmental agency though. 

What Organic is Really About 

As I said in a previous post, eating organic is about much more than personal health and the media should stop using this point as an excuse to say "there is really no difference at all and you are stupid if you waste your money in that stuff". The above example is only one of many similar sounding articles that allude to the fact that organic food is just a fad for some hippies that have lots of money to waste in stupid things. 
I like the definition of organic that Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield, gave in the book "Food inc."

 "Organic stands for many things - a philosophy of wholeness, the science of integration, a rallying cry for keeping nature humming as the interdependent web of life"

I decided to choose consciously what I eat and what I buy because I want to have a positive impact not only on the life of my family but also on the health, on the economy and on the environment of this country and of the world. And if that means paying a few dollars more to know that the chickens that laid my eggs lived a normal chicken life than it is ok with me. Besides I find quite interesting that most of the people that tells me that organic food is one dollar more expensive than the factory one, doesn't seem to have a problem buying 5 dollar drinks at Starbucks everyday. Sorry but I prefer to buy some organic food instead.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Woodstock Farmer's Market

Today we went to the farmer's market in Woodstock, IL. It is our favorite because it is close to home and because of the beautiful square where it is held. Usually we buy some berries or some fruit and then hang in the square with our son, listening to the live music while he learns to walk on the grass. We always saw it just as a nice summer family activity, but now I am determined to try to buy all my produce and all my meat either from the farmers' market, or from the various farm stands that are in the area. The goal is to reduce the amount of things I buy at the supermarket to a minimum, at least in the summer when it is much easier.
Today we bought:

  • Raspberries
  •  Apricots ( nice and small, like I remembered them to be when I was a kid, not those huge peach-sized tasteless things you find at the store)
  • 4 Zucchini
  • 1 "Italian Zucchini" ( It's a large zucchini with white stripes)
  • 1 Box of "Dragon Tongue Beans" ( they looked like the beans that we use in Italy, but instead I found out you can eat them with the whole pod and you can have them raw, not bad!)
  • 4 Pork chops
  • 1 lb of Ground beef
  • 3 lbs of Rump roast beef
  • 1 Little bag of mini carrots
We spent a total of 55.00 dollars. So definitely more expensive than the store, especially if you consider that the pork alone was 15.00 dollars and the beef 20.00 dollars, but that is how it should be.
We got the pork from R-Family farm, they also have other animals and sell directly at their farm. We previously bought chicken from them and I was shocked to see the difference in size with the chicken you get at the store. The breast must have been a quarter of the size of what you would find at a supermarket. From the information I found on their website, their pork should be darker and stronger tasting than the store one, I will post something when we eat it.
The beef comes from Willow Lea Stock Farm which is a local farm with cows that are grass-fed for most of the year although their food is supplemented with corn and soy during the winter. We bought their meat before and it seemed definitely leaner and more flavorful than what we buy at the store. The prices of the meat though are definitely going to make us reduce the amount of meat we eat per week.
I was disappointed to notice that most of the stands only had plastic bags. We had our own reusable bag, but no one offered a paper bag for the produce, which would be recyclable and biodegradable.

Local Food and Local Farms

Five Reasons to Eat Sustainable, Organic Food

I think there is some confusion as to why one should go through the trouble of finding food that is not processed in a huge factory, that is produced by a company that is fair to the environment, fair to the people that work for it and fair to the animals. I think the confusion arises from the fact that there is not a single reason for it, there is a number of reasons. Every single reason by itself is not enough to justify going through the amount of trouble and extra expense that it takes, but if we look at them all together than you understand that there is no other choice really. Here are my reasons, so please read them all and try to consider them as a whole before dismissing them or criticizing them one by one.

  • It is better for my health
Organic food doesn't contain the chemicals, the antibiotics and the hormones that are used in most factory foods.
There is also some evidence that some organic foods may contain a higher ratio of nutrients than other foods. For example vegetables that have been recently picked and that did not travel across the country before getting on your table retain more of their vitamin content. Also by eating seasonally you get the best out of the crops, because natural sun ripening also boosts the vitamin and nutrients content of the plants. There is also some evidence that milk and meat from grass fed cows might have a higher ratio of the good omega-3 fatty acids, more beta carotene ( in the milk) and lower overall fat ( in the meat ).
Organic meat is also more expensive then the packaged one. This can help you realize that it is not necessary to eat meat everyday of the year, thus improving the quality of your diet which should be much more based on vegetables and cereals than the average american diet is. Also eating seasonal crops means eating whatever is available at the moment, this forces you to add more varieties of fruit and vegetables in your diet. For example I have been trying turnips, squashes and various roots that I never even considered buying in the supermarket before because other vegetables that were more appealing to me were available.This apparent extra amount of choice at the supermarket actually led me to eat always the same "favorites" instead of trying extra varieties. Variety is a key to good nutrition, since every vegetable or fruit has slightly different proprieties and a little bit of everything is a good rule when it comes to choosing a healthy diet.
Eating more vegetables and less processed food also results in weight loss and higher overall energy for exercising, which for me was a great perk.

  • It helps reduce pollution and waste of natural resources
Factory farms have to dispose of large amounts of animal waste that ends up in our water and in the soil. This animal waste is often filled with bacteria resulting from the animals living in close quarters and with antibiotics that in turn make bacteria more resistant and people more allergic to antibiotics. Factories pollute the air. The packaging of processed foods is additional garbage that is not always recyclable and that ends up filling our landfills. Processed food also requires a multitude of ingredients being transported from far away locations, which means more greenhouse gases into the air, more oil wasted. 
  • I want animals to be treated humanely
I am not a vegetarian. I like eating meat and I think it is an important part of our diet. But I think that animals should not be seen as inanimate objects, a commodity like any other. You can see it from a selfish point of view: stressed out animals tend to get sicker and therefore need to be treated with antibiotics that you will end up eating too; besides, grass fed cows and free range chicken taste better than their industrial counterpart and have better nutrients. But there is also a non selfish reason. Even though I am not a vegetarian I do think we should respect the animal whose life we are taking. In Italy we traditionally have a culture of using all the parts of the animal. It was probably more due to poverty than due to respect, but I think it is a respectful thing, not to waste the animal's life. In the States people don't even want to think that their meat comes from what once was a live animal. That is why boneless or ground meat are preferred. I want to remember that my food came from an animal, and I want to think that that animal lived a normal life, ate the food he was supposed to eat, lived with his fellow animals as he was supposed to, before being killed ( in a merciful way) for my consumption. I know that vegetarians will say that if I really respected the animal I would not kill it. And vegans will say I shouldn't even exploit it. But I know I was born to eat meat as part of my diet, I am hardwired for it, and as much as I am willing to reduce the amount of meat that I eat, so that is sustainable and fair, I will not give up on it. 
  • I want workers to be treated fairly
It is interesting how this topic seems to be the one that strikes people the least, and there is no "produced fairly" official seal on any product. So this is also the trickiest one, because it is the hardest to verify. Many larger farms and food plants rely on the work of illegal immigrants that have close to no rights and get paid close to nothing. Even though the political debate on illegal immigration is very heated, the question seems to be mostly focused on how to get rid of them and not on how to punish the entrepreneurs that employ them. In the movie "Food Inc." they also mention how meatpacking has become one of the most unfair, underpaid and unsafe jobs in the country. There is no way for me to check that a plant is fair to its workers or that they don't employ illegal immigrants. But I know that if I am buying local produce directly from a farmer who owns and operate the farm with his family he won't be exploiting his workers. This topic has to be applied also to organic produce. When I buy it in a store, from a big brand like Horizon or Stonyfield, what guarantees do I have that it was produced without harming any human?
  • I want diversity and competition in the food market, I want small businesses to survive, I want giant corporations to feel like they are accountable for what they do
 By choosing to buy food consciously I also influence the industry to change their ways in order to keep selling their products. A perfect example is the use of the hormones in milk production. Since people has become more aware of the problem and started buying more milk that claimed to be hormone free, the main brands had to align in order to keep selling and now most of the brands don't use hormones anymore in their milk. This can happen with many other products. The good thing of capitalism is that the market regulates what is produced and how. Factories have to produce what people want or go broke. If we start making more informed decisions on our food then the industry will have to modify their ways in order to keep selling their products.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Organic Milk Doesn't Mean Grass Fed

If you think that buying organic milk is enough to make sure that the cows that made that milk are treated properly think twice. According to the USDA official website:

"All organically raised animals must have access to the outdoors, including access to pasture for ruminants. They may be temporarily confined only for reasons of health, safety, the animal’s stage of production, or to protect soil or water quality."(USDA organic production and handling standards)

Therefore even though the cows have to be granted access to the pastures, there is still no specification on how long the access should be granted for and if that should constitute the only feed of the cow. The same document also specifies:

"Producers must feed livestock agricultural feed 

products that are 100 percent organic, but 

may also provide allowed vitamin and mineral 

supplements." (ibidem)

In other words, as long as the feed is organic it doesn't matter if it is grains or grass. Although the USDA established a standard for the grass-fed claim, it seems to me that organic and grass-fed are not synonyms.
As I was researching on the topic online I came across an article on the Medill Report that states that the USDA would have instated a new regulation that :

 "requires that dairy cows graze during the grazing season, for a minimum of 120 days, as opposed to the previous rules that were vague and required only access to pasture, but not necessarily the use of it.  " (Medill Report, article by S.Chandhoke)

It sounds very good but I haven't found anything supporting this claim in the USDA official website and the author of the article doesn't cite any sources in it. I have contacted the author for clarifications, and hopefully I will be able to post her reply soon. 

In the meantime, I found at the store a milk that claims to be from grass-fed cows. The brand is called "Grass Point Farms"  and they claim to have very high standards not only in the handling of the livestock but also in the keeping of the pastures and the quality of the labor involved. On their website I saw that they produce also cheese that you can order online, but part of my quest is to find products that are easily accessible on an everyday basis, and ordering cheese online doesn't seem to me like the simple way to go.

I also would like to find a milk that is local, and I found a website called "where is my milk from?" that lets you check the exact plant where your milk was processed through the code that is stamped on top of the milk carton. Even though the website claims that the milk comes from Wisconsin pastures, it appears that it was processed in Indiana, about 300 miles from here. I would have preferred something closer but at least is not California.