The Health Side of Tea

by Drew Seveland, co-owner of Infinitea Teahouse

People often come into our Teashop and ask for the healthiest tea we carry. Others come in with preconceptions about Green Tea, White Tea, Oolong Tea, whatever it may be, that it, and only it will cure them of their ailments and indulgences. While others arrive with a willingness to try whatever we have that could possibly help shed a few pounds, or at least stop the pangs of hunger that send them reeling for another Big Mac.

The truth is, there is no one tea that is necessarily healthier than any other. Each has its own benefits and peculiarities. That said, there are some you should definitely consider when seeking a tea for health purposes.

One way of differentiating tea is by the level of caffeine. Tea is wonderfully color-coded. The darker the tea, the more caffeine. Herbal teas, for the most part, are caffeine-free. Thus, from least to most, teas can be arranged as such: herbals, white, green, oolong, and black.

If you are seeking a tea for general health, feel free to branch out! Nearly all teas, including most herbals and tea substitutes like yerba mate and African rooibos, have antioxidants, the attribute that gives green tea its reputation for promoting good health and longevity.

For the exercise enthusiast, try yerba mate. It is packed full of a caffeine-like stimulant called mateine, that gives you energy for hours. Mate’s molecular make-up also helps to prevent lactic acid build-up in the joints; that is, it helps prevent soreness.

For blood pressure, try anything with hibiscus in it. Hibiscus has been known to combat high blood pressure for years, and has just recently been taken head to head with the leading blood pressure medications to test its comparative effectiveness.

For sleep, try chamomile. Chamomile is a muscle relaxant with a subtle vanilla flavor, which, combined with a book and a warm bed will make any eyelid heavy. Many teas, like oolongs, are hunger suppressants or are good for fighting high cholesterol. Others, like peppermint, relieve stress. Ginseng root is good for memory and circulation. And the list goes on.

Great Food to Boost Your Mood

by J. Quinlan

We all love our comfort foods: bread, ice cream, mashed potatoes with lots of gravy. There is, in fact, scientific research that indicates what it is about comfort foods that can make them so, well, comforting. Many of these types of foods contain sugars and carbohydrates that give a temporary mental and physical lift. The downside of staving off the blues with these foods is that the lift is always followed by a crash, which can take us even lower. A better option: regulate your sleep, exercise, and watch your diet. You may be surprised at the results.

Nutrients, like antidepressants, work by releasing chemicals in the brain such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinepherine, and endorphins. These chemicals send messages between neurons, or nerve cells, and affect the functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters need amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to function properly. UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science, Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, suggests opting for a good multi-vitamin isn’t your best attack against mood issues. “In most cases, a balanced and varied diet is the best way to influence brain chemistry,” he explains. Good brain nutrients work best when in whole-food form, because the nutrients work together for optimal absorption. In addition, you’re much less likely to overdose on a certain vitamin or mineral in your regular diet; though this is not always the case with a supplement. Overly high doses of something in supplement form can cause negative side effects. For example, too much iron in a fortified vitamin supplement, can cause problems with painful constipation and digestive discomfort. Too much folate can result in cardiovascular problems and increased risk of certain cancers. Simply put, Gomez-Pinilla says it’s best to just eat whole foods with brain-nourishing nutrients.

What foods, specifically, can help boost even the nastiest moods? National magazine Natural Solutions provides this list you’ll want to stick on your fridge for regular reference.

Amino Acids
These help the body naturally produce neurotransmitters which affect your mood. Think turkey, cheese, chicken, fish, beans, almonds, avocados, bananas, and pumpkin seeds.

Zinc
The brain needs zinc in order to produce GABA, an amino acid that eases irritability and anxiety–both symptoms that can exacerbate the effects of depression. Think oysters, crab, turkey, lentils, yogurt, barley, and pumpkin seeds.

Magnesium
Also often found lacking in sufferers of depression, magnesium is essential in the synthesis of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. It is also said to help relieve anxiety and insomnia. Good sources of magnesium include oat bran, halibut, spinach, barley, pumpkin seeds, beans, and artichokes.

B6
B6 helps convert amino acids into neurotransmitters; without this vitamin, the conversion process isn’t as strong and may not produce the desired mood-elevating serotonin levels. Go for beef, tuna, chickpeas, bananas, turkey, and prunes.

B12
This B vitamin helps in the conversion of aminos into serotonin and norepinephrine. It also helps the body make SAM-e, a compound involved in neurotransmitter production and function. Pick up some clams, oysters, chicken, crab, salmon, turkey, tuna, milk, or eggs for your B12.

Folate
Folate doesn’t just help the neural tube development in the fetus of pregnant women. It is also said to help form SAM-e and the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. Research shows low levels of folate are almost always evident in depressed and anxious people. Lack of folate has even been linked to schizophrenic behavior. Stock up on turkey, lentils, pinto beans, spinach and other leafy greens, asparagus, and black beans.

Vitamin E
This antioxidant keeps nerve cell membranes flexible, allowing neurotransmitters to travel as they should. Go for sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, tomato sauce, turnip greens, sweet potatoes, and hazelnuts.

Omega-3 Fats
These heart-healthy fats also help protect nerve cell membranes, plus they boost oxygen levels in the blood. This helps the body convert amino acids into neurotransmitters and get those good brain chemicals into the blood. Find omega-3s in foods like salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, and tuna.

Still Don’t Know What to Eat?

Margaret Adamek, PhD, suggests these “mood-mending” meal ideas.

To boost energy

Breakfast – Boiled egg and bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon; breakfast burrito stuffed with pinto beans, salsa and cheese; smoothie with protein powder, milk, cinnamon and fruit

Lunch – Whole wheat bread with turkey and Swiss cheese and carrots on the side; tuna on whole wheat crackers with a spinach salad; smoked salmon on rye crackers with a tossed salad

Dinner – Roast chicken breasts, skin-on mashed red potatoes, and steamed broccoli; stir-fry shrimp with veggies over brown rice

Snack – Handful of almonds with a piece of fruit; cheese stick with a whole-grain bagel; whole apple slices spread with almond-butter

To lift the mood

Breakfast – Yogurt smoothie with whey protein powder and fruit; a bowl of muesli with some flaxseed oil

Lunch – Grilled cheese sandwich on whole-grain bread with a banana on the side; tuna fish sandwich with walnuts and spinach salad

Dinner – Roast chicken or poultry, baked potato and tossed salad with dark leafy greens; grilled salmon with wild rice; grass-fed beef on sprouted wheat buns with broccoli on the side; pot roast with carrots and parsnips or sweet potatoes; buffalo steakkabobs with brown rice

Snack – Cottage cheese on rye crackers; cheese melted over blue tortilla chips and a dab of salsa; raw almond and raisins

To relieve stress

Breakfast – Bowl of unsweetened muesli with a sliced banana and touch of maple syrup plus a a few breakfast sausages, a boiled egg, or scrambled tofu on the side

Lunch – Spinach salad with grilled chicken plus whole wheat crackers on the side; tomato soup with a whole grain roll; fresh fruit like an apple for dessert

Dinner – Bean and cheese enchiladas in whole-grain tortillas, topped with guacamole and salsa; shredded cabbage salad with cilantro and cumin vinaigrette and a slice of fresh melon

Snack – A peach and macadamia nuts; almond butter on rye bread; a cup of chamomile tea with a touch of cinnamon

Foods to Avoid

The diet, brain chemistry, and blood-sugar relationship is now recognized by scientists around the globe. Here are a few things to avoid or completely eliminate from your diet when battling the blues.

Sweets: Sugar has a major effect on the production of neurotransmitters and brain function in general. Simple sugars and carbs create mood swings, since they cause a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels. Avoid refined sugars as well as chemical sweeteners like aspartame and splenda. These compounds decrease the efficiency of neurotransmitters in the brain, decreasing their ability to transmit information. Try to limit sweets as well as simple carbs like bread, pasta and cereal; replace them with those proteins and complex carbs instead.

Caffeine: Cola, coffee, energy bars … they’re all loaded with this chemical which can block serotonin. Stimulants like caffeine can also create a constant sense of anxiety and overload the adrenal glands. If you need a pick-me-up to get going, try adjusting your diet a little. Eat more frequently (at the very least, three times a day), starting off by eating something within an hour of when you wake up, suggests Jennifer Brusewitz, an Oregon-based naturophathic physician. She adds that keeping a consistent meal schedule everyday helps your body stay fueled and prevents lulls or shut-downs throughout the day. Also good energy boosters: protein (a deck of cards sized serving) and complex carbs (fist-sized serving).

Alcohol: Even though it’s sometimes the first response when things are going poorly, consuming more than two alcoholic beverages a day can actually worsen symptoms of depression. It’s a central nervous system depressant and slows the functioning of neurotransmitters. It also hampers serotonin production by disrupting the REM stage of sleep. Opt instead for a calming cup of herbal tea or a non-alcoholic drink.

High-fat foods: As you know, there are good and bad fatty acids. Omega-3s are your winner, and they’re found in cold-water fish like mackerel, sardines, tuna and wild-caught tuna. Andrew Stoll, of the Harvard Medical School, says the kinds of oils in cold-water fish not only help boost serotonin levels, but also positively impact stress hormones and electrical functioning of neurons. Instead of a donut, have a bowl of oatmeal with some cinnamon (which can reduce and stabilize blood sugar levels) and flaxseed or walnuts sprinkled on top.

Give the Gift of Good Eats!

Every year I ask everyone I am going to give a gift to, “What do you want for Christmas?” and most of the time I am left with “I don’t know.” Well this year I am going to take a cue from husband whose motto is “Get something you think they will like, don’t wait for them to give you a list.” If you know grandma has a sweet tooth, bake her something special. Here are some easy and delicious homemade goodies that would be perfect gifts for anyone.

Double Dark-Chocolate and Ginger Biscotti

Who doesn’t like to dunk yumminess into their morning coffee?

Makes 2 ½ dozen

1 c all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1/2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c canola oil
1/2 c walnuts, coarsely chopped
3 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt until well combined; set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg, egg yolk, and sugar until light and fluffy; beat in the vanilla and oil until well combined.
With the mixer on low, beat in dry ingredients until combined. Fold in walnuts, chocolate, and ginger with a rubber spatula (dough will be stiff).

With moistened hands, shape the dough into 2 logs, each about 9 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide. Bake until set on top, about 20 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Transfer logs to a cutting board, and with a serrated knife, cut each log on the diagonal into 16 slices, each 1/2 inch thick. Bake until crisp, about 20 minutes, turning the biscotti over midway through. Cool 5 minutes on a baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Holiday Almonds with White Chocolate and Cranberries

Everyone loves munchies, so why not make your gifts this year? Homemade granola or mixed nuts are easy to make and are an eco-option too.

Makes 4 pint jars

4 cups raw almonds
1 T salt
2 c white chocolate chips
2 c dried cranberries

Fill sauce pot with almonds and cover with water. Add salt and let sit on counter for 24 hours. Drain almonds and put on baking sheet. Bake at 170 or use a dehydrator at 170 for 24 hours. Test almonds and make sure they are crisp and not still soggy. Let almonds chill.

Mix almonds, chocolate, and cranberries together and put into glass jars. Decorate jar with ribbon or bow and you’re done!

The Backward Eating Habits of Mainstream America

by Paul Gerst

There is an old adage that most Americans seem to reject with abject authority. This adage is of a very personal nature and arguably, affects all aspects of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Instead of adopting it as a sound life-principle, it has been retired to the “old-sayings” bin. The adage is: “Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch and a pauper for dinner.”

The majority of meaning to be drawn from this expression is that we are supposed to have our largest meal of the day to break our fast and “fill our tanks” for the day ahead. Lunch is the moderate meal that keeps us going. This meal is a bit larger if the physical demands are more intense and smaller on days that are more relaxing. The evening meal should be able to be digested relatively quickly so our bodies may focus their energies on regeneration and repair.

What are the reasons we’ve abandoned such innate wisdom and how has it affected our various states of health? Just as our body, thoughts, emotions, and spirit may affect us, we can affect them. One of the most important ways of affecting our body chemistry is by what, when, how, and how much we eat. Before going further with this part of the story, let me suggest some reasons for our backwards eating habits.

The adage is: “Eat like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch and a pauper for dinner.”

A brief look at the average American’s diet as it relates to the above-mentioned factors, brings us to a diet that often lacks in variety or nutritionally-dense or whole foods. The average American often eats on the run and also eats emotionally, trying to fill a void left by a lack of love, frustration, anger, anxiety, or some other stagnant emotional state. To keep ourselves going, we often over-consume sugar, caffeine and overly-processed grains (breads and sugary cereals). In fact, many Americans call coffee and toast or worse, a sweet roll, their breakfast. When their body is looking for a slow-burning fuel like protein, we give it sugar, which amps the adrenals and starts an addictive process; the adrenals fill us with adrenaline which in turn crashes a few hours later creating a demand for more caffeine, sugar or fast-burning fuel. Over time, other glands in the body are affected (oftentimes the thyroid) and chronic symptoms start appearing.

The ‘when’ of the average eater in our country is all over the map as many Americans participate in shift-work. Having worked 3rd shift for a year of my life, I can say that it was strange to eat breakfast before going home and going to bed, then getting up in the afternoon and eating whatever my confused system craved. Sometimes I couldn’t eat at all when I thought I should be eating. I’d eat my largest meal of the day sometime in the night. I can honestly say that this was one of the least healthy periods of my life and although there are unnamed variables at play, the irregularity of my diet was definitely one of the main contributors.

As I mentioned, the morning meal is often rushed and for those whose work schedule only allows them a half an hour lunch, that meal is eaten quickly as well. This leaves dinner, which may be eaten more slowly (or not, if you ask the parents of kids in after-school programs) but more often than not, is eaten too late. Assuming the average bedtime is around 10:30pm, dinner should be eaten by 7 or 7:30. No food should be consumed later than that except for the occasional light snack (a small amount of easily digestible carbohydrate helps some people sleep…others, it keeps them up).

The issues surrounding our eating improprieties are many, but the main list looks like this: Eating too much too quickly causes stress on the digestive system and incomplete digestion, which in-turn may cause bacterial and yeast overgrowth in the colon. Allergies may follow down the line. Eating too much processed food (nutritionally deficient) may cause an array of symptoms, but lack of energy, an inability of the body to detoxify itself (leading to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue or another functional disorder), skin disorders, glandular issues, and digestive/elimination problems are some of the potential outcomes of poor eating.

There is also the matter of what our body does to help us out that we seem to obstruct. When we sleep, our body diverts its energy to restorative practices. The parasympathetic nervous system takes over and helps send what is needed to remake…well, YOU! If you go to bed with a full belly too often, this process is diminished and over time, the affects on the body are evident with another set of symptoms.

As many of us practitioners become so good at telling our patients what NOT to do, but not so good at supplying an ample TO-DO list, let’s look at some positives that you can implement that very well may turn some of your issues around, assuming they are not so advanced that expert and more invasive measures are needed. First, as the adage says, eat your largest meal of the day after your longest sleep. For the average American, this is breakfast, or the morning meal. This meal should have a great deal of protein (assuming there are no digestive problems present which would prevent the eater from digesting said meal) in it as that sets the pace of the day. You wouldn’t stoke-up the stove to heat the house for the day by throwing a handful of balsa wood in it, as that would burn up in a very short period of time. You would use a hardwood like oak, as that will provide a longer, slower burn. Those who have a hearty breakfast such as eggs, whole grain toast and a piece of natural sausage or a pile of brown rice with eggs on top and some toasted nori strips are much more apt to have consistent energy through the day versus the person who has coffee and a bagel.

There are exceptions to every rule and one exception here is the vacationer who is traveling in warmer climates. They are not expending much energy and it is appropriate (assuming again that there are no pre-existing issues) to indulge in a fresh fruit platter for breakfast. Aside from being a nice change of pace, it is cleansing and every body needs a change of pace, especially when lightening the load for a few days, if not a few weeks.

Try eating mindfully and slowly and listen to your body. Think about what you need, not what is going to stop your emotions or your thoughts from badgering you. Are you eating for pleasure (which is ok from time to time and if done mindfully) or are you eating to fulfill a need: to nourish your body, mind, and spirit? Schedule time for meals around you and your family, and you will be surprised at how things start to change, albeit slowly. The T.V. may not go on so quickly, you might learn more about your kids, your loved-one, or even yourself. Answers may come more readily to you as your mind will not be steeped in the toxicity of a mindless approach to life. There are many principles by which to live one’s life. I suggest you start building that list by Eating like a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch and a pauper for dinner.

Paul Gerst L.Ac. C.Ht. CPM is a licensed Acupuncturist of 13 years, a certified Hypnotherapist and certified Professional Mediator. He owns and practices at Infinity Natural Health Services in Rice Lake and Menomonie, Wisconsin. He may be reached for appointments by calling 715-736-1014 for Rice Lake or 715-790-1298 for Menomonie. More information may be obtained by visiting the clinic website: www.infinitynaturalhealthservices.com or for seminar info: www.dragonflyseminars.net.

The Food Safety Shell Game

What isn’t being discussed in Congress during the ongoing debate on the broken federal food safety system, is the root cause of the most serious pathogenic outbreaks in our food—the elephant (poop) in the room.

The relatively new phenomena of nationwide pathogenic outbreaks, be they from salmonella or E. coli variants, are intimately tied to the fecal contamination of our food supply and the intermingling of millions of unhealthy animals. It’s one of the best kept secrets in the modern livestock industry.

Mountains of manure are piling up at our nation’s mammoth industrial-scale “factory farms.” Thousands of dairy cows and tens of thousands of beef cattle are concentrated on feedlots; hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of chickens are confined in hen houses at one location for the production of eggs and meat.

Livestock producing manure is nothing new. But the epic scale of animal numbers at single locations and the incredible volumes of animal waste is a recipe for disaster. It eclipses anything that was happening on old McDonald’s farm.

Feces carrying infectious bacteria transfer to the environment and into our food supply. Feeding heavily subsidized corn and soybeans to cattle, instead of grazing the ruminants on grass, as they were genetically designed to do, changes the pH in their digestive tracts, creating a hospitable environment for pathogenic E. coli to breed. The new phenomenon of feeding “distillers grains” (a byproduct of the ethanol refining industry) is making this risk even more grave.

The current near-nationwide contamination in the egg supply can be directly linked to industrial producers that confine millions of birds, a product of massive, centralized breeding, in manure-rich hen houses, and feeding the birds a ration spiked with antibiotics. These are chickens that the McDonald family would likely have slaughtered on the farm because they were “sickly.”

Thirteen corporations each have more than 5 million laying hens, and 192 companies have flocks of more than 75,000 birds. According to the industry lobby group, United Egg Producers (UEP), this represents 95% of all the laying hens in the United States. UEP also says that “eggs on commercial egg-laying farms are never touched until they are handled by the food service operator or consumer.” Obviously, their approach has been ineffective and their smokescreen is not the straight poop.

In addition to our national dependence on factory farms, the meatpacking industry, like egg production, has consolidated as well, to more easily service the vast numbers of animals sent to slaughter from fewer locations. Just four companies now control over 80% of the country’s beef slaughter. Production line speed-ups have made it even harder to keep intestinal contents from landing in hamburger and meat on cutting tables.

All of these problems are further amplified by the scope of the industrial-scale food system. Now, a single contamination problem at a single national processing facility, be it meat, eggs, spinach, or peanut butter, can virtually infect the entire country through their national distribution model.

As an antidote, consumers are voting with their pocketbooks by purchasing food they can trust. They are encouraging a shift back towards a more decentralized, local and organic livestock production model. Witnessing the exponential growth of farmers markets, community supported farms, direct marketing, and supermarket organics, a percentage of our population is not waiting for government regulation to protect their families.

The irony of the current debate on improving our federal food safety regulatory infrastructure, now centered in the Senate, is that at the same time the erosion of FDA/USDA oversight justifies aggressive legislation, the safest farmers in this country, local and organic, might be snared in the dragnet—the proposed rules could disproportionally escalate their costs and drive some out of business.

While many in the good food movement have voiced strong concerns about the pending legislation—it’s sorely needed—corporate agribusiness, in pursuit of profit, is poisoning our children!

When Congress returns to Washington, we have no doubt that food safety legislation, which has languished for months, will get fast-tracked. In an election-year our politicians don’t want to be left with egg on their face.

We only hope that Senators will seriously consider not just passing comprehensive reform, but incorporating an amendment sponsored by John Tester (D-MT), a certified organic farmer himself, that will exempt the safest farms in our country—small, local direct marketers. We need to allocate our scarce, limited resources based on greatest risk.

Farmers and ranchers milking 60 cows, raising a few hundred head of beef, or free ranging laying hens (many times these animals have names not numbers), offer the only true competition to corporate agribusinesses that dominate our food production system.

Mark Kastel and Will Fantle are codirectors of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group based in Cornucopia, Wisconsin. Reprinted with permission. Contact: kastel@cornucopia.org, 608-625-2042