Monthly Archives: July 2011

Summer – The Season of Fire

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) tells us that the summer season belongs to fire, one of the five elements. Fire is symbolic of maximum activity or greatest yang, which means that it is a time of heat, outgoingness, and moving outward in nature and in our lives. In human anatomy, the heart, mind, and spirit are ruled by the fire element. Thus, top priority should be given to the heart, mind, and spirit for staying healthy in summer.  Here is a summary of the Summer Season:

  • Element: Fire
  • Color: Red
  • Nature: Yang
  • Organs: Heart, Small Intestine
  • Emotion: Joy 

Basically, in Summer: Live Life to the Fullest!

When the fire element is in balance, the heart is strong and healthy, the mind is calm and sleep is sound.  When the fire element is imbalanced, we may either lack joy (depression) or have an excess of joy (mania). Indicators of an imbalance in the fire element include agitation, nervousness, heartburn, and insomnia.

Tips for Summer Health

To prevent summer ills and remain in harmony with the environment of summer, ancient Chinese physicians advised:

    Awaken earlier in the morning.
    Go to bed later in the evening.
    Rest at midday.
    Drink plenty of fluids.
    Add pungent flavors to your diet.
    Refrain from anger; keep calm and even-tempered.

In summer, indigestion can easily occur, so a light and less-greasy diet is strongly recommended. It is the perfect season to introduce some cool, yin foods into your diet. Chinese nutrition classifies food according to its energetic qualities of temperature, taste, and ability to moisten and strengthen the body. Food with cool and cold properties can clear heat, reduce toxins, and generate body fluids.

In general, cooling foods tend towards the green end of the spectrum – lettuce, cucumbers, and watercress are some of the coolest. Few vegetables are warming. Fish and seafood are also cooling, while most meats are warming.  Here are some suggestions to keep you cool and balanced all summer long. These fruits and vegetables will help your body adjust its temperature and protect you during the long, hot summer days:

Watermelon, Apricot, Lemon, Peach, Asparagus, Sprouts, Bamboo, Bok choy, Broccoli, Chinese cabbage, Corn, Cucumber, White mushroom, Snow peas, Spinach, Summer squash, Watercress, Seaweed, Mung means, Cilantro, Mint, Dill

Other helpful tips for the summer season 

  • Keep a pitcher of water with slices of lemon and cucumber with you and sip it throughout the day. 
  • Eat in moderation. Over consumption of any food, especially cooling foods, can lead to indigestion, sluggishness and possibly diarrhea. 
  • Do not leave your food out for too long. The hot weather tends to increase food spoilage. 
  • Stay away from dairy, heavy, greasy, and fried foods.

Get Acupuncture treatments – Acupuncture has been found to be helpful with all types of emotional and mental disorders, from stress and anxiety to insomnia.  An acupuncture point named “Yintang”, located between the eyebrows, is sometimes used for such treatments.  Call your acupuncturist and experience a summer of joy and movement!

Guide to Natural and Artificial Sweeteners

At this point, it’s common knowledge that high-fructose corn syrup and refined sugar are bad for us. But given all the marketing hype behind different “natural” alternatives, it’s hard to know which ones really are the best sweeteners. Complicating matters, new studies, like one just published in the journal of Cancer Research, are finding that fructose, a sugar found in high-fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, and, in small amounts, even in fruit, actually feeds some cancers. But don’t give up apples and oranges, or even honey, based on a single study. “Natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables – things like berries, green apples, grapefruit, needed to feed beneficial microflora in the gut for a healthy immune system,” explains Donna Gates, who led the movement to bring stevia, a natural sweetener, into this country more than a decade ago. “That’s why nature put a little bit of sugar in fruits and vegetables. It keeps the ecosystem alive in us,” she says, adding that the small amounts of fructose in fruits and vegetables are balanced with minerals, vitamins, and other vital nutrients. “Our body reads it differently,” she notes.Fruits and vegetables provide a perfect sugar fix, but when you’re in need of a sweetener to add to iced tea, baked goods, or anything else, make sure you know the difference between the good guys and bad guys of the sweetener world. (Some of the not-so-sweet details could leave you gagging.)

Bad Guy #1: Aspartame
There’s conflicting evidence regarding the safety of aspartame, a common chemical sweetener used in diet soda and other low-cal or low-sugar goods, but some people report headaches or generally feeling unwell after ingesting anything containing the chemical. To make life easier for everyone, this is one instance where you may want to follow the “better safe than sorry” principle. That’s because a University of Liverpool test-tube study found that when mixed with a common food color ingredient, aspartame actually became toxic to brain cells. Making matters worse, aspartame is used in many diet sodas, and studies have found drinking diet soda may increase your risk of developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Also of concern with aspartame, researchers have found that one harmful breakdown product is formaldehyde. Sweet? We don’t think so.

Bad Guy #2: Agave
While your health food store likely stocks agave sweeteners, it may be best to keep them out of your cart. Many agave nectars consist of 70 to 80 percent fructose – that’s more than what’s found in high-fructose corn syrup! If you don’t want to give up agave, look for types that contain no more than 30 to 40 percent fructose, recommends Christine Gerbstadt, MD, PhD, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Agave is also very heavily processed in an extremely energy-intensive manner that’s similar to the way corn is converted into high-fructose corn syrup.

Bad Guy #3: Sucralose
While sucralose, better known by its brand name, Splenda, may originate with sugar, the end product is anything but natural. It’s processed using chlorine, and researchers are finding that the artificial sweetener is passing through our bodies and winding up in wastewater treatment plants, where it can’t be broken down. Tests in Norway and Sweden found sucralose in surface water released downstream from treatment discharge sites. Scientists worry it could change organisms’ feeding habits and interfere with photosynthesis, putting the entire food chain at risk. The chemically derived artificial sweetener acesulfame K (sold under the brand name Sunett) was also detected in treated wastewater and tap water.

Good Guy #1: Stevia
“We need to be off of sugar, but we need good alternatives, and stevia is the safest sweetener there is, period,” says Gates, who coauthored The Stevia Cookbook: Cooking with Nature’s Calorie-Free Sweetener (Avery Trade, 2004). All types of stevia are extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant, but some forms taste better than others, says Gates. People tend to overuse powders, in which the sweetness is really concentrated, so if you’ve tried powders in the past and didn’t like them, try liquid forms, explains Gates, who helped develop a liquid stevia sweetener product. Stevia contains zero calories, but its one downfall is that it doesn’t work well for baking. Expect to see more stevia on store shelves, as Coke and Pepsi got the green light to use Truvia (a sweetener made in part from stevia) starting later this year.

Good Guy #2: Sugar alcohols
Popular sugar alcohol sweeteners include xylitol, sorbitol, and erythritol, natural sweeteners made through a fermentation process of corn or sugar cane. They contain fewer calories than sweeteners like pure sugar and honey, but more than stevia. They also leave a cooling sensation in the mouth, and have been found to prevent cavities, explains Dr. Gerbstadt. Just don’t overdo it – too much can cause GI distress.

Good Guy #3: Organic, raw local honey
While honey does boast higher fructose levels, it also contains a bounty of cancer-defending antioxidants, and local honey has been said to help alleviate allergy symptoms. Don’t limit raw honey’s use to your tea, either. Use it to speed healing on burns, and as a natural antiseptic on cuts and scrapes. Honey also has a low glycemic index, so adding it to your tea or yogurt won’t lead to energy-busting blood sugar drops later in the day.

Good Guy #4: Blackstrap molasses
Although heavy on the calorie content, blackstrap is rich in iron, potassium, and calcium, making it a healthier choice than nutritionally defunct artificial sweeteners or even regular refined sugar, despite the fact that blackstrap and refined sugar both come from sugar cane. (Dr. Gerbstadt says calorie-containing sweeteners are not recommended for people with diabetes.) We like the organic, Fair Trade Certified version of blackstrap molasses from Wholesome Sweeteners.