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! 😉
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?
Health in 2015 Review
I like to look back to review the most stand-out news in health in 2015. Of course, for me, a lot of my remembrance about health news is particular to either Traditional Chinese Medicine or nutrition.
- Remember the day that you were told bacon and sausages are in the same category for cancer-causing as smoking and asbestos? If you missed my article reviewing the WHO’s report, here it is: WHO declares processed meat cancer risk.
- The Vancouver Sun wrote an article titled “Chinese herbs mixed with medications can be hazardous.” I wrote an article titled: The media loves to write about “dangerous Chinese herbs”
- Remember that yellow skied morning last summer? It looked cool, but its cause was not! Even though those fires are not affecting our air today, the tips for lung health are always good to heed: BC wildfires and your lung health
- Finding higher levels of toxins in the blood and urine samples of women from South and East Asia, researchers questioned the source, including Chinese and Aryuvedic herbs. It’s so important to know the source of the things you are taking. Are your foods, herbs, makeup, and more full of toxins
- No duh. Researchers found that acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine treatments that were customized to individuals were more effective than “cookbook-style” one-treatment-fits-all acupuncture treatments to boost fertility. Boosting fertility with “whole systems” TCM
This isn’t exactly news about health in 2015, but my favourite article of the year was in the Journal of Chinese Medicine–a funny bit reviewing a negative opinion piece published about acupuncture research in Headache journal: Getting High on Acupuncture Research
If you only read one link, read that one. Sad that the original article maligning acupuncture as an effective therapy for migraines was so misinformed, poorly researched, and published in a supposedly respected “scientific” journal.
Looking forward to seeing what 2016 will bring in the news on health.
What are the health and wellness things you remember most for 2015, either in the media or in your personal life?
Did you know that a simple turmeric tea can help you stave off a number of diseases and treat a large number of symptoms and diseases? Turmeric has long been recognized for its powerful medicinal benefits by Traditional Chinese Medicine and Aryuvedic medicine, but more recently is also being studied by western researchers for its ability to treat a wide variety of health issues. One of the root causes of many health issues is chronic inflammation.
Turmeric, as a result, has been shown to help treat and manage Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, stomach ulcers, arthritis, dementia, colorectal cancer, surgery recovery, and much, much more.
Is this part of the reason why Okinawans have a well-known reputation for longevity?
Ukoncha (ウコン茶?, “turmeric tea“) is a kind of turmeric tea which originates from Okinawa, in southern Japan. Ukoncha is made of the rhizomes of turmeric
While I prescribe standardized, concentrated turmeric in capsule form for treatment, you can certainly also benefit both preventively and as treatment by having a regular turmeric tea. Super easy to prepare in advance, you can keep it on hand so all you have to do is add water.
Turmeric Tea Recipe
Turmeric Honey Tea
An anti-inflammatory daily use tea
- 1/3 cup good quality raw honey
- 2-3 tsp powdered turmeric
- lemon (optional)
- Mix the honey and turmeric and keep it in a jar.
- When you want a tea, stir a heaping teaspoon of the turmeric/honey mix into 1 cup of hot water. Add " a good amount" of fresh ground pepper to enhance the absorption of the turmeric and improve its health benefits. Optional to squeeze in lemon, to taste.
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
Yes, you read that right. $228,000. In most places that would buy you a nice small house. In Vancouver you can’t even get a tiny condo for that. But still, you could get rid of a good chunk of mortgage!
Rhino Horn Sold at Auction by Maynard’s
The 19th century rhino horn sold at auction in Vancouver on November 21st to buyers who the vendor thinks will grind it up into powder to sell it as medicine. It is legal because the horn is believed to be from the early part of the 1900s, and the ban on sale is for any 1975 or newer because of the endangered species status of rhinos.
I have no problem with the sale of the horn. But, if it’s sold as medicine, I feel that that perpetuates the idea that this “herb” is valuable beyond the value of other more ethical and useful herbs. It’s pricey, not because it is more effective, but because it is rare. It’s rare because we made it rare by killing off en masse nearly a whole precious species of animals.
Traditionally, rhino horn was used to stave off fevers and get rid of toxins, though there is folklore that it is an aphrodisiac. It may help with fevers and toxins, but many other herbs also do this. It is not an effective aphrodisiac. Unless, perhaps, you believe it is. But, sex is largely guided by your thoughts anyway, so a shoe can do that too, for some. I’ve written in a past article in 24 Hours Vancouver (Rhino Horns Don’t Work) what I think about rhino horn (and other unethical herbs).
If you are looking for effective medicines to help treat illness and disease or to help you stay healthy, spend your money wisely and choose quality products with informed and ethical practitioners.
I’m quoted in today’s Vancouver Sun article: rhino horn sold at auction in Vancouver.
The Vancouver Sun recently wrote an article titled, “Chinese herbs mixed with medications can be hazardous.” Now, the article doesn’t really say that Chinese herbs themselves are dangerous. It discusses how patients (particularly those from China) often take Chinese herbs, but don’t tell their medical doctors about it. And the onus of blame for health risks from drug-herb interactions always lands on the herbs, not the pharmaceuticals.
Chinese herbs mixed with medications can be hazardous
Using traditional Chinese herbal remedies while also taking prescription medications can cause potentially life-threatening reactions. After a survey of Chinese immigrants in Vancouver found that many use traditional herbs and fail to disclose it to …
The Good Side of Awareness for Drug-Herb Interactions
A group of medical students is working with an emergency medical doctor at Vancouver General Hospital to provide a checklist of common Chinese herbs with a listing of the herbs’ actions. The intent is to provide the list to TCM practitioners, TCM herbalists, and TCM doctors to have them check the box next to any of the herbs they prescribe to each of their patients. The idea is that the patient would then provide this checklist to their MD.
I do agree that dangerous drug-herb interactions need to be avoided.
I do agree that it’s important that patients notify their MDs about any herbs or supplements they are taking. And that they also tell their TCM health professional (and any other health providers) about medications they are taking.
I do agree that Chinese herbs can have powerful medicinal effects. This actually is refreshing to me to hear medical students and a VGH ER doc note the potent physiological actions of Chinese herbs. TCM offers effective medicinal results, and too often the conventional side questions the efficacy. This group of conventional health providers do not question that there are medicinal effects. Bravo!
Should We Be Concerned About Dangerous Chinese Herbs?
But, is it really the Chinese herbs themselves that are the problem?
How herbs are being taken
Part of the problem is it that patients may take herbs improperly, taking the health advice of a friend or family member (or Dr. Google), rather than seek the help of a qualified TCM doctor or herbalist.
As a registered doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I know that when we prescribe Chinese herbs, the herbs are almost never prescribed as a single herb. We gather a lot of information from our patients about their health conditions, their medications (we too learn about drug-herb interactions), their other supplements, and a long list of symptoms, life patterns, and medical history. We do this so that we can work to avoid side effects and negative interactions.
British Columbians are lucky. TCM is a regulated profession. TCM herbs are prescribed by health professionals who are registered, licensed, and insured. We are held accountable, just like MDs, nurses, physios, and other health professionals under the Health Professions Act. So, make sure the person who tells you to take your Chinese herbs is actually qualified to do so. Note that if you want Chinese herbs, check our regulatory body’s website and choose only those with Dr.TCM, R.TCM.P., or R.TCM.H. Registered acupuncturists (R.Ac.) are not qualified to prescribe Chinese herbs.
What about the pharmaceuticals?
How about the pharmaceutical medications themselves? Do they hold some responsibility, or is it a dysfunctional blaming relationship? “It’s not me, it’s you.”
For example, the blood thinning drug warfarin (that they mention in the Vancouver Sun article) does not play well with others. Many others. Including A.S.A. (e.g. Aspirin), ibuprofen (e.g. Advil), and acetominophen (e.g. Tylenol); thyroid medicine, some antibiotics, and some antidepressants; and even many foods, like grapefruit, avocado, large amounts of kale or other otherwise healthy dark leafy greens, and store-bought mayo, salad dressings, and margarine.
I’m not against the proper use of pharmaceutical medicine. I work in an integrative medicine clinic with MDs and an ND who prescribe them. My mother is a nurse practitioner. I will take an Advil or Tylenol if I am suffering pain and need quick relief. But, too many people are too over-medicated because it’s easy to do. Because MSP or extended health plans pay for the medications, but not our herbs, vitamins, and other supplements. Because of scary articles like this one in the Vancouver Sun.
Why aren’t patients telling their MDs about their herb use?
Then, of course, there’s the big question…why aren’t patients telling their MDs about the herbs, vitamins, and other supplements they are taking? This article provides an answer, “A survey her group conducted of more than 300 Chinese immigrants to Vancouver revealed many don’t disclose their use of such remedies because they feel they’ll be harshly judged.”
That is a problem!
And it’s not just Chinese immigrants who feel that way. Many patients have told me that they take supplements or get treatments (like acupuncture, chiropractic, osteopathy, and more) despite the flak they take from their MDs. Some have learned to just shut it when it comes to that discussion. Easier not to have to argue. Or justify. Or try to explain how it’s actually working for them.
So, will my taking the time to print, fill out, and hand that checklist to each patient who receives Chinese herbs from me help?
Maybe a bit. Maybe it will open up some much needed dialogue between health professions so we can work better together. *I’m lucky because I work in an integrative medical clinic alongside MDs who are open-minded and who practice functional medicine–which really actually uses TCM foundational principles.
But, if only 1% of the herbal formula I make for someone is licorice root, will the MD still have them stop their herbs if they are taking warfarin?
And, above all, if patients feel they can’t discuss their health choices with their MDs, will they even hand that list to their MD?
Create a specific action plan to improve your chances of quitting smoking forever. Write down your plan because that will make you think more carefully about what you need to do and how you can do it.
Quit Smoking Plan
- Decide how you are going to quit smoking. Gradual decline or cold turkey. Set a plan. Cold turkey is recommended.
- Determine and write down your reasons for wanting to stop smoking, e.g. health, money, social interactions, etc. The reasons should be for you, not anyone else, i.e. not because your husband/wife, girl/boyfriend, parent, boss, etc. want you to quit, but because you want to quit smoking. This/these reason(s) will be your best motivator(s) if and when you feel your determination to quit lag. Keep this reminder with you. You can also carry pictures or medical test results or other such cues to remind you of your reasons.
- Figure out your smoking patterns. Do you like a cigarette after eating, first thing in the a.m., while talking on the phone, while driving, when you have an alcoholic drink or a coffee, etc? Plan ahead for how you are going to deal with those situations. These are also ideal times to press your ear seeds.
- Ask for support from people that you know. Both professional and non-professional people can be great teammates to getting you to stop smoking.
- Recognize that even if you do have cigarette one day, don’t beat yourself up. Just move forward and stop smoking again from that moment on.
- Write down ways that you have succeeded at something difficult in the past and recognize that you do have the ability to be successful at this as well.
- Reward yourself for your successes, big and small. Think of the things that you would like to do or buy for yourself as a reward for quitting. Start a stop smoking jar and every day or week deposit the money you would normally spend on cigarettes in the jar (or in a separate bank account if that amount is too much for what purchase you would like to make). Reward yourself when you reach the amounts that you need to do/get the things you want.
- Practice some of the following techniques when you feel a craving:
- Pull out your reminder of your reasons for quitting smoking
- Deep breathe: Inhale the deepest lung-full of air you can, and then, very slowly, exhale. Purse your lips so that the air must come out slowly. As you exhale, close your eyes, and let your chin gradually sink over onto your chest. Visualize all the tension leaving your body, slowly draining out of your fingers and toes, just flowing on out.
- Have a drink of water
- Go for a walk
- Call a friend/support person
- Keep healthy snacks available so that you don’t reach for the junk food quick fix
- Check out this free government resource: http://www.quitnow.ca/
- Get help. Acupuncture/Traditional Chinese Medicine can support your healthy body, relax your mind, and help manage cravings. For more on this, check out my blog about how acupuncture can help you quit smoking.
Quit Smoking with Acupuncture
Every day, people around the world vow to finally quit smoking for good only to watch their resolution go up in smoke. If you have tried to quit smoking, you know how difficult it can be. Nicotine is a powerfully addictive drug. For some people, it can be as addictive as heroin or cocaine.
The reasons to quit smoking are endless. Cigarettes have 4000 known poisons. One drop of pure nicotinic acid can kill a man. According to the CDC, tobacco kills more than 440,000 people each year in the US alone. Smoking is also associated with an enormous list of the chronic illnesses and diseases including emphysema, lung cancer, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, chronic cough, an increased frequency of colds and flu.
Many people decide to quit because of the enormous expense of a cigarette habit or are just plain tired of being dependant on a substance. There is also considerable social pressure not to smoke and more and more places do not allow smoking.
Acupuncture is an alternative approach to smoking cessation. In fact, acupuncture is often a court-mandated treatment for drug addicts because of its ability to curb withdrawal symptoms and manage cravings.
It’s estimated that most smokers will attempt to quit several times before finally kicking the habit. Acupuncture is not a magic cure in the treatment of any addiction, including smoking, however, is effective in making it easier to quit and remain smoke-free. If you are highly motivated and ready to quit, acupuncture can empower you to take control and begin a healthy and smoke-free life!
How Does Acupuncture Help Break the Cigarette Habit?
Acupuncture intercepts messages sent by the brain to the body that demand more nicotine, thereby disrupting the addictive process. It can eliminate most cravings, but not the habit. A successful quit smoking with acupuncture program will include patient preparation, patient commitment, and education about how to replace the unhealthy habit of smoking with healthy habits.
Traditional Chinese Medicine aims to treat the specific symptoms and patterns of imbalance that are unique to each individual. Treatments will focus on the jitters, the cravings, the irritability, and the restlessness that people commonly complain about when they quit. It will also aid in relaxation and detoxification.
What Points Are Used?
Each patient is custom-treated according to his or her specific and unique diagnosis. Usually a combination of body acupuncture points and points on the ear are used that are believed to influence the organs and energetic pathways associated with smoking.
Common points to help you quit smoking with acupuncture include:
Ear points:-alleviates tension; increases will power; returns the body to homeostatic balance; relieves withdrawal symptoms; Diminishes appetite and cravings.
Body points: (on the wrist) a specific point to quit smoking; a combination of two points (one on the hand & one on the foot) used to circulate energy throughout the body and calm the nervous system.
After removing the needles, ‘ear seeds’ (affixed to a small beige tape) are often applied to the ear to stimulate the points between treatments and reduce cravings.
How Many Treatments Will I Need and How Long Do they Take?
The length, number and frequency of treatments will vary. Typical treatments last approximately sixty minutes, with the patient being treated two to three times on the first week and two more treatments the second week (5 initial treatments). I recommend a booster treatment once a month for the next four to six months. Some symptoms are relieved after the first treatment, while more severe or chronic ailments often require multiple treatments.
A quit smoking with acupuncture program will often consist of 4-6 initial treatments scheduled in the first few weeks followed by monthly treatments for four to six months.
Note that herbs and/or supplements may also be recommended to help the lungs recover and support the whole body.
Also, check out my tips for creating a quit smoking plan.
Our world is full of chemicals that are toxic to us if allowed to accumulated in our bodies. Toxins are found in food, makeup, skincare products, and cleaning products, but also even in some supplements and herbal products. Canada has much stricter rules regarding these toxic chemicals than some other countries. For this reason, Aryuvedic herbs and Chinese herbal products are highlighted as possible sources for higher levels of these toxins. When patients ask me about the quality of Chinese herbs and other supplements I use–and it’s a good question to ask–I can assure them that the products I use have third party testing for safety and quality. Read more to find out what other things to consider in my 24 Hours Vancouver article, How to Clean Your Food of Toxins.
Spring has sprung and with it comes thoughts of spring cleaning, both of household and body. According to traditional Chinese medicine principles, this is the season most connected to working on liver and gallbladder issues, so now is a great time to do a cleanse. Click here to view the actual link or here for the PDF.