Real Food Smoothie

Smoothies are a staple around here. They’re convenient, they taste good and they’re healthy. Well, mine are healthy. I’ve seen smoothie recipes which include sneaky sources of sugar and fake food like flavored yogurt, fruit juice, flavored milk substitutes (I know, vanilla soy milk sounds healthy, but read those labels!), and soy protein isolate powders. No thank you.

My recipe is full of real raw food and delivers tons of nutrition. All these ingredients are readily available organic.

Blend until smooth in a good quality blender (if you want to go top of the line get a VitaMix, but Oster makes a perfectly good blender for a fraction of the price):

  • A big handful or two of raw baby spinach and/or kale. If you’re new to adding green stuff to your smoothies, start with a little spinach. Trust me, you won’t taste it. As your palate gets used to it, you’ll be able to add more without tasting it. Once you’re ready for a bit of green-ness, graduate to adding some kale (remove tough ribs and the center stalk first)
  • 1/2  to 1 cups of full-fat plain yogurt. You didn’t read that wrong. FULL FAT yogurt. Fat is not the enemy, it’s necessary in your diet. I really like Straus Family organic European style yogurt which has no stabilizers or additives. Their Greek yogurt is ridiculously good (OMG!), but its glorious thickness is wasted in a smoothie, European style is just fine. Beware of flavored yogurts. They are almost always hiding added sugar! This has enough sweetness from the fruit, go with plain.
  • 1 orange or 2 clementine tangerines. Using the whole fruit adds fiber and keeps the sugar content down.
  • 1 organic egg, raw. Yes. Raw. Whole egg.  The poor egg yolk, it gets such a bad rap, but that’s another post.
  • water as needed by your blender.
  • 1 tsp Carlson’s Lemon Flavored Fish Oil or Cod Liver Oil. Fish oil has no vitamin D while cod liver oil does. So I use fish oil in the summer and cod liver oil in the winter. Carlson’s comes in a bottle so there are no capsules to break. I also find the oil from the bottle doesn’t make me burp the way capsules do. And no, it does NOT taste like fish! It has a clean lightly lemony flavor.
  • optional: 1-2T psyllium husk powder for added fiber. I emphasis powder because most psyllium is sold in whole husk form, which is also great for adding insoluble fiber to your diet, but the powder blends better with liquid – not as grainy as the whole husk. If using whole husks use 2-3T.
  • 2 cups of organic frozen fruit of your choice: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, mangoes. Blueberries aren’t just a super fruit, they make it a nice purple color. Without a dark berry it can look a little gray because of the spinach – it’ll still taste great but might not look very appetizing.. Mangoes are great to add with any berry mixture. A few raspberries are nice, too many gets too tart for my taste. Experiment!
  • 1-2 frozen bananas. I always have frozen bananas on hand – just tear ripe bananas into chunks and throw in a freezer bag. Frozen bananas are the secret to a milkshake texture.
  • Water as needed to keep things moving.

Directions

  • Green stuff at the base – spinach or kale. Then the yogurt, egg, fish oil, orange, psyllium and 1-2 cups of water. Pulverize until no bits of spinach or kale remain, but you have a beautiful green liquid ready to take on the frozen ingredients.
  • Add frozen ingredients slowly, adding water as needed to keep your blender cranking.

This makes a huge batch. It’s a meal for two.

Enjoy!

Eat Well. Not Less.

I know what it is to be overweight and have no clue how to eat well. I was two years post-baby hauling around an extra 35 pounds, eating SpaghettiO’s and drinking Coca-Cola. I didn’t like how I looked or how I felt. Then I was introduced to a brand new concept. Food as fuel for my body. I was a college educated 25 year old mother but that concept really hadn’t sunk in before.

I began to read. A lot (see below for a suggested reading list). When I began to understand what that processed food and refined sugar was doing to my body it suddenly wasn’t quite so appetizing anymore. I never went on a “diet”. I never counted calories or starved myself. I did begin to consider if what I was putting in my mouth was giving my body what it needed to function well. The pounds melted off and I’ve stayed at a healthy weight for almost 25 years now.

On my 50th birthday

Dr. Diana Schwarzbein says in her books (see reading list below) that you don’t lose weight to get healthy. First you get healthy and then you’ll lose weight. That was certainly true in my case.

I still strive to improve my diet, I struggle with getting enough veggies and fish into my system, but it’s about improving the fuel now, not losing weight. And it’s always – always – about it tasting good. Food is one of life’s great pleasures. Eating well doesn’t have to change that.

Moderation in all things, including moderation.

Like we all do, I overindulge once in a while. Typically around my birthday which is in December. Too many dinners out. Too many holiday cookies. I don’t beat myself up over it. It wasn’t good for me but it tasted great and that’s ok once in a while. It shows up in how I feel and on the scale. It’s not a chore to get back to how I usually eat. I start to feel like crap when I don’t eat well. So by this time of year I’m looking forward to again focusing on eating better (note, not eating less).  I know I’ll soon be back to feeling like my old self and my typical number will reappear on the scale.

Now, I’m not saying you can eat all the healthy food you want, especially as we get older. But I’m saying before you focus on how much or how little food you’re eating, focus first on quality. See what happens when you pay attention to “what” and not so much on “how much”. If you’re eating quality food but the pounds aren’t coming off then evaluate if you’re eating too much. If that’s the case try first to simply eat slower. Put your fork down between bites. Pay attention to the wonderful tastes and textures in your mouth. Chew your food and let your mouth do its job, which is to prepare your food for the rest of your digestive system. I’ve found for myself that this allows my brain to stay in tune with my stomach. I end up eating less but I never feel hungry or unsatisfied.

So, what do you eat?

I’m not a registered dietitian. I have no formal training in nutrition. It is, however, a personal passion and I’ve been successful at taking and keeping off my extra weight. More than that I’m healthy. My blood profiles are excellent. I don’t get sick. I feel good. So, for what it’s worth here is my page on how I eat.

If you’re just starting your journey towards eating better, or if you’re already on that path and just looking for some new information, here’s my recommended reading list:

Garlic Will Cure What Ails Ya

It’s that time of year again. {sniff-sniff}

When you feel that cold or flu coming on, stop it in its tracks with garlic which is a natural antibiotic (natural anti-everything really).  I don’t often get sick, but when I do I immediately start downing garlic and more than once it’s kicked a cold to the curb by morning.

At the onset of symptoms take 2 cloves of garlic a day (or more, if your friends and family can tolerate it!). One with breakfast, one with dinner. Keep it up for a few days, even if you start feeling better right away.  Interestingly, unlike with pharmaceutical antibiotics, bacteria don’t build up resistance to garlic, so you can keep taking it preventatively.

  • Mince it up (finer is better, plus it’s easier to swallow).
  • Pile it up on a spoon and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. The oxygen in the air will boost the healing properties of the garlic.
  • Then down the hatch, chasing it with a big glass of water.

Does it have to be raw? Yes. Yes, it does. Cooked garlic is great, and still good for you. But it’s not going to knock out that cold. Would garlic pills do just as well? Of course not (c’mon!).

Garlic is also an anti-fungal, anticoagulant, and antihypertensive (lowers your blood pressure) and might also lower your cholesterol. So if you’re on medication consult your doctor and/or pharmacist for possible drug interactions.

Additional links:

“ChuckVision” Beans with Ham

It’s always nice to meet someone who can also get excited talking about Rancho Gordo. Not enough of us out there, to be sure, but the word is getting out.

Who – or what? – is a Rancho Gordo? Thanks to Steve Sando, Bean Master and the founder of Rancho Gordo, you have options when it comes to dried beans. Supermarket beans just don’t compare to heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo with exotic names like Good Mother Stallard or wonderfully descriptive names like  Jacob’s Cattle, Yellow Eye or Ojo de Cabra (Goat’s Eye). If you eat beans and have never tried using heirloom beans you owe it to yourself to try it. Plus, by buying Rancho Gordo beans you’re helping to support biodiversity and local family farmers. If that means nothing to you, then buy them just because you can’t believe the difference it’ll make to the flavor of your bean dishes.

I recently met attorney Chuck Numbers and we ended up talking about our love of Rancho Gordo beans (long irrelevant story). A week or so later a package arrived on my doorstep. Beans. Rancho Gordo beans. From Chuck. The note included said he was at a farmer’s market in San Francisco, saw those Rancho Gordo beans and thought of me and decided to send us some of his favorite beans. Wow. How often do you run into someone that thoughtful?

One of the beans included in that package was a pound of Yellow Eyes. It said right on the package, “A ham hock’s best friend”. Yummy. One of my favorite ways to make beans. Here’s how I do it, a very slight adaptation to the Red Beans & Rice recipe in Steve Sando & Vanessa Barrington’s Heirloom Beans: Great Recipes for Dips and Spreads, Soups and Stews, Salads and Salsas, and Much More from Rancho Gordo.

This recipe makes a HUGE batch of beans because you can’t buy half a ham hock. I love smoked pork as much as the next guy, but let’s face it, it’s not health food, even if it’s an organic nitrate-free smoked-in-house ham hock like this one I got at Whole Foods. I know, it’s a little disgusting looking. It’s the lower half of a pig leg, what were you expecting?

To keep the pork content to a minimum I’ve kept the ham the same as the original recipe and doubled everything else. Still plenty pork-y & luscious. Hope you have plenty of storage containers for freezing leftovers, you’ll need them (I like these, they’re glass & the round shape means I can run some warm water across the bottom and pop it out right into my 2-qt sauce pan for reheating).

Ingredients

  • 1 one pound-ish smoked ham shank (aka ham hock, same dif). Available packaged or ask your butcher, they may smoke their own
  • 2 pound yellow eye heirloom Rancho Gordo beans, soaked (or combine two different kinds of heirloom beans like I did – I combined the Yellow Eyes with a pound of Good Mother Stallard’s which didn’t cook at the same time, honestly, but it all worked out in the end)
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 2 medium red onions, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 6 stalks celery, chopped (include the leaves, tons of flavor in those babies)
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  • Rinse the beans in plenty of cool water, picking out any rocks (happens) or broken beans. Soak them for 2-6 hours (overnight even) in enough cold water to cover by at least an inch. Seriously, tell me those beans don’t look more interesting than plain old kidney beans.
  • In a large (7 qt+) dutch oven heat EVOO over medium heat until it shimmers. Add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic and saute 10 minutes or until veggies are soft & fragrant but not browned. If you’re like me and you typically add salt to your veggies as they saute, DON’T! You’ll add the salt later but beans like to cook salt-free for a couple of hours first.
  • Add the beans, their soaking liquid and the ham shank, adding water if necessary to cover the beans by 1 inch. Add spices not including the salt (bay leaves, thyme, oregano and cayenne pepper), bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
  • Simmer partially covered, checking occasionally to make sure the beans are staying submerged, adding water as necessary. Watch TV. Play with your kids. Do some Bikram Yoga in honor of Chuck. Whatever. It’s gonna be a while.
  • After 4 hours or so, when the meat starts to fall off those beautiful ham bones, remove the ham shank (and any pieces of meat that fell off as you were pulling it out!).
  • Crank the heat on the beans up to medium-high and cook uncovered while you shred the pork.
  • If you’ll be serving this over brown rice start that rice cooker.
  • Shred the pork, removing any bones, visible fat and other icky bits. 
  • Cook the bean, uncovered, until thick, about 20 minutes. Mash with a wooden spoon, potato masher or immersion blender then return shredded ham to the pot.
  • If you’ll be serving over white rice, now’s the time to start the rice cooker.
  • The original recipe seasons with salt & pepper earlier in the process, but I wait until the end. Seems to me that you can’t tell how much salt that pork is going to bring to the party until it’s done doing its thing. Start slowly. It takes beans a few minutes to soak up the salt so you don’t really know how much you have right away. Don’t forget the pepper.
  • Serve over rice with hot sauce, cilantro & a squeeze of lime.

During our conversation I referred Chuck to this blog and he joked he was going to start his own, ChuckVision.com. Domain not available Chuck, you’d have to talk to the Iowa City Astronomy Club about that.

Quick & easy cauliflower potato soup

Looked in the fridge tonight and there was the head of cauliflower I’d intended to use over the weekend. If I didn’t make it tonight it was going to go to waste. With my new commitment to eating more vegetables I couldn’t let that happen (not to mention throwing organic food away, bad karma that). So I decided to throw together a quick soup. How bad could it be? Turned out great. Thick. Creamy. Luscious. The recipe I adapted this from (in the recent Nutrition Action newsletter) had 2 cups of milk. SO doesn’t need milk. It was super easy and it was on the table in about 30 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 3T extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped, core removed.
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced, skins on
  • 4 cups (1 box) Pacific brand organic chicken broth (yes, the brand matters, I’ve found no equal)
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper

Directions:

  • In stockpot sauté onions in EVOO with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper until they take on a little color (5-10 minutes).
  • Add cauliflower and sauté 5 more minutes.
  • Add potatoes and chicken broth. If liquid does not cover veggies add water (I didn’t need any). The liquid will deglaze the pot so it’ll have some color, don’t freak out.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes or until veggies are fork tender.
  • Whiz with immersion blender until smooth but don’t overdo it, potatoes can get gummy. Add additional salt & pepper to taste.

Next time I may start with a mirepoix (2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery) but I wanted super quick & easy tonight.

The nutrition on this recipe is pretty impressive. Low cal, 4 grams of fiber and all the good stuff that’s in those veggies. And please don’t freak out over the fat %. a) it’s olive oil, it’s good for you. b) look at calories or fat grams, not percentages. c) fat is not your enemy, in fact it’s necessary to get the most of the nutrients in those vegetables.

Basic Kombucha recipe

See Related Post: What you Need to Make your own Kombucha with equipment list and helpful links.

Ingredients:

This recipe makes three 1/2 gallon jars (8-9 bottles).

  • 20 cups filtered water (filtered, bottled, RO’d or distilled. Tap water will have chlorine in it = SCOBY killer).
  • 2 cups organic cane sugar.
  • 4 bags organic green tea (as in individual tea bags, or use loose tea and strain)
  • 4 bags organic black tea
  • 3 SCOBYs plus 1-1/2 to 3 cups of kombucha (1 SCOBY and 1/2 to 1 cup of kombucha per brewing jar)

Sweet Tea

“Kombucha” is the finished product. It starts out as sweet tea.

  • In a large stainless steel stockpot bring water to a boil.
  • Remove from heat, add sugar and stir to dissolve.
    Sounds like a lot of sugar, I know. But it’s not for you. It’s for your SCOBY. It’s fermentation baby. Sugar is required. Don’t worry, studies show there’s not much left by the time your SCOBY has done its magic.
  • add tea bags and let tea steep for 10-15 minutes
    Recipe is very forgiving, you can add more tea if you’d like a stronger brew, or try using more black or more green tea proportionally. You can, of course, use loose tea and strain it after steeping. I’m a big tea drinker, I have tons of different kinds of loose tea in my cabinet, but I use the most basic of teas for my kombucha and I like the convenience of using tea bags. I use Whole Foods 365 brand organic teas.
  • Remove tea bags, squeezing between 2 spoons to extract out the tea goodness back into the pot of sweet tea (or strain out loose tea leaves).
  • Cover and let cool to room temperature. Below 90°F is a MUST or you’ll kill your beautiful SCOBY. The easiest thing I’ve found is to make your sweet tea at night and jar it the next day.
  • In a rush? Use 4-5 cups of water, keeping amount of sugar and tea the same. Boil, steep, remove tea, let cool to 90 degrees or so then fill to 20 cups with fresh water (again, no tap water).

Initial Fermentation (Jarring)

  • Ready 3 clean 1/2 gallon glass jars (or if you’ve just bottled a batch, you can re-use the jars you just emptied, just rinse them out with distilled white vinegar).
  • Pour sweet tea into jars, leaving an inch or more space at the top of the jar (room for the SCOBY and some started tea).
  • It’s SCOBY time! Remove any rings and wash your hands well. No antibiotic soap please. I like to finish with a dip of my hands into distilled white vinegar.
  • Add SCOBY (disgusting brown side down if it has one) and at least 1/2 cup of kombucha tea from a prior batch to each jar. Careful. That sucker will be slippery! Your old SCOBY may float, sink, or somewhere in between. Matters not. After adding the SCOBY and some of the “old” kombucha tea there should still be space at the top of the jar. A new SCOBY will grow and it needs room.
  • Draw out some of the new-old blended tea using a clean straw or wine thief and test the pH. If not 4.6 or less (it should be already, but you never know) add either more kombucha tea from a prior batch or white distilled vinegar until the pH is 4.6 or lower.
  • Cover jar with coffee filter and secure with rubber band. Do not use the lid that came with your canning jar. Kombucha needs air to ferment. A clean dish towel will also work. I’ve found paper towels too dense. Cheesecloth isn’t dense enough and fruit flies will feast on your beloved brew. Coffee filters seem to have the right density and you don’t have to wash them.
  • Label your jar with the date.
  • Stash your new brew somewhere where it won’t be disturbed and out of direct sunlight (another SCOBY killer). On top of the fridge. Pantry. Mine goes into a bathroom cabinet but I leave the door open (kombucha needs air). Warmer is better than colder.
  • Wait 7 days at least. Mine takes 12-14 days. Brewing takes longer in the winter. Patience grasshopper.
  • Look for signs that your kombucha is ready to bottle. It will have a new white SCOBY sitting on top at least 1/8″ thick. It will smell faintly (or not so faintly) of vinegar.
  • Extract a sample with a clean straw or wine thief (careful going around that new SCOBY, try not to tip it upside down just in case it’s not done doin’ its thing). Give it a sip, it should be slightly sweet. Test the pH. If the pH is 3.0 or less you’re good to go. Where to get pH strips? Click here: What you Need to Make your own Kombucha

Bottling (Secondary Fermentation)

  • Once you get going this is the first step, not the 2nd.
  • Remove any rings and wash your hands well (no antibiotic soap).
  • Mise en place. Fancy cooking term meaning “everything in its place”. Assemble:
    • (clean) plate to put stuff on, funnels, measuring spoons, lemon reamer, whatever
    • (clean) plastic funnel
    • (clean) plastic ladle if using a large brewing jar (kombucha doesn’t like metal remember)
    • (clean) bottles – I get 7 to 9 per batch
    • any flavoring you want to add (that’s a whole other post).
  • Wash your hands with water. I know. You just did. Seriously. Again. And you took your rings off, right? You’re about to touch your beloved SCOBY.
  • Extract SCOBYs. Careful! Slippery little sucker. A new one grew on top, so now you have two. Or perhaps they mated. SCOBY lovin’ isn’t a bad thing. You can usually gently separate them with your hands. One might rip. It’s ok. SCOBYs don’t have feelings. Or leave them mated. Who cares?
    • I put my SCOBYs in a my large pyrex measuring cup or a big (clean) bowl and cover them with about a cup of kombucha tea until I turn around and make my next batch.
    • Take your kombucha from the top of the jar as your starter tea for the next batch, not the murky stuff at the bottom of the jar. From the top will keep the right balance of bacteria & yeast.
  • Ready for bottling. You’ll need that funnel. And if you’re using a jar that’s so big you can’t easily pick it up you’ll need a plastic ladle (no metal ladles, SCOBY killer). You can use a plastic strainer to catch any errant SCOBY goo which might be left in the jar. It’s a personal preference, it’s not bad for you. It will bubble so go easy. Before it’s entirely full put in any flavoring you’d like to add. Ginger and lemon is a favorite of mine. But as I said, that’s a whole other post. Most people like their kombucha on the fizzy side. To get carbonation you’ve got to fill that bottle UP. If your first few batches don’t fizz, fear not, it’s still good for you. And future batches with more “mature” SCOBYs will be fizzier.
  • I label my bottles with the date and the flavoring I used. But that’s just me.
  • SCOBYs!I know, I know, you want to just drink it now. But it's not done. Stash it back in the cupboard for another few days. A week even. Then into the fridge. Kombucha should definitely be enjoyed chilled.

    Oh, the SCOBYs you have from each old batch? If you’re organized you’ve got a new batch of sweet tea ready for jarring and one can go right into a new batch, along with 1/2 to 1 cup of the finished brew. If you’re not ready to start a new batch, store them in an airtight container. A canning jar (with lid this time, no air please), a pyrex or corning ware container with a plastic lid, or short-term in a plastic ziploc baggie (plastic’s not suitable for long-term storage). You can put them in the fridge but they’ll go dormant so it’ll take them a while to perk up when you decide to brew with them again. If you’re going to brew in the next week or two they’ll be just fine at room temp. Once you have enough SCOBYs you’ll want to set up a SCOBY hotel for your spares just in case you have a batch go bad. After that do the world a favor and give a SCOBY to a friend.

Timing

After your brew your sweet tea you’ll need to let it cool to room temperature (less than 90F or you’ll kill your SCOBY). This takes longer than you think it might. Save yourself the waiting and brew it before going to bed and let it cool overnight.

If you always want to have kombucha on hand you’ll have to have at least 2 batches at different stages. My initial fermentation takes about 2 weeks. I brew sweet tea every Saturdays, let it cool overnight. On Sundays I bottle and jar up a new batch. I bottle the 3 jars that are ready to go, and re-use those jars for my next batch. The following week 3 more jars are ready for bottling. Btw, you’ll always use a little kombucha from the old batch in your new batch and will lose more if you’re storing extra SCOBYs (or giving them away) so there’s never 100% “harvest”.

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

Part 1: Contact!

Before touching your SCOBY wash your hands. With hot water. For 30 seconds. You can use disposable surgical gloves if you’d like (nothing with powder in them!). But I think they’re a hassle. I do a final dip of my hands into white distilled vinegar before touching the SCOBY.

Part 2: Mind Your Surfaces.

If you need to take your SCOBY out of it’s brewing jar and set it down before putting it to work in the next batch, place on a clean plate or bowl. Do not put on a cutting board. God knows what’s still living in there.

Part 3: Brewing Jars

Either immediately re-use your brewing jars for your next batch or clean them in the dishwasher. Use the antibacterial setting if it has one. And/or use the hot water rinse if it has it. I rinse mine with a little distilled white vinegar if I’m feeling like being extra godly.

Part 4: Bottles.

Rinse your used bottles immediately after use and wash in the dishwasher. Again, use any extra cleanliness settings it may have. You can boil the bejesus out of your bottles if you want. I choose not to. Rinsed and dishwasher is clean enough for me. Yup, that’s me. Living on the edge.

More Kombucha Info

I’m a kombucha newbie, here are some links from more experienced brewers with brewing tips and other info on kombucha:

Stevi-huh?

Let’s start with the basics. What is stevia (pronounced STEH-veeya)?

Stevia is an herb, native to South America, which is naturally very sweet.

stevia

Stevia Rebaudiana plant

It has no calories and is diabetic-friendly because it won’t spike your blood sugar. And it’s safe. Stevia has been used for centuries as a sweetener in South America and for decades in Japan where it’s the most popular non-sugar sweetener. Despite widespread and long-term use, there is no evidence that stevia causes health problems, in fact there is some evidence that stevia is helpful for hypertension and type-2 diabetes. In 2006 the World Health Organization did a comprehensive review of recent human and animal safety studies on stevia, and found no evidence it was either toxic or carcinogenic.

Sounds great, huh? So why haven’t you heard about it? One word. Politics. The FDA went against it’s own guidelines about what qualifies as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) and banned stevia as a food additive in 1991. Allegedly they did so because of safety concerns, but almost certainly it was because they were pressured by the artificial sweetener industry.

Don’t think artificial sweetener is politically connected? Donald Rumsfeld ~ yes, THAT Donald Rumsfeld, then head of Searle, the maker of aspartame (Equal) ~ used his political connections to push through the approval of aspartame after 16 years of FDA refusal based on a mountain of evidence that aspartame causes serious health problems. Yes, really. But I digress…back to the stevia story…

Though stevia was banned as a food additive it was allowed to be sold as an herbal supplement in 1994 as part of the DSHEA ( Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994) which covers herbal supplements. Why the double standard? The difference is burden of proof. To be sold as a food additive the producer must prove it’s safe (unless it’s GRAS, as most natural products are). Since stevia is natural and cannot be patented there was no big-pharma company to back such research. However, for the FDA to prevent it being sold under DSHEA, there must be proof the substance is unsafe, which there is not. Hence the confusing allowed-as-supplement but disallowed-as-sweetener status of stevia. So for years, we health nuts have been getting our stevia at the health food store on the herbal supplement aisle or online.

But now there are stevia-based sweeteners on the shelf of your local mega-mart named Truvia and PureVia. How did they get past the FDA restriction? You can thank Coke and Pepsi for that. To answer the American demand for a natural non-sugar sweetener Coke and Pepsi wanted to use stevia, which they already use in Asia to sweeten their diet products. Truvia (developed by Coca-Cola & Cargill) and PureVia (developed by PepsiCo & Merisant) contain only part of the stevia plant’s sweet extract (steviosides) called Rebaudioside A, or Reb A. Steviosides, the less refined extract of the stevia plant, is what the FDA has restricted for years as an additive. So big-food and big-pharma decided to refine it, pulling out only the RebA. Then in some twisted ruling the FDA agreed with Coke and Pepsi that RebA is GRAS, yet they’ve not yet applied GRAS to steviosides, the less refined extract of stevia. How the hell does THAT work? Whatever. Like we should expect logic from the FDA.

Both PureVia and Truvia are mostly a natural sugar alcohol erythritol (PureVia also adds isomaltulose, an allegedly safe sweetener derived from sucrose) mixed with a little RebA (stevia is SO sweet, a little is all it takes). However, it is the less refined extract, steviosides, which has been widely used in South America for centuries. I’m not saying there’s any evidence RebA isn’t safe, there’s not. It just seems to me that we’ve already learned the lesson that less refined is better. I also prefer to not get my stevia from China (the largest exporter of stevia).

So if you don’t want to get your stevia from big-food/big-pharma what’s your option? There are several stevia products available online or at health food stores and Whole Foods. But the best tasting stevia product I’ve found is Stevita. Stevita has been solely dedicated to growing, developing and producing stevia since the 1980’s. They grow their own non-genetically modified stevia plants in Brazil, the plant’s natural habitat, using sustainable farming practices and process the plants themselves using water to extract the steviosides. Stevita stevia plants are sweeter, and their extraction process results in a higher percentage of the sweet substances of the herb (the more complex steviosides, not just rebiana) resulting in a stevia product that doesn’t have the bitter aftertaste of some of their competitors. You’re not likely to find Stevita products on your grocer’s shelf (at least until the FDA clarifies its GRAS ruling on steviosides), but you can buy it from Amazon and other online retailers.

I prefer this form of Stevita stevia for baking. It’s stevia mixed with Xylitol to add bulk. This is what I typically add to my granola.

Stevita also offers a pure stevia product, with no fillers.

For some applications, however, liquid is the way to go. No fillers and powdered stevia doesn’t dissolve well in cold liquid. So making lemonade, for instance, almost requires liquid stevia (4 drops in a glass with water with the juice of one lemon, yum).

Additional Reading:

The Science Behind Truvia and PureViaSweeteners (Rebiana) | Nutrition Wonderland

Tropical Plant Database: Stevia rebaudiana

WebMD.com overview of stevia – including drug interactions

Dr. Weil: Is Stevia Really Safe

Natural ‘Cures’ for Acid Reflux

As with most things in life it comes down to mostly common sense. Before I tell you all the things you can’t have or do let me say this:

Your body is designed to heal itself.

Your cells are regenerating every moment of every day, striving for health. If you give the body what it needs (which sometimes means just getting out of its way, especially with pharmaceutical drugs) it can often find its way back to a healthful state. 99% of the time now I’m completely symptom free. Once you get to that state (which took me several months) you may not have to be so strict.

Lifestyle:

If you do nothing else, do this. Drink Slippery Elm “tea”. Ok, it’s not tea, it’s gruel. But it works!

Slippery Elm has been used for centuries as a digestive aid and it’s highly nutritious (rumor has it Washington’s Army lived on it and even had their gunshot wounds treated with it). Just like it sounds it’s literally tree bark, of the Slippery Elm Tree. When mixed with water it makes a thick gelatinous concoction that coats your entire digestive system. I have a cup before bed anytime I even think my heartburn is going to kick up. It’s not only good for acid reflux, but also for other digestive problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and diverticulitis and diverticulosis and can be made into a poultice to treat burns and wounds.

Slippery Elm “Tea”:

Directions:

  • Put all ingredients into your blender and blend until creamy.
  • Let it cool a bit (it’ll really hold its heat, watch out!) and enjoy. You can also blend with less hot water and stir in some room temp water to cool it down but it will blend easier with very hot water.

Yes, it’s slimy, but you get used to it. I enjoy it even. More importantly it works! Before bed is the best time to have a cup of slippery elm “tea”. Reflux often happens when we lie down simply because gravity isn’t helping to keep things down where they belong. So have a cup right before bed (& remember to sleep on your left side, &/or propped up).

By the way, the Slippery Elm pills you’ll find at places like Whole Foods won’t do the trick. You need the Slippery Elm to coat your esophagus, not make the trip all the way to your tummy. Don’t know why, read ‘What is Acid Reflux Anyway?‘.

The biggest problem making slippery elm tea is lumps. I’ve tried everything. Whisking. Shaking. Stirring. Hot water. Cold. First cold to make a paste then adding hot. There’s only one way, in my experience, to make beautifully smooth slippery elm tea. You’ve got to use hot water and use a blender, or a chopper attachment on an immersion blender.

Let me restate for emphasis. If you do nothing else to naturally treat your reflux, drink slippery elm tea!

Other Lifestyle Changes:

  • Lose those extra pounds. Studies have shown even moderate weight loss can reduce your symptoms.
  • Chew your food. Your mouth is the beginning of your digestive system. Let those teeth and all that saliva do their job before sending it downstream.
  • Use digestive enzymes. This is especially important if you’re getting older.
  • Use probiotics. I really like the beadlet form, it survives the acidic environment of the stomach and gets the probiotics into your intestines, where they’re needed.
  • Chew DGL (Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice). DGL stimulates mucus production, restoring the lining of the esophagus and stomach. Chew 2 tables between meals. Particularly useful if you suffer from ulcers.
  • Read “Why Stomach Acid is Good for you” by Dr. Jonathan Wright and Lane Lenard, PhD for more info.
  • Chew cinnamon gum. You’ll likely have to go to Whole Foods to find gum that doesn’t contain aspartame or sucralose. Look for gum sweetened with xylitol (good for your teeth, actually prevents cavities!) and/or stevia. I like the Between or Spry brands. Spearmint is often advised for tummy trouble but can weaken the sphincter between your esophagus and your stomach (the LES), and is NOT recommended. BEWARE! Most commercial gum is sweetened with aspartame, which is a whole other subject.
  • Avoid bending over, particularly after eating (hinge at the hips and bend at the knees to load that dishwasher!).
  • Sleep on your left side. Lying on your left side puts your stomach in a position less likely to send contents upwards. Sleeping on your back is the second best option, and on your right side is the worst option.  Tummy sleeping is clearly out of the question!
  • Quit smoking. Smoking may weaken the LES and you don’t produce as much saliva, one of the ways the body protects the esophagus.
  • Sleep elevated. Prop the head of your bed up 4-6” with blocks (cheap first thing to try, although you might just slip to the end of the bed), use a wedge pillow (I never found one I really liked, I tried several and always slid down as the night wore on) or pile up some fairly firm pillows. If you use pillows like I did watch out for propping up the head and neck too much and letting your abdomen ‘sag’; make yourself a nice gradual incline.
  • Avoid regular use of NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Nuprin, Rufen), Naproxen (Aleve), and others. Studies show regular users of NSAIDs are twice as likely to develop acid reflux disease. Say it with me in your best Mr. Mackey voice: Drugs are Bad!
  • Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics. If you do have to take antibiotics, replenish your system with a good probiotic (yogurt isn’t enough to do the trick).

Hiatal Hernia Exercise

If, like me, your reflux is a result of a hiatal hernia (when the top of your stomach has popped through your diaphragm) there’s a simple but very effective exercise you can do to get your stomach to drop down back where it belongs.

First thing each morning drink a warm glass of water. Not hot. Not cold. Not coffee or tea. Warm water. On an empty stomach. Reach your arms out to the side. Let your stomach relax. Rise up on your toes. Then thump down onto your heels. Rise up. Thump. 10 times. Then take your arms overhead and pant – fast! – for 10 seconds. That’s it!

The warm water encourages your stomach to relax and gives it weight. Simple gravity helps the stomach drop down. Panting with your arms overhead encourages the diaphragm to tighten up and keep things in place.

Caution: Do not do this exercise if you have any disc issues in your spine as you’re putting a fair amount of force on your spine.

Diet:

Don’t eat too much at one time. This has the biggest impact on my symptoms. Much more so than any particular food I eat. If I overindulge, even in the healthiest food, I’m gonna pay for it.

Give yourself time to digest (3 hours) before going to bed.

Avoid the following:

  • Hot liquids and foods (temperature, that is). If you can’t hold it in your mouth, it’s too hot to go down your throat! Once you start doing the hold-in-your-mouth test you might be surprised how much piping hot stuff you’re sending down your esophagus!
  • Greasy and fried foods. Fat makes food digest slower, so food remains in your stomach longer, giving it more opportunity to go up instead of down. However, healthy fats (fish oil, nuts, olive oil) are vitally important to health and in my experience a meal of healthy fats (oven roasted salmon, for instance) and one of unhealthy fats (french fries) have very different reactions.
  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate (sorry, causes the LES to relax); I must admit this is the first place I indulge when I’m symptom free!
  • Hard alcohol (beer is ok for most people, and red wine seems to have a protective effect – yay!)
  • Peppermint and Spearmint. Peppermint is known for its tummy taming properties. But not when acid reflux is your problem, it relaxes the LES.
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Acidic foods: tomatoes, citrus
  • Spicy food
  • Raw onions and garlic – maybe. I’ve read both that onions and garlic are to be avoided, and because of the many health benefits, should not be avoided. Test it on yourself, see what happens.

Your triggers may be different than anyone else’s, and some of the foods above might be fine for you (for instance, I don’t seem to have a problem with spicy food). Pay attention to what aggravates you and what doesn’t. A food diary for a week or so is an excellent tool for determining what you should and shouldn’t eat.

Exercise:

Regular exercise is very important (for lots of reasons), but heavy weight lifting should be avoided as it can increase the pressure in the abdomen and force stomach acid up the esophagus. Bouncing (jogging, running, bouncing on a large exercise ball, jumping rope) is asking for trouble. Some say crunches or sit ups are also a bad idea. My personal experience doesn’t bear that out, but decide for yourself if it aggravates you. Basically any exercise that causes you to grunt or strain should cause you to say to yourself “hmm, I don’t think I should do that”.

No jogging? No weight lifting? Doesn’t that mean no exercise? Absolutely not!

Pilates! Pilates was certainly the answer for me when traditional weight training aggravated my condition. For almost two years Pilates was the only form of exercise I could do. Instead of spending five days a week in the gym killing myself with high intensity cardio and heavy weight training my reflux forced me to cut back to two days a week of Pilates (I didn’t know at the time that acid reflux was what was wrong with me, I only knew cardio and weight lifting caused me to have shortness of breath). Naturally I assumed I’d gain weight and lose muscle tone. Exactly the opposite happened. I lost weight (and have kept it off) and have gained muscle tone. Not without effort, certainly, but absolutely without grunting and straining.

You should avoid inverted positions (with your head below your stomach) but you can do most of the Pilates repertoire without aggravating reflux.

If yoga is your thing be sure to avoid anything inverted (“upside down”) like downward dog or headstands.

As for cardio, I highly recommend Nia, a non-impact form of aerobics, combining dance and martial arts kicks and blocks. It’s infinitely modifiable for your body and fitness level. But more than anything else, Nia is just plain fun! Or good old fashioned walking (the movement your body is most designed to do in my opinion).

See related posts:

Purple Pill Preposterousness

Acid Reflux is a rampant problem. But modern medicine only wants to treat it. They don’t want to cure it. Why lose a repeat customer after all?

But you can “cure” it yourself in many cases. Naturally. Without Drugs. I did.

First, let’s define “cure”. I define it as lack of symptoms without having to use drugs to mask symptoms; you might always have to follow the lifestyle listed in the related post ‘Natural Cures for Acid Reflux‘.

Why bother curing it? Why not just take a pill for the rest of your life? First of all, it just makes common sense. Your stomach is designed to be an acidic environment. It turns a big steak into meat soup before it hits the rest of your digestive system. Just what do you think happens if it’s not allowed to do its job? You’re not absorbing nutrients for one thing. And you’re depriving your immune system of one of its major weapons for another (stomach acid doesn’t just liquify your food, it kills germs!).

Also, indigestion and heartburn is your body speaking to you, shouting to you even. STOP THAT! By taking drugs that only mask the symptoms, you’re only turning down the volume so you can ignore it and continue to do your body damage. It’s like walking around on a sprained ankle while taking Vicoden. Just because it doesn’t hurt any more doesn’t mean you should be doing it!

Then there’s the side effects of the drugs used to stop the production of stomach acid, or to counteract it. Not just nuisance side-effects like diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids and kidney stones. I’m talking serious, systemic changes to your body like osteoporosis and even cancer. You simply can’t go messing around with one of your body’s main organs and expect there not to be consequences. The studies are just starting to appear but Dr. Jonathan Wright and others foretold of these risks years ago:

The Canadian Medical Association Journal published in August 2008 that PPIs (Proton Pump Inhibitors, generic name: omeprazole brand names: Prilosec) may reduce calcium absorption, thus causing early onset osteoporosis and bone fracture among patients, especially those taking PPIs for five to seven years or longer. A similar study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (December 2006), also found that long-term, high-dose consumption of PPIs contributed to hip fractures among patients.

Check out the other side effects of Prilosec.  Take note of those followed by “some fatal” (here are some highlights):

  • Pancreatitis (some fatal)
  • Liver disease including hepatic failure (some fatal)
  • liver necrosis (some fatal)
  • Severe generalized skin reactions including toxic epidermal necrolysis (some fatal) [p.s. that means your skin falls off].

Even if your reaction isn’t something exotic like your skin falling off proton-pump inhibitors like Prilosec slows down the absorption of vitamin B12 which in turn causes a host of problems (heart disease, depression, fatigue, acceleration of the effects of other diseases which you may have like diabetes or arteriosclerosis).

And if you know someone who takes Prilosec OTC ask them how long they’ve been taking it. For some people it’s years. Not on and off for years. Daily. For Years. Even the Prilosec website states it’s designed to be a limited treatment (emphasis mine):

How long can I take Prilosec OTC?
Prilosec OTC is a
14-day regimen that is indicated for three courses per year. While it is safe to treat frequent heartburn regularly with Prilosec OTC, it is strong enough to mask more serious conditions. If you want to take more than the three indicated courses, first consult your doctor.

Even those over-the-counter remedies you might think are harmless are not! Tagamet (Zantac, Pepcid, or other H2 blockers) not only prevent your stomach from achieving its natural environment (not a small issue, read the books recommended below for more info), it interferes with your body’s ability to detoxify the toxins we ingest every day.

So acid isn’t the problem, it’s supposed to be in your stomach (in fact, your stomach might not be producing enough). Where it’s not supposed to be is in your esophagus. So the “cure” for acid reflux lies not in addressing the acid, but in the reflux. The root of the problem is the connection between your stomach and your esophagus, your LES (lower esophageal sphincter). If your LES isn’t doing its job acid escapes and that’s when problems arise.

As with many health problems it keeps coming back around to this…diet, exercise and common sense.

Suggested reading (get informed!):

  1. Why Stomach Acid is Good for You Natural Relief from Heartburn, Indigestion, Reflux and GERD by Jonathan Wright, M.D. and Lane Lenard, Ph.D. This is the definitive guide on why your stomach needs to do what nature designed it to do and why messing with it is a bad idea. Dr. Wright found many of his patients with acid reflux, especially those over 50, actually have too little stomach acid and should supplement with hydrochloric acid. How many acid reflux sufferers are taking drugs to suppress their stomach acid when they should be doing the opposite?!
  2. No More Heartburn: Stop the Pain in 30 Days–Naturally! : The Safe, Effective Way to Prevent and Heal Chronic Gastrointestinal Disorders by Sherry Rogers, M.D. A wealth of information on the dangers of the typical pharmaceuticaltreatments for Acid Reflux, and the natural ways to rid yourself of many GI issues like acid reflux, candida (is your acid reflux really a candida problem??), ulcers, and more. Great information for how to get to the root cause of what’s ailing you and how to come back to health naturally.

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