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Six Health Foods You Think Are Good for You – Think Again

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Here are six health foods you think are good for you,  but really they may be causing more harm than good. 

  1.  1940s-gluten-image1Gluten-Free Foods – For some crazy reason, people are slightly confused. If you have a gluten-free diet, this can be a great thing for your health, particularly if you suffer from exposure to gluten. However, if you consume lots of gluten-free foods, this is not particularly healthy. Gluten-free foods are filled with refined and processed ingredients, such as rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, and more. These ingredients are not only highly glycemic, but also, highly refined — that is they have none of the original fiber and lack many important nutrients. I often recommend a gluten-free diet for patients, but my guidance includes recommendations for lots of fruits and veggies, protein, and good fats. The use of gluten-free products is helpful as a substitution for patients who are missing a particular food and to ease the transition, especially for kids, but the hope is that eventually patients will not come to rely so heavily on these foods.
  2. Roasted Nuts – Nuts are in fact a healthy snack loaded with protein and good fats, but once they are roasted, the fat in the nuts can potentially become rancid. These rancid fats produce free radicals and oxidative damage in tissues; so it is a little like one step forward and two steps back. Choose raw nuts, and it’s okay to have some salt on them, unless you struggle with hypertension.
  3. Olive-Oil-Olives-4-300x214Cooking with Olive Oil – Did you know that at relatively low cooking temperatures olive oil becomes an oxidized fat? Oxidation of anything turns it into a free radical, which causes oxidative damage to cells– that is, these compounds can damage DNA, trigger inflammation, and more. Olive oil is best used uncooked drizzled over salads, rice dishes, and breads. Ideally, olive oil should not be heated. Instead, choose other healthy oils that are safe at high temperatures, such as butter, ghee, avocado oil, sesame oil, almond oil, and coconut oil.
  4. Bars – In fact, most bars are loaded with sugar and can even rival a candy bar in terms of the sugar and carbohydrate content. It is so easy in our grab-and-go culture to be falsely led into thinking that just because you buy these bars at Whole Foods or some other ‘health food store’ that they are good additions to our diets. Avoid the temptation to grab something just to take the edge off of your hunger because in the end you will likely still be looking for something to eat. My recommendation to patients is to carry food with you. My purse often resembles a fruit bowl. I carry apples because they can take abuse in the bag and still be edible compared to a banana or peach. Chopped organic red peppers and carrots will get you through to your next meal, and a bag of nuts in the glove box will help you make a better decision at the meal table because your blood sugar will not be too low.
  5. Agave – I am often the last one on the bus. I mean, the agave craze hit, and I wondered “why is everyoneAgave-nectar-picture so excited about agave?” It started showing up in coffee shops right next to sugar and honey. It is highly refined, and recent information about how it is processed reveals that there are high levels of mercury in agave. Because of its refined nature and its high glycemic index (i.e., how quickly it gets into your blood stream), I see little benefit of agave over straight up sugar. In fact, it’s worse on the glycemic index than sugar due to the extremely high fructose content. It contains higher fructose than high fructose corn syrup! Not only that, why would you trade agave for honey? Honey is made by bees, requires NO processing, and has no additives. It’s nature’s perfect sweetener. Additionally, honey often benefits your immune response to local plants and trees, if you are allergic, by quieting the hyper immune response when exposed. One could argue that our bees are in trouble and that they can’t possibly make enough honey to keep up with the demand, but to me, adding something far inferior to our diet is not ideal either.
  6. Fat-Free Foods – There are still many people who have leftover attachment to the ‘FAT-FREE’ craze of the late 80’s and early 90’s. It still takes some un-doing in an appointment with a patient who doesn’t quite believe me that fat does not make you fat. I usually have to swear up and down that they will not get fat if they add a handful of nuts as a snack in their diet. In fact, fat is essential for making you feel satiated, keeping your blood sugar stable, and for the enjoyable palatable experience of eating food. Why would we not want that!? I will agree that if you eat a wheel of brie cheese every day you might put a few pounds on. But, the addition of healthy fats to your diet in moderation will help you lose weight because you will not be looking for carbs to fill up on when your blood sugar tanks. I promise.

I’m always on a quest to help patients make better choices in their daily lives. It takes some concerted effort to change behaviors, but with a little planning and preparation, you can make it through your day having made excellent dietary choices. The result? Feeling better all day long.

Protect Yourself! The Effects of Sun Damage + Safe, Non-Toxic Sunscreens

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I have put off writing a blog on the use of sunscreens because most of me feels like “who cares”? Plus, being that it’s summertime, there are tons of blogs on this topic already with plenty of great suggestions for clean, non-toxic sunscreens that have been cleared by the gods of natural products.

Sun bathingWell, suffice it to say that I have a little more investment in the use of sunscreen than your average sun worshipper.   I was diagnosed with melanoma in 2010.  I have thought a ton about cancer in my clinical life and in my own personal head and heart — hoping it doesn’t come near me or my family, wanting to do whatever I could to avoid it, and praying that if I did get cancer, it would NOT be melanoma. I specifically singled that one out. Well, guess what. Sure enough. Bingo. 

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Is Gluten Sensitivity Legit?

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by Mary Shackelton, ND

In light of May being Celiac Awareness Month, I thought it was a perfect time to address celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. It remains a consistent request from patients, “Can I test to see if I am gluten sensitive?”  Typically, we perform a genetic blood test that indicates the presence or absence of the genes that contribute to having celiac (HLA DQ2/DQ8 Association). Even this test cannot always confirm whether someone is celiac or not, but instead gives one’s estimated risk for developing celiac disease. My point is that it is difficult to measure gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, and in many cases, I request that patients try a 4-6 week trial of a gluten-free diet to really determine their level of sensitivity. This is the gold standard for determining a clinical response to gluten consumption — the elimination diet. The vast majority of people feel better off of gluten, but if they do not experience any change in their symptoms, then they can go back onto gluten.   

If you have seen a gastroenterologist for your GI symptoms, you know that there is often a dismissal of questions regarding gluten and how it contributes to GI symptoms. Moreover, besides ordering an endoscopy, there is little to no extensive follow up to try to determine why you have symptoms. 

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Fish Binge Fallout

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I spent the last 11 days on Maui eating fish several times per day. Admittedly, this is a habit I discourage my patients from engaging in due to concerns of mercury exposure. If you are one of the patients to whom I have delivered the “do not eat fish more than one time per month” guideline, I apologize—I was a hypocrite for a few days. The guideline still stands.

I’m not sure exactly what got into me. Maybe I had chicken burn-out. Maybe my rebellious side needed some air-time. Or was it that somehow being on the ocean and seeing the fishermen catching my dinner made me feel more like the ocean-to-table was somehow safer than ordering fish in a restaurant in Colorado, which I never do. The truth is, that one part of the ocean is no safer than the other parts—it’s all a big contaminated mess. Fishing in Hawaii and feeling safe is like trying to swim in the non-chlorinated part of the swimming pool or sitting in the non-smoking section of an airplane (remember those days?).

fish tacosIntellectually, I knew it wasn’t safe, but I went for it anyway. The raw tuna, “Oh!” The fresh Mahi, lobster, and crab….I was on an all-out binge. Fish tacos for breakfast and sometimes for dinner as well. We stayed across the street from Paia’s Famous Fish Market restaurant, where the portions of fish could force you back to your beach towel for a good three hours. On the menu of one restaurant, it actually named the fisherman that caught the fish I was ordering. That’s like knowing which exact field the cow came from that is now a steak on your plate. This type of “local” information can make the world seem smaller and easily lull you into a sense that all is safe with the ocean. It is not.

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Group Detox: More Harm than Good!

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by Mary F. Shackelton

It has come again…January is here, and I have seen another patient with symptoms of having gone too fast on a group detox.  Everyone likes the idea of a cleanse. It seems to be some sort of penance to pay for the sins of the month before:  the multiple happy hours, the less-than-good food choices, and all of the over-doing it.  We want to abstain from all of those things that bring us some pleasure and that allow us to let down a bit.  The severity of the cleanse often meets the severity of the sins.  Ever see someone do a strict broth-only cleanse, or  worse, the Master Cleanse starting January 1st? A recipe for disaster for most of us.

I get it:  we are cleansing our conscience as much as we attempt to cleanse our livers.  But hold on folks, NOT SO FAST!!  We cannot attempt to eliminate what is stored in our tissues in a 1-2 week cleanse. Often when we do, symptoms will arise, and patients show up sick. We have to look at detoxification as a longer process. It needs to become part of our every day lives. Breaking your cleanse with a night on the town? I’ve seen it and the results that ensue!  As we are bombarded by chemicals in our daily lives, we store them in an effort to protect ourselves from them. We have to coax them out of our tissues over long periods of time and gently.

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Juicing: Beneficial or Harmful?

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By Mary F. Shackelton, ND, MPH

The medical and surgical weight-loss community and the natural health community seem to be divided on this topic. The former argues that juicing reduces the fiber content and therefore decreases the feeling of fullness gained by eating fresh, crisp fruits and vegetables (Ashley Barrient, clinician in Loyola’s bariatric department, Alternative Medicine, August 2013). Do a quick internet search, and you’ll find that the American Cancer Society and other reputable organizations, who are touted as the experts on health and wellness, repeatedly argue that juicing sacrifices fiber and can also be dangerous because of potential microbes in raw fruits and vegetables (The Disadvantages of Juicing, Livestrong, September 2011; Juicing, American Cancer Society, November 2008).

Kale Juice

If you don’t have time to juice, grab a to-go kale juice at Whole Foods!

While consuming whole fruits and vegetables is always the highest nutritional recommendation, juicing is not without its benefits. Mainly, raw juices are second to honey in ease and speed of assimilation into the bloodstream. This allows vital nutrients to pass directly into the cells and help restore the immune system. Fruit and veggie juices also contain highly alkalizing minerals with no fiber to slow digestion. Therefore, your body can divert energy away from digestion and focus on cleansing or detoxing.

It’s not recommended to juice ALL the time, as a balanced diet should contain plenty of lean protein, fiber, and good fats. However, if you’re feeling a cold coming on or just sense your body could use a good ol’ detoxification, then “juice feasting” is a great choice. I did it recently when I got whomped by a massive cold, and I swear I overcame it more quickly than some of my counterparts, who caught the same bug. Between juicing, sweating in the infrared sauna, getting a Vitamin C IV, and laying low for a bit, I was better in just a few days.

And by the way, don’t spend a bunch of money on a fancy new juicer. My husband found one on craigslist.org that was only 50 bucks, and it works perfectly fine.

My favorite juice is:

1 bunch of parsley, 1/2 apple, 2 cucumbers, 6 stalks celery, 4 stalks kale, 1/2 lemon and 1 inch of ginger.*  Watch out, this will knock your socks off, and it is not too sweeeeet!!

Here are some other combos that my new favorite blog My New Roots suggests.

*Try to buy organic and local as much as the budget will allow. For the fruits and veggies you should absolutely buy organic, check out the EWG’s Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen lists.

Mold: The Invisible and Pervasive Invader

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by Mary Shackelton, MPH, ND

With the recent flooding in Colorado, mold is on everyone’s mind. And, rightly so. It is dangerous, and nothing to mess around with.

Flooding and Mold

If your drywall was saturated with water, your risk of having mold increases greatly. If your carpet and carpet pad were soaked…get them out of your house! This is the perfect breeding ground for mold. Mold is something that you may not be able to see, or sometimes even smell, and can be there for a very long time. Many Colorado residents will say that they can’t have mold issues because our climate is so dry, but this is not true. A leaky faucet behind a bathroom wall, a leaking pipe in a basement, water coming into the house from outside pooling in your roof or under the foundation of your house are all possibilities for the growth of mold.  Within 48 hours of water damage, mold can begin to grow. With the recent floods and saturation of materials in the home, it is important to gain an understanding of mold contamination, and it’s possible effects on human health.

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Melatonin – Sleep Agent, Bone Builder, and Cancer Fighter

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Sleep is a major issue for millions of people, and over long periods of time, insomnia can weaken one’s constitutional health, immune system, and predispose one to illnesses.  Many people take melatonin to help them regulate their sleep-wake cycle.  Dr. Paula Whit-Enderby, MD, and Judith Balk, MPH, MD,  two researchers,who have devoted much of their professional research careers to the effects of melatonin, have determined that melatonin does much more for women’s health than just getting them into a deep slumber.  It has been revealed that melatonin induces a specific signal transduction cascade (or directs a series of proteins within the cell), which is responsible for melatonin’s differentiating effects inside the cell. In short, melatonin induces certain cells to become bone forming cells called ‘osteoblasts’.  This finding has highlighted the importance of melatonin for bone health in women.

Melatonin is synthesized in the pineal gland in response to light and darkness–when the brain perceives darkness the pineal gland secretes melatonin, which is one factor in the induction of sleep. The primary function of melatonin is to regulate the circadian rhythm that is affected by the light dark cycle.  The researchers have found that melatonin acts in a synergistic way with other hormones.  So, in effect, melatonin can enhance a common intracellular signal, or by combining with another hormone or natural agent, it can enhance the desired outcome of both agents.

Melatonin also plays a major role in improving the circadian rhythm disturbance that menopausal women often experience.  Both researches created a trial to study the specific effects of melatonin called MOPS (Melatonin Osteoporsis Prevention Study published in 2012).  Primary outcome measurements were on bone health in peri-menopausal women.  The results showed a trend toward normalization of bone marker activity (osteoblasts- those cells that build bone and osteoclasts- those cells that break bone down). Secondary outcome measures were sleep quality and menopausal quality of life.  The study used 3 mg melatonin at night and subjects reported significant improvements in physical symptoms of menopause compared to women taking placebo.  Melatonin appeared to lengthen the length of cycles and decrease the number of menstrual cycles.  Women reported feeling better and researchers presumed this was due to  getting better more regulated sleep.

In addition to the effects on sleep and bone health for peri menopausal and menopausal women, melatonin has been shown to have anti-cancer benefits by slowing down cell growth, scavenging for free radicals, reducing levels of estrogen, and enhancing cell adhesion. One thought is that, as women age, there is a dampening of the nocturnal surge in melatonin, changes in light exposure and in hormonal status, which may contribute to diseases like osteoporosis and cancer.

Side effects and toxicity studies of melatonin reveal that it is a safe substance to add to one’s regimen. The most common side effect is sleepiness and grogginess.

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