I’m adding my voice to the many stories that women are sharing. I’m not sure if this is the “right” avenue to share. I’m not sure if my story is important. I’m not sure if anyone will read it. But here it is.
Me too. Like so many—too many, maybe most, maybe all—the women I know, I have experienced sexual harassment, and count myself lucky that it wasn’t worse. It’s sad that I consider that lucky.
I’ll tell the story because though I really rarely think about this incident, I’ve counted it as a lesson learned and it’s coloured the way I think. It’s also something that I’ve not shared with many because I’ve felt guilt over it. “I should have been more careful.” “I should have known better.” “I should have been smarter.”
I was in my 20s, recently returned from living for two years in Japan. I think that’s part of the reason why this happened to me (see, there I go again, taking the blame). You see, I remember the warnings all throughout my time in university. As women, we are warned against walking home alone at night. We are told not to leave a friend alone at a party. We are reminded not to accept a drink from a stranger. We look out for each other because we are told it’s a dangerous world where there are men who will hurt us, take advantage of us, attack us, rape us.
Little kids learn about “stranger danger.” While boys get to grow into men who no longer have this worry, women continue to receive this lesson. Even worse is that many women have to add to that list of dangerous people with men they know, not just strangers—dates, boyfriends, husbands, coworkers, friends.
But after university I moved to Japan. Everyone was new to me. Everyone was a stranger. And I felt so safe. I walked alone late at night. I cycled home by myself in the dark. I slept in a train station so I could catch the first train out. I received help from strangers when I was lost, following them to my requested destination. I stood out as a “gaijin” (foreigner), so while Japanese women were harassed by Japanese men, I was left alone. I won’t get into my thoughts on the psychology of that here, but basically, I felt safe. Powerful, even.
Not long after I returned to Canada, I went to Toronto to visit family and friends. When the flight landed late at night, I didn’t want to pay for a hotel, so I decided to just hang out at the airport and then catch a train early the next morning. I went to the cafeteria and one of the serving staff struck up a conversation with me. He seemed very nice.
After a while, he offered to drive me to the train station. At first, I said no, but then thinking about the hassle of making my way there, and thinking he seemed harmless, I said yes.
Now, I don’t know the route between the airport and train station, but after a bit of driving, I started to question my decision. When he pulled into a park and stopped the car, I knew—I was in trouble.
I began circulating various options through my mind. I could jump out of the car and make a run for it, leaving my luggage behind in his car. I could scream, though I could see no one nearby. I could try punching him. I tried psychology. As he tried to persuade me, to guilt me, to seduce me, to make me fearful, I kept him talking, countering everything he said with something logical, something demeaning, something pitiful, something angry.
I threatened him. I chastised him. I told him that I know where he works and I would get him fired. I promised to say nothing if he simply drove me back to the airport. That’s what happened. And I said nothing.
Now I wonder.
And I feel guilty. What if someone else was less lucky?
So, I understand the courage of these women coming forward now. I’m lucky. I got away, nothing happened except for a lesson. Don’t trust. Be careful.
And believe the women who are telling their stories. It may have taken them a long time. But they have their own reasons. And now it’s time for us to stop this from continuing, by being vocal and letting others know that it’s not acceptable.
The September 2017 issue of BC Medical Journal (bcmj.org)—a magazine that “provides clinical and review articles written primarily by BC physicians, for BC physicians”—published a letter in the “Personal View” section about herbal medicine and liver toxicity.
The letter reports on two patients who were transferred from local hospitals to the Liver Transplant Program of Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) for assessment and liver transplant because of acute liver failure. The patients were reported to be previously healthy, with one middle-aged and the other young. Though one was also on antidepressants, it was “strongly felt” that the cause of illness in both was the use of commercially-obtained herbal remedies—one was traditional Chinese herbal medicine and the other was traditional Indian herbal products.
The authors lament that “These two tragedies could have been avoided, and it behooves physicians to be aware of what nonprescription products their patients are consuming and the associated risks.”
They then assert that “Drug-induced liver injury from these products is not uncommon. In China, such injury from Chinese herbal medicine is estimated to be 25% of all reported cases (unpublished work from Dr Qi Xing-shun, General Hospital Shenyang Military District, 8 August 2017).”
Next, the letter authors state that they “strongly feel that regulation of these products, on either the federal or provincial level, needs to be consistent with that applied to the pharmaceutical industry” and that “the public needs to be made aware of the potential dangers of these products.”
I do agree with this letter on a few points.
- For those two patients who needed to undergo liver transplants, this was indeed tragic (though I might argue that that word is most often associated with death, and there is no statement that that is what occurred).
- It is absolutely important for medical physicians to ask their patients about their use of any herbal products or supplements.
- Just because a product is herbal or “natural” doesn’t mean that it is always safe—for everyone, in any dose, for any length of time.
However—and this is clearly the whole reason why I bother to write about this letter—there are several points that I hold issue with.
Firstly, while these two cases are important and may be reflective of a much larger issue, they are basing their letter on two cases, without giving any idea of whether there is a grander scale to consider. That is, is there truly a danger or might these have been isolated incidents?
What are not isolated incidents, are the adverse effects from proper use of pharmaceuticals, improper prescription of pharmaceuticals, and other medical errors. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information and the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, in 2014-2015, “patients suffered potentially preventable harm in more than 138,000 hospitalizations in Canada.” That’s about 1 in 18 hospitalizations. And “of the patients who experienced harm, about 20% experienced more than 1 harmful event while in hospital.” (summary report: https://www.cihi.ca/sites/default/files/document/hospital_harm_summary_en.pdf; full report: https://www.cihi.ca/sites/default/files/document/cihi_cpsi_hospital_harm_en.pdf; technical notes: https://www.cihi.ca/sites/default/files/document/hospital_harm_technical_notes_en.pdf)
I don’t want to be alarmist. But those are numbers that stand out and should provoke a response. A letter reporting just two cases needs further elaboration.
Furthermore, using unpublished work from a Dr. Qi Xing-shun practicing in China (not in Canada), the authors of this letter state that damage to the liver from Chinese herbal medicine makes up about 25% of all reported cases. That makes it sound like 25% of people who take Chinese herbs end up with liver damage. That’s not the case. Assuming the 25% noted, but not published, by some Dr. in China is correct, we still have no idea of how many people that is. It’s like saying, “Nine out of ten doctors agree, this is the best toothpaste.” It sounds like 90% of all doctors. But it could be that 10 doctors were selected, and 9 of them like the toothpaste. In other words, if there were 8 total reported cases of injury from Chinese herbal medicine in China, then that would be just 2 liver-affected cases. Again, not noteworthy.
Even if the numbers are, in fact, noteworthy, let’s keep in mind that those are unpublished statistics from China, not here. And that brings me to my second point.
Herbal remedies—just like over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and even fibre powder—can be taken inappropriately. They may be taken in combination with other things that don’t mix well with them. They can be taken at dosages that are too high or for too long. They can be taken by the wrong person for the wrong reason. The Chinese herb ma huang (ephedra) is an example of that. The herb is not unsafe. In TCM, we prescribe its ingestion (combined with other herbs), mostly for opening the sinuses and getting rid of a cold. Unfortunately, people started taking it to lose weight. Wrong use. Wrong dose. Wrong duration of use.
But you could say the same of alcohol use. Or of cough medicine, nasal decongestants, motion sickness pills, or narcotic painkillers used to get high. Or laxatives or diuretics used to lose weight. And, how many people have caused stomach ulcers because of overusing anti-inflammatory medications?
Specifically, when it comes to liver damage, Dr. Michael Rieder, a pediatric clinical pharmacologist at Western University states that acetaminophen is the “most common cause for liver injury. Period. Full stop.” Every year there are about 4500 hospitalizations in Canada caused by acetaminophen overdose, with approximately 700 of those accidental, according to Health Canada.
Dr. Yoshida himself, the lead author in this letter, “regularly sees patients with severe liver failure from accidental acetaminophen overdose.”
This is why I wonder about Dr. Yoshida et al’s word of warning to their medical physician colleagues that “the public needs to be made aware of the potential dangers of these [herbal] products.” The problem isn’t necessarily with the herbal remedy being dangerous. It’s the improper use that is the main concern. Just as we don’t need to be warned about the dangers potentially imposed by forks, though you could be seriously injured by one!
Of course, if a patient arrives at your office with four small, closely placed puncture wounds in his leg, you might consider that a fork was the cause. And you should ask.
In fact, health care providers should always ask our patients about their use of medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), recreational drugs, medicinal narcotics, alcohol, cigarettes, and herbal and supplement remedies. We should be specific and ask for details, not just, “Are you taking anything?” When I phrase the question that way, people often answer no. But, when I ask in more detail, they may say, “Oh, yes. I’m on the birth control pill.” Then, “Oh, that. Yes, I take a sleeping pill every night.” And, “Um, yah. The only way I can sleep is if I also smoke a joint.” So, yes, we should ask in detail.
And, we should remember that our attitudes will influence whether they answer us truthfully or not. I’ve heard time and time again from patients that they don’t tell their physicians about their supplements. I encourage them to do so, but they say that their docs will shame them and tell them they are wasting their money. Some patients have even told me they’re afraid that their doctors won’t even see them anymore.
In terms of having regulation of herbal products being on par with that applied to the pharmaceutical industry, I disagree. Some people wrongly think that the world of natural health products is like the wild west—anyone can sell anything with any claim. This is fully false. We already have good regulations in place. All natural health products on the shelves in Canada are required to have a Natural Product Number (NPN). From the Government of Canada website:
“All natural health products must have a product licence before they can be sold in Canada. To get a licence, applicants must give detailed information about the product to Health Canada, including: medicinal ingredients, source, dose, potency, non-medicinal ingredients and recommended use(s).
Once Health Canada has assessed a product and decided it is safe, effective and of high quality, it issues a product licence along with an eight-digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM), which must appear on the label. This number lets you know that the product has been reviewed and approved by Health Canada.”
If anything, patients can be informed to make sure that any of the natural health products they buy are either from a qualified and licensed health professional or that the product has an NPN. Where did those two liver patients get their herbal products? That’s the question I would ask.
Rather than try to scare medical doctors into scaring their patients away from all herbal products, let’s try to educate ourselves about them. Let’s tell our patients to talk to the right type of healthcare provider when it comes to the remedies they are taking. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners (for Chinese herbs in British Columbia, that’s Dr.TCM, R.TCM.P., or R.TCM.H.) can make sure the herbal medicine is prescribed appropriately.
I work in an integrative clinic with medical physicians as part of the team. We fully respect and appreciate each other’s knowledge, skills, and type of practice. And, it was one of those medical physicians who alerted me to this letter in the BC Medical Journal. He told me, “this is what MDs are reading” because he wanted me to respond in a clear fashion that could inform both my TCM and other natural health colleagues, and perhaps help inform medical doctors as well, so we could all work together. With the facts. And with patient interest at the forefront.
While fear might provoke action faster than any other emotion, it doesn’t help us in the long-run when it comes to our health care system.
Goji berries are not a food I would normally consider local. Grown mostly in China, goji berries are a challenge to grow in Canada. That’s why so few places do. But, fortunate for us, there is one farm in the Lower Mainland amongst that short list, and this week I visited them.
Why should I care about goji berries?
Well, you don’t have to. But if you’re interested in healthy food options and like to try different foods, why not? After all, goji berries have many health benefits.
- They are rich in antioxidants–i.e. cell protectants that help prevent cancer, fight disease, and manage inflammation.
- They are a good source of fibre. Fibre helps stabilize your blood sugar (Traditional Chinese Medicine has long used goji to help manage diabetes), helps you feel full, and supports healthy bowel movements, all of which can help with healthy weight management.
- They contain more protein than most berries.
- Ounce for ounce, goji berries have more iron than spinach! In TCM they are classified as a Blood Tonic.
- TCM has long used goji–except that we call them gou qi zi–for supporting healthy vision, and research supports this.
- Gojis may increase men’s testosterone levels and improve sperm count and motility, so it’s no surprise that in TCM, goji are sometimes used to address men’s sexual health.
- For women, goji berries may also boost fertility by helping with ovulation.
- Goji are also popular for promoting healthy skin and boosting energy.
When I was doing my internship in China, I noticed that all the TCM doctors I trained with drank hot water with goji berries. As the weather got hot, they added in chrysanthemum flowers, but the goji berries seemed a staple.
Visiting a Local Goji Farm
On the first day of August, my husband and I made a drive all the way out to Aldergrove because ever since I met the owner (Peter Breederland) of a BC goji farm at a health show, I wanted to visit his goji farm.
When we arrived, though I had intended to simply buy freshly picked berries, there was only one clamshell of goji available, so I asked about the U-pick. It was hot, hot, hot out, but I was told the goji are super easy to pick. It’s true. They are. And we picked about 3/4 kg of berries in no time.
Fresh goji are super fragile. Their flesh is very soft and there are small seeds inside. The taste of the larger, ripe goji are mildly sweet, slightly tart. I find some of the berries have a bit of a red pepper taste, but others have told me they are reminiscent of huckleberries (I don’t think I’ve ever had them, so I can’t compare). The LA Times described the taste: “The berries had a mild, sweet, tomato-like flavor, with vegetal, rose and red pepper notes.” I think they taste quite different from the dried goji I’m super familiar with, but I’ve been enjoying fresh goji on my oatmeal, just as I typically have the dried ones.
If you come in for an appointment with me this week, ask me for a goji berry (I’ve got them at the clinic!).
In case you’re interested, you can even buy your own goji plant! Check them out at Gojoy, and let them know I sent you! 😉
Summer is flying by, and we want to take full advantage of it, making time for barbeques and picnics, ballgames and beaches. Personally, I’ve put my yoga studio membership on hold so I can spend my active time outdoors–hiking, doing the Grouse Grind, kayaking, and cycling. So far, I’ve also been to one Vancouver Canadians game and one Whitecaps game. There simply isn’t enough time to do as much as I’d like (which means my blogging has also fallen by the wayside, as this is my first for the month of July).
I love the summer and all it’s glorious fresh food options. My fridge is full of berries. Right now I have strawberries, blueberries, and tayberries (yes, tayberries–so many delicious berry options!). Farmer’s markets are in full swing, so you can stock up on watermelon, corn on the cob, peaches, cherries, a wide array of greens, and perhaps some foods you’ve never tried.
But, sometimes I feel like food options are so limited when I head to a ballgame or barbeque. Would you like a burger or hotdog? Vegetarians (sometimes) get the choice of veggie burger or veggie hotdog. I find it a bit crazy that Crohn’s and Colitis Canada is encouraging people to host one of 150 BBQs as a fundraiser this summer. Don’t get me wrong. They do great work to raise awareness and funds for research and treatment, and BBQs are not a bad idea. But their image for it shows foods that would be hard for most IBD sufferers to handle–steak, hotdog, burger, and sausage. What about all the other options for barbequing? Or BBQ side dishes? Haven’t they read the research on cancer as a result of the chemicals produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures, like barbequed meat?
Here are some healthy things you can bring or do at the next BBQ, ballgame, or picnic you attend.
Other BBQable foods
While the charred parts of barbequed foods are delicious to many of us, you really shouldn’t eat too many of those, as those yummy burnt bits may contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). BBQ’d (and cured/smoked) meat is even worse, as it also contains heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Since both PAHs and HCAs can cause changes in your DNA that may result in cancer (not mutant superpowers), you want to avoid those. Or, at the very least, limit them.
If you want to enjoy BBQ food, here are some simple options:
- Don’t overly char any of the following. You can scrape off the bigger burnt bits too.
- Grill skewered veggies (so many choices for grillable veggies, from zucchini, cauliflower, and asparagus to eggplant, squash, and even romaine lettuce). Marinated or not, they are delicious, and you can get just a very light char and still enjoy them.
- Speaking of grilled vegetables, portobello mushrooms make the best burgers! I’ve shared this portobello burger recipe already.
- I like the mushroom burger I just mentioned because it’s super easy. I’m a bit too lazy to make my own veggie burgers, but if you’re a better chef than me (you probably are), here’s a great vegan, gluten-free black bean burger option. Or, try this one even I managed to make awhile back. Or, get creative and give this pumpkin burger a try (let me know what it’s like, if you make this one!).
- Grill fruit. Yup. So many options. Peaches, watermelon, avocado (drooling now), even berries on a skewer.
- Make tin foil packets of fish and veggies to throw on the BBQ.
- Grilled veggies gazpacho. Yes, gazpacho is normally made with raw veggies, but then there’s this. A bit more effort, but yum.
- Salsa is delicious year-round, but the use of fresh seasonal corn makes it that much more scrumptious. Grilled corn salsa, get in my belly!
Potato salad and coleslaw alternatives
Yes, I like both of these. But, no, I don’t like them saturated in mayonnaise. I find I lose the subtle flavours of the fresh produce if someone is overly generous with the mayo. Here are some recipes I found that would make great side (or main) dishes at a picnic or barbeque.
- Cucumber salad is a nice cooling option. This one uses yogurt to add the creaminess. Their bloggers have a (somewhat rude) sense of humour, as you can see from the description below their photo.
- Slaw with more than cabbage and carrots. So many veggies can be added to a slaw, including zucchini, peppers, radish, and squash. Instead of a mayo-based dressing, use extra virgin olive oil with apple cider vinegar.
- Enjoy the creaminess of a potato salad that uses avocado instead of mayo.
- Chickpea fries. Ok, this I gotta try! That, and pretty much every other recipe listed here.
- Shakes/smoothies and juices. Hot weather time is the right time of year to enjoy more raw foods, and I love me a smoothie bowl like this one I shared last month or like the image here, pre-blending.
Snacks to take (sneak) into the ballgame
Ok, so don’t blame me if you get caught carrying in food at a “no outside food allowed” event. But, if you’re allowed (or really good at hiding contraband food), here are some finger foods you can enjoy.
- Crispy roasted chickpeas. This site lists a bunch of recipes. Or look for great options of pre-made ones in your local grocery store.
- Your own mixed nuts and seeds or bulk food bin gorp (i.e. trail mix). Mine always has to have just a bit of dark chocolate (unless the temp outside is too hot and melty for the mix), and I also love to add in goji berries.
- Bean chips, rice chips, crispy peas. There are a growing number of choices for healthier (in small amounts still) or bagged snacks.
- Protein balls. This one with a nut butter base or this also modifiable one I’ve made many times over. I usually press them into a square or rectangular pan and then cut them into squares, instead of rolling into balls (takes longer).
- If you can take in a cooler, and if it’s a hot day and you’re craving a freezie, make your own with tea or juice. I made kombucha popsicles.
150 years. I know that compared with much of the world, that’s not very long for a country. But still, it’s longer than any of us have been around! This recipe is a modification of a Vega Protein powder recipe.
Happy Canada Day Smoothie Bowl
- Ingredients for white layer
- 1 frozen banana (it's better frozen because it will make it thicker instead of shake-like)
- 1/8 cup coconut milk or almond milk
- Shredded coconut
- Ingredients for red layers
- 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
- 1/2 cup frozen cherries (or strawberries)
- 1/4 cup coconut milk or almond milk
- 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
- Optional for topping
- Hemp seeds
- Chia seeds
- Coconut flakes
- Cacao nibs
- Fresh fruit
- Blend all white layer ingredients in a blender
- If it's too thick, slowly add in more liquid
- Set aside in a chilled glass bowl
- Blend all red layer ingredients
- If it's too thick, slowly add in more liquid
- In a chilled glass bowl, add in red layer, then white, then another red
- Optional to add your toppings
Adapted from Vega recipe
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
I get it. Eating healthy can seem complicated, difficult, and time consuming. Or not.
Problem #1: Eating healthy is confusing
Yes, choosing the right foods for you can be confusing. But if you are eating poorly–be honest with yourself, are you eating too much garbage and not enough nutrient-rich food?–there’s so much you can do! Eat more foods that don’t require a label or packaging. Eat regularly until you’re 80% full, not more.
If you generally eat healthy, congratulations, you may find some simple tweaks beneficial. Keep reading for ideas.
If you have food “issues” (allergies, sensitivities, stress about food), speak to a knowledgeable health professional for personalized recommendations.
Problem #2: Eating healthy is difficult
Look, I’m no chef. I’ve messed up the simplest meals. For example, I once forgot to drain the can of tuna when making a tuna salad sandwich. If I can do it, you can too. There are pre-cut food options. There’s frozen veggie and fruit options. There are actually some (you need to get to know how to read labels) healthy packaged food and restaurant options (depending on where you live). Learn a few simple go-to recipes. And read on for more tips.
Problem #3: Eating healthy is time consuming
I’m not a patient person when it comes to food. I won’t line up for a popular restaurant, unless I have no other choice. I don’t pick recipes that require hours of standing in front of a stove. When I want to eat, I want to eat soon. It’s mostly about organization and preparation.
I know it’s tough when you’re busy, but here are some basic, simple recommendations you can start with. If you want, just start with section 1 here for a week or two. Then you can move on to section 2 and so forth, so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Section 1 for Eating Healthy: Eat mindfully
- Drink between, not with meals. We chew our food better, making digestion easier, if we don’t drink with meals. We have a tendency to swallow bigger chunks of food if we wash our food down with meals.
- Make sure to drink enough fluid. Start the day with a glass of water.
- Chew, chew, chew your food. If you eat quickly, put your utensil down between bites. Or eat with your non-dominant hand.
- Pay attention to your food. Taste it, enjoy it. Food is more than fuel.
- Hara hachi bu–eat until you’re 80% full. Don’t eat until you’re stuffed. Stop when you are about 80% full. Or when you are no longer hungry. You’ll find that “no longer hungry” and “full” are not the same
That’s the basics. If that’s all you do, that can make a difference.
Section 2 to Eating Healthy: How do you feel about food?
Next step is about figuring our your food habits.
- You may find it helpful to keep a food diary for a week to help you figure out what you’re really eating. Sometimes we don’t even notice how much or what we’re consuming throughout our days. Write down what you had, approximately how much, when, and ideally include how you felt before and/or after eating it.
- Even if you don’t keep a food diary for a week, think about your food choices. Do you have cravings? For what? What are your food habits? For example, I have a major sweet tooth. I think I used to have a muffin addiction. I seriously felt like I couldn’t go a day without having a muffin. I thought it was healthy because it was bran or blueberry or blueberry bran, but really, it was a cupcake dressed up as a healthy snack. Those muffins were huge! And full of sugar. Dropped those and my Frutopia or Snapple drink and I dropped about 5 pounds in less than 2 weeks. No other changes. Plus, I got rid of my headaches and hangry tendencies.
- Think about (and perhaps write down) how you feel about food. Do you live to eat or eat to live? Do you love food (best friend), hate food (enemy), or have a love-hate relationship with food (frenemy)? Do you know why you feel this way about food?
- Start to pay attention to the types of hunger you might experience. Is it true hunger for food that has you reaching for something to eat? Is it stress, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, boredom, or simply habit? Even if you recognize you’re eating out of stress and you still choose to eat, just let yourself recognize that you’re eating to calm your feeling of stress. Don’t self-judge. Just recognize. For now.
- Start to consider what you’re feeding and think about whether there food substitutions that might be better for you. For example, if you’re eating to calm yourself, can you first try doing 5 minutes of breathing exercises and still if you still feel like eating after? If you’re craving ice cream, is it the sweetness, the creaminess, or the memories of childhood that you want? Is there something else that might substitute, e.g. a handful of berries for the sweetness, half an avocado for the creaminess, or make up a silly rhyme (or skip or sing or make a joke!) for the visit to child in you.
That second part can make a huge difference because remember that most of our decisions are based on what we are feeling. And sometimes we don’t pay attention to how we feel, meaning that we could be making poor choices. And eating inappropriate food doesn’t solve the problem.
Section 3 to Eating Healthy: Start adding in healthy foods
Next step is adding in healthy foods. The focus is on good things to add, rather than bad things to avoid.
- If you find that saying “no” to certain foods is really hard, you could start by just adding in healthy foods. This means organizing yourself and having these foods at the ready. If, instead, you hope that you’ll simply find and choose healthy food when you are starving and pop into Starbucks or other such place, good luck.
- Some top foods you might want to add to your routine:
- Hemp seeds, ground flax seeds, chia seeds–add them to smoothies, top them on your oatmeal or cereal, sprinkle them on salads or cooked veggies.
- Buckwheat, quinoa–these are actually seeds–rich in protein, fibre, and good fats–but you prepare them like grains. They are gluten-free.
- Millet, amaranth, rice are all non-gluten grains. Don’t make them the centrepiece of your meal though. Side dish, small servings.
- Add more veggies. Find a vegetable you’ve never used before and add it in. Or simply give veggies more real estate on your plate and eat them first.
- Collect some delicious-looking healthy recipes (choose easy ones with not too many ingredients or steps, if you don’t have much time or are not inclined to spend much time in the kitchen). Pick one day to spend some time making one of those recipes at least a couple of times per month. Invite friends or family to join in on the preparing.
- Make more than you need and freeze portions for later.
- If you don’t like chopping and slicing and peeling and all that jazz (maybe you’re slow at it, as I am), buy the pre-prepped stuff at the grocery store. Yes, you’ll pay more. And yes it’s not as fresh as when you do it yourself. But it’s better than not eating enough vegetables. Frozen fruit and vegetables are also handy.
By adding in healthy foods, you may find you automatically eat less unhealthy foods simply because you’re not hungry.
Section 4 to Eating Healthy: Swap for healthier options
Finally, start dropping out the “bad” foods by substituting in healthier options.
- Go through your pantry, your fridge, your freezer, and any other place you stash food. If it’s junk food or processed food, get rid of it.
- When you shop, shop mostly at the perimeter of the stores, not much in the aisles. Skip the aisles that contain just chips, pop, cookies, and other empty food. If you don’t have it readily handy at home, you won’t have it tempting you continuously. Or go to farmers markets for fresh, local fare.
- Don’t have pop, juice, or sugary cafe drinks like frappuccinos (the venti caramel frappuccino coconut no whip is 340 calories and 75g of sugar; add whip to that and it’s 470 calories and 81g of sugar; even a venti nonfat milk, no whip mocha is 310 calories and 44g of sugar; and the venti iced passion tango tea lemonade though fewer calories at 190, but with 47g of sugar!). Do you have a fave coffee shop drink? Check out your fave drink https://globalassets.starbucks.com/assets/94fbcc2ab1e24359850fa1870fc988bc.pdf Don’t drink your sugar. Drink water, tea, fruit or veg infused waters (e.g. cucumber slices in water or raspberries in water or lemon slices in water). If you have shakes/smoothies or freshly made juices, know what’s in them and have ones with more veg, no artificial sweeteners, and not too much sugar.
- Bring your lunch to work. Or at least do some searching out to find healthy options for when you do eat out.
- Sweet tooth? Tame it by getting your tastebuds to notice the sweetness in things that don’t scream sweet, like yams, sweet potatoes, dates, figs, berries, grapes, melon, even carrots and other root vegetables, especially when they are roasted. Salt craver? Look for naturally salty foods like seaweeds, fermented foods like sauerkraut, and even celery. Perhaps it’s texture you’re after. Try whole foods that provide the textures you crave. Substitute.
- When you start to sub in a healthier food option, you may find it easier to do a blend of healthy and less healthy (or less appropriate for you). e.g. if switching to brown rice from white, mix the two together or when adding in nut milks instead of cow’s milk, alternate them for a bit.
And, of course, if you’re confused or need help, just ask! I love helping people make healthier foods choices.
Do you have your own tips and ways to make healthier choices for your food? Share it here!
When I was offered a chance to write about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for Alive Magazine, my answer was a resounding, “YES!” If we haven’t met, I’m a huge fan and supporter of TCM, its principles, and its treatments. After all, I’ve been practicing it for over 16 years. The more people who know about TCM and get a chance to try it in some format–TCM consultation, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, TCM food cures, cupping, or simple lifestyle changes based on TCM foundations–the happier I am!
One challenge about sharing information about Traditional Chinese Medicine is that it uses a different language than most of us from the West can comprehend. Yin, Yang, Qi, meridians, Damp-Cold, Liver attacking Spleen–say what?! The thing is, many systems and professionals use their own language, from “lawyerspeak” to medical jargon to tech terms. Understand that this is our way of explaining complex principles and diagnostics, and some of our words are not to be taken literally (for example, your liver is not actually attacking your spleen!).
It’s not easy to encapsulate all I want to say about TCM in just one article, but check out my link to Traditional Chinese Medicine: Deep, Historical Roots Offer New Medical Insights in June 2017’s issue of Alive. You’ll find a basic intro, my description of how TCM has been changing and evolving, and some info about how to find a qualified TCM in Canada.
Still working on it…my TCM nutrition book. One whole section of it will contain food suggestions for various health conditions. Because so many suffer from anxiety, I thought that would be a good section to share with all of you now.
Treating anxiety with food
Though there are several different types of anxiety—including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias—and a wide range in severity of anxiety symptoms, the general symptoms include feeling panicked or uneasy, palpitations, shortness of breath, dry mouth, cold or sweaty hands or feet, muscle tension, dizziness, nausea, and problems sleeping.
TCM usually looks to the Water and Earth elements when addressing anxiety, as it is a combination of fear and worry. The Water element is related to the Kidneys and adrenal glands that pump out stress hormones. Some salty flavoured foods address this issue. The Earth element is fed by whole sweet foods, including complex carbohydrates. Unrefined complex carbohydrates maximize the presence of L-tryptophan in the brain which aids in the formation of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is required for calming the mind and promoting sound sleep. L-tryptophan is found in most foods, but other amino acids in high-protein foods compete with its use in the formation of serotonin, so carbohydrates are your best source.
Of course you shouldn’t go overboard on the salty or sweet foods, and you may notice you crave these foods when you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed. But, look to find a healthy balance of whole foods that include these flavours.
Whole grains fit this category, as they are rich in B vitamins. They also contain some essential fatty acids, like the omega-3s you’ve probably heard about time and again as a thing you should make sure you eat. When the germ and bran of a grain is kept, you get these nutrients, and the bitter flavour of the whole grain supports the TCM Heart, helping to calm the mind. The interesting thing is that TCM and Ayurveda both use whole grains like wheat and barley (both gluten grains) as herbs and foods to help calm the mind and even improve digestion. That is, if your digestive system is not completely out of balance.
Foods rich in essential fatty acids and magnesium are also key to addressing anxiety. Essential fatty acids help improve brain function. Magnesium has been called “the original chill pill,” as it can help decrease an overactive stress response through a number of hormonal and brain mechanisms.
Put it all together, and these are foods that can help treat and decrease your anxiety.
- Chamomile tea is calming and ideal for the evening
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens
- Green tea contains L-theanine which helps release chemicals in the brain that promote a feeling of alertness with calmness during the day
- Magnesium-rich foods, including beans (black, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, white, etc.), halibut, tuna, artichoke, dates, figs, barley, oat bran, brown rice, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils, broccoli, beet greens, okra, parsnips, peas, pumpkin, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes
- Omega-3 essential fatty acid foods, including wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring; also chia seeds, flax seeds (ground), and walnuts
- Seaweeds such as dulse, kelp, kombu, nori, wakame
Foods that are best avoided or limited include stimulants like caffeine-containing food and beverages and processed or concentrated sugary foods.
Many foodies are keen on splurging on the most recently “discovered” superfood, from achacha to zucchini flowers. Jicama salads, coconut aminos, and turmeric milk tea are all healthy foods. But you can’t grow their ingredients in Canada–they need warmer climates. I don’t call myself a foodie. I’ve yet to try achacha, jicama, or turmeric milk. I won’t line up for the next hot restaurant. And, I won’t spend half my paycheck on a meal. But I do consider myself food-focused, food-enthralled, and even a food-fiend. And so it is that I thought to write about some of the many wonderful local superfoods available in BC.
Local Superfoods BC
As a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) student, I spent 3 months in China doing internship in 2 different hospitals. One thing I noticed was that most of the TCM doctors drank hot water with goji berries (I know them as an herb called gou qi zi). As the weather got hotter, they added in chrysanthemum flowers. But the goji berries seemed a staple.
Most of the world’s commercial goji berries are grown in China, but luckily we do actually have a local goji farm! Gojoy (great name!) is in Aldergrove. A nice local superfoods option, and you can u-pick starting soon! I’m going!
Many other superfood berries are also locally grown, including blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries, blackberries, and so on and so on. Berries are a great source of fibre, potassium, folate, vitamins C, K, and an assortment of Bs. They are also one of the best sources of antioxidants (including resveratrol–not just in red wine!), helping stave off a wide range of diseases. They may help with fighting off, treating, or managing Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.
Want to know a secret? Mushrooms. Okay, maybe it’s not an actual secret–you know about mushrooms. But do you know that mushrooms sit atop the list of some of TCM’s most revered herbs? Reishi, shiitake, maitake, cordyceps, turkey tail, and lion’s mane are just some of the most wonderful and wondrous of the medicinal fungi we can eat.
Researchers are expanding their study of the powerful compounds contained in these sometimes odd-looking edibles. Many of them have shown a remarkable ability to help boost immunity when we need to fight off a virus, bacteria, or cancerous cell, while also calming an overactive immune system when it comes to allergies and autoimmune disorders. Depending on the mushroom, they can also support the health of many other body systems, including brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.
Even the lowly button mushroom has been shown to support many of our systems. Portobello mushrooms make a great vegan alternative for a burger. They are the right size and have a meaty consistency and taste. Which reminds me, I need to make this grilled portobello recipe soon.
At Christmastime I bought myself this bag of mixed dried BC mushrooms from West Coast Wild Foods and enjoyed every precious bite, including in this recipe for sauteed mushrooms (atop mashed sweet potatoes).
“Eat your veggies,” said King Triton to his daughter Ariel. Or, at least I imagine he might have told her that, as she probably didn’t want to eat her friends Sebastien (the crab) or Flounder (the fish). What veggies would he be referring to? Sea vegetables, of course, including kelp, kombu, dulse, and wakame.
Seaweed is a particularly rich source of calcium, but also magnesium, chromium, iodine, iron, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamins A, Bs, C, E, and K. As it additionally contains a good amount of fibre, it has also been identified as a food that can reduce the incidence of colon cancer, decrease intestinal inflammatory diseases, support intestinal probiotics, and help regulate blood sugars.
For many, the only thought about eating seaweed is when you enjoy a California roll or other sushi. But did you know that you can crumble dried seaweed onto your rice or cooked vegetables, add it to soups or stews, or soak it and toss it on a salad.
Like quinoa, buckwheat is actually a seed that is thought of as a grain. So, yes, it is gluten-free–don’t let the fact that the name contains the word “wheat” fool you. Unlike quinoa, buckwheat can be grown locally in BC.
Buckwheat offers an excellent source of protein, fibre, antioxidants, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus, B vitamins, and folate. It has been shown to help lower elevated blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, improve digestion, and help balance blood sugar.
I know people love their quinoa. It seems like healthy restaurant menus contain quinoa in everything. Personally, I find this a real challenge because quinoa causes me stomach pain that radiates into my back. I’d love to love quinoa. But it doesn’t love me back. That’s because the seed and its coating contain the compound saponin, which causes allergies with symptoms like stomach pain, hives, and itchy skin. Some find that soaking quinoa before cooking removes enough saponin to make it easy to enjoy. Doesn’t work for me. So, instead…I get to have a local superfood (even better!) called buckwheat.
I just wish the local restaurants would catch up and make the switch.
A slew more local superfoods
While I do occasionally enjoy tropical fruits and I love coconut oil and avocados, it’s definitely a good idea to try to emphasize local superfoods over exotic ones that have to travel a long way to make it to your plate. The good thing is that here, in BC, we have a lot of options.
Just because these foods might be common, doesn’t mean they should be downplayed. We should really celebrate their availability, flavour, and health benefits.
For example, many of us health nuts are nuts over almonds. But almonds are grown largely in California, and they require a lot of water for their growth. Note that California has had some major droughts. Instead, you might consider hazelnuts. These beauties, full of fibre, essential fatty acids, vitamins E and the Bs, folate, copper, and manganese, are grown in the Fraser Valley.
Other wonderful local foods include west coast wild salmon, apples, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, and pumpkin.
I don’t have a green thumb or the space to keep a garden, but if you do, growing your own local superfoods is perhaps the best way to save money, de-stress, and get and stay healthy.
What local BC superfoods are your favourite?
Want a delicious side dish that will support your immune system? And, want that dish to be easy to make? This is it! I usually eat fewer root veggies as the weather warms, but today I was craving sweet potatoes, and though I would normally roast them, seasonal changes mean I’d try something different.
Traditional Chinese Medicine rates different cooking methods as adding different levels of heat to the food. If you experience a lot of cold signs, like poor blood circulation, feeling cold, slow digestion, and pale complexion, then you should add more warming foods. If you tend toward more heat symptoms like feeling hot, sweating easily, fast metabolism, and flushed complexion, then cooling foods are a better call for you. Roasting adds a lot more warmth than boiling, so as the weather is starting to warm, I’m pulling back on how much roasted food I consume, adding in more steamed, boiled, and juiced. Because I still tend toward cold, I still limit how much raw food I eat.
Sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamins A, C, Bs, potassium, copper, and fibre–great for strengthening the immune and digestive systems. Mushrooms are often used to support the immune system too. While spring is here, cold and flus are still circulating, so it helps to have immune supportive foods to keep a spring cold at bay.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Better than mashed potatoes, I think.
- 4 sweet potatoes (you could use yams instead if you like, but though people often use the names interchangeably, they are different vegetables)
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil
- 1/4 cup of almond milk
- 2-6 Tbsp of maple syrup (depends on your sweet tooth)
- salt and pepper
- Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into cubes
- Boil in water until soft, 20-30 minutes
- Drain out water
- Mash sweet potatoes with a potato masher, fork, or hand blender
- Stir in coconut oil
- Add in almond milk so it's the consistency you like
- Add in maple syrup to taste
- Add salt and pepper to taste
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
Mushrooms should always be cooked. But the cooking of them can be super simple. Like this.
- Mushrooms, 1/2 cup sliced (instead, I rehydrated a bag of West Coast Wild Foods mixed mushrooms)
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (I used Copper Kettle Fine Foods small batch handmade sauce)
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
- Heat oil at medium heat
- Add mushrooms and saute a few minutes
- Add Worcestershire sauce (took me a long time to learn how to spell that; still can't pronounce it!)
- Saute another few minutes
- Optional to serve on top of mashed sweet potatoes
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/