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.

See Related Post:

Romesco Dip

A red bell pepper sauce perfect for dipping with raw veggies, or served with fish or chicken. Oh so good and full of healthy stuff. Never fails I get asked for this recipe when serving to new friends.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup organic raw unsalted almonds
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 cups organic roasted red bell peppers, stems & seeds removed
    If using jarred, which I usually do, rinse & drain them. If roasting yourself, use 6 peppers.
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 cup organic extra-virgin olive oil

 

 

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 175.
    note: don’t be tempted to roast the nuts at a higher temp, their delicate fats are easily damaged.
  2. Place the nuts on a baking sheet and roast for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Cool nuts.
  4. Place nuts in food processor along with garlic. Process until finely chopped but not almond butter!
  5. Add peppers, vinegar, salt, pepper, cayenne, black pepper and process until smooth.
  6. Keep processor running and drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil.

Oh my, it’s so friggin’ good. Scoop it up with fresh veggies like raw red bell peppers, celery, carrots, cucumbers.

*adapted from Romesco Dip recipe by Ellie Krieger, “Quick & Fresh” No. 29

Tracy’s Granola

Though people think of granola as “health food” it’s often not. Read those labels and you’ll typically find added oil and tons of sugar. My version, however, has very little (or no) added sugar or added fat. Enjoy guilt free! A great source of whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Because research shows that higher temps damage nuts’ delicate fats and cause free radicals, I use 2-step baking. Give the nuts a gentle toast first, then turn up the temp to roast the oats.

Ingredients:

Nuts Mixture

  • 1 cup organic raw almonds, whole or chopped.
  • 1 cup organic walnuts, chopped

Oat Mixture

  • 7 cups organic rolled oats (that’s one big bag of my favorite, Bob’s Red Mill organic rolled oats)
  • 1/2 cup organic flaxseeds, ground
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Stevita brand powdered Stevita stevia
    notes:
    1) if you want to go completely sugar free, eliminate the maple syrup below and use up to 1 tsp of stevia.
    2) if using a different brand of stevia your quantity may vary.
  • optional: freshly ground nutmeg

Applesauce Mixture

  • 1/2 cup organic unsweetened applesauce (read labels, some have added sugar!)
  • 1 tsp organic vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) maple syrup – this is optional but just a little sugar helps to toast the oats. If you want sugar-free granola then eliminate, but then you may want to use more stevia.

Seed Mixture

  • 1/4 c organic raw sunflower seeds (sprouted preferred)
  • 1/4 c organic raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas, sprouted preferred)
  • optional: 2T toasted sesame seeds

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 170° (use the convection setting if you’ve got it).
  2. Spread the Nut mixture evenly on half sheet pan (or you may choose to not roast the walnuts, as they’re also yummy raw and add them at the end instead). Bake for 30 minutes, rotating pan after 15.
  3. Meanwhile, combine Oat Mixture in large mixing bowl, stirring to distribute salt, stevia & cinnamon.
  4. Add Applesauce Mixture to oats and stir to combine until most particles are moistened.
  5. Add the maple syrup one tablespoon at a time, mixing between each to distribute.
  6. Remove nuts from oven when complete, removing nuts to small container.
  7. Increase oven temp to 300°.
  8. Spread oat/applesauce mixture on sheet pan. Don’t pack it down, you want surface area. Bake for 45-55 minutes, stirring and rotating the pan every 15-20 minutes. Remove when toasty but not dark.
  9. Remove from oven, add the Seed Mixture and the Nuts
  10. After cooling store in an air-tight container. (OXO 4-qt POP container is perfect for a batch)
  11. Serve 1/2 to 3/4 cup with seasonal fresh fruit  (apples, bananas, nectarines, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, …), and/or organic plain yogurt if you like.

How much do I love hostmonster.com?

Crap customer support from my old web host clearly made me jaded. How easily we get used to bad service.

I submitted a trouble ticket to HostMonster. Instead of an automated response a day later that didn’t address my issue because their bot simply looked for keywords and sent out a standard reply (old host SOP) I got a correct answer in all of 5 minutes from a real live actual person who’d taken the time to actually read and understand my issue.

Wow.