Sunday, October 27, 2013

What You "Should" Eat

Now that I am embarking on my new career as a nutritionist, you will probably see a lot of food, health, and nutrition themes infiltrating my blog. As I study nutrition, I am swiftly developing a pet peeve and I’ve gotta say something about this. I don’t think it’s helpful for health professionals to tell people what they “should eat.” The only person who decides what a person should eat is that person himself/herself. Providing people with information is important so that they can make an informed decision (and that includes information about food items that cause poor health outcomes), but once “should” appears on the scene then an invasion of personal space begins and also a measure of judgment. I hope I’ll be a nutritionist who reserves judgment.

A perfect example is the issue of whether or not agave nectar is a good sugar substitute for diabetics. Agave is low on the glycemic index, so it doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels. Ron uses agave almost exclusively now as his go-to sweetener. As I read more about agave in the context of my studies, I am disappointed to learn that it’s not the wonder sweetener it’s cracked up to be.

Agave is primarily fructose. It has a fructose content of 70%-90%, which is higher than the fructose content of agave’s evil nemesis, high fructose corn syrup (at fructose content of 55%). Ironically, many people use agave to get away from such nasty sweeteners as high fructose corn syrup. The reason why agave is so low on the glycemic index is because it is metabolized in the liver rather in the blood stream and that is why it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. But it can cause other stressors to the body, particularly to the liver. Because it is primarily fructose, it can contribute to weight gain and can inhibit weight loss. Perhaps agave is not such a bad choice for someone with Type 1 Diabetes (which is what Ron has). But, according to some reports, for those with Type 2 Diabetes, agave can contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain. Agave is also a highly refined sweetener (which means it can pick up traces of toxins during manufacture) and it has almost no nutritional value (unlike honey or maple syrup, which are not refined, and contain quality nutrients). Argh. I almost don’t want to know.

But let’s go back to the “should” issue. Should Ron stop eating agave? Absolutely not. There are a number of options for sweeteners touted as good choices for diabetics. One is stevia, which we think has a horribly bitter aftertaste. Perhaps others don’t notice this but Ron and I do. Another is Xylitol, which gives Ron indigestion. Agave works for him. It has helped him reduce his intake of sugar. Because it is low on the glycemic index, he doesn’t have to give himself a lot of insulin to compensate for it when he eats it. He loves the way it tastes. Perhaps most important is the fact that it has helped him lose weight. He buys only organic agave, so it’s top quality and is free of GMOs and toxins found in many sugar products. In short, of the many choices out there, agave remains a good choice for Ron.

In the end, armed with knowledge about health and nutrition, each person needs to develop their own healthy eating meal plan because food is personal. There may be things we know we shouldn’t eat. And I could recommend to people some things to avoid. But what people “should” eat? In the end that’s a decision that belongs to each individual person.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Shedding Old Skin (Again)

Periodically I have arrived at places in my life when I shed my old skin and emerge with new skin. Even though they have a bad rep, snakes are superb creatures and I have no problem comparing myself to one. The way they shed their skin and emerge anew from time to time is awesome. As for me, I feel grateful for the shake-up and change of the transitions in my life.

As a young woman I worked as a “techie,” doing scenic art and scenic carpentry in the Bay Area. My career culminated in several years of carving large sculptures out of bead Styrofoam at the San Francisco Opera Association. When I shed that skin, I went into the publishing business. First I wrote a few books for an educational publishing company and then I landed a job as an editorial assistant and later as the managing editor at a magazine. Another huge transition in my life was when my daughter was born and I became a mom. It was a big transformational experience when Ron and I moved our family from the city to the country. I refer to our move to the Ranch as “shooting the moon.” I reinvented myself again, creating an entirely new life of raising children in a forest, growing fruits and vegetables, and living close to nature. For many years I worked a nine-to-five outside the home as an administrator. I eventually shook things up again when I took the leap and became self-employed as a writer. Even though I was mostly writing grants, I still got to put “writer” as my profession on my taxes (and I loved working at home and having flexible hours). I zipped myself into a new skin when I took the plunge and published a book, embarking on the Mount Everest of learning curves as I became an author and publisher.

Now I’m shedding my old skin yet again as I reinvent myself to pursue a new profession. This week I will begin a two-year distance learning course to earn my Holistic Nutritionist Certification through Bauman College. I have had a lifelong passion for healthy eating and I believe I can turn that passion into a retirement profession as a nutritionist. My goal is to establish myself in the healthcare field and provide individual consultations to patients through a clinic or doctor’s office. Bauman’s holistic and visionary approach to nutrition is a perfect fit for me and I can’t wait to start learning.

As ever, football informs my life. A few weeks ago, I heard an interview with the quarterback Peyton Manning, one of football’s giants. For those of you who don’t follow football, Manning was the QB for the Indianapolis Colts for years. He took them to a Super Bowl win. A couple of years ago he suffered a neck injury that took him out of the game for an entire season, during which the team crashed and burned without him. The Colts picked up a terrific young QB for the following year and they cut Manning loose. He resurfaced when his neck had healed and he signed a contract with the Denver Broncos. He had a stupendous season as the Broncos’ QB last year and so far this year he is carrying the team through an undefeated season. He’s obviously back and better than before. In the interview, Manning said that even though it was difficult for him to leave the Colts and make a new life with the Broncos, he is grateful that it happened. He says the change got him out of old habits, challenged him, made him use more of his brain again, and caused him to become “fresh” all over again. It transformed him. He shed his old skin and took on new skin.

I agree with Manning, it’s good to shake things up from time to time. We’ll see who I am when I emerge from this time of transformation in my life. I look forward eagerly to the discovery and to reinventing myself yet again. Farewell old skin.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lighting Candles

Friday night service at our little synagogue here in the small town where I live is not a major event. On an ordinary week, not many people turn up for the short service and vegetarian potluck dinner. The other night we were a handful of older women gathered to say the ancient Hebrew words and to send healing prayers into the world. We lit our Sabbath candles, just as our mothers’ did before us, and sang in celebration while dancing arm-in-arm. We welcomed the Sabbath.

Our rabbi had brought the results of a recent study about American Jewry to share with us and we discussed the data. According to a Pew Study, 2.2% of the population of the U.S. identifies as Jewish because they practice Judaism, were raised Jewish, and/or have at least one Jewish parent. The total number of Jews is estimated at approximately 6.6 million people. Of those American Jews, only 4% live in a rural community. Interestingly, 40% do not belong to a synagogue and about one-third stated they don’t believe in God. Being Jewish is an odd “category” of cultural identity. A person from any ethnic background can be Jewish, since it’s a religion of course. But it’s a distinctive culture; and absolutely, definitely not “white.” Trust me on that. Every one of us at synagogue the other night stated emphatically that we have never thought of ourselves as “white,” even though we have often felt pressured to check the “Caucasian” box on forms. Any group that has been as discriminated against and oppressed as much as we Jews will understand why we have an aversion to being lumped into the same category as the dominant culture. It just doesn’t work like that.

After our discussion of the statistics, and after we said the blessings over wine, hand-washing, and breaking bread, we sat down to our potluck dinner. Since we belong to that 4% of rural Jews, much of our food came from our own gardens. As I looked around at the other women seated at the table, I realized that almost all of us at that table grow food. One of the women keeps poultry. I have an orchard. I love living in a community where people farm and ranch, where people grow what they eat. We choose to live here because we value a life close to the earth, connected to the natural world.

So there we were, on Friday night, a small group of aging Jewish women, sending blessings and healing prayers into this beleaguered world. Dispersing gratitude, love, and light to our dangerous, poisoned, suffering planet. Counteracting the forces of destruction with our positive energy. Singing our Sabbath songs and dancing our little dance. Lighting our candles against the approaching night. Sharing the harvest from our modest gardens. My belief that our gathering for the Sabbath makes a small difference in the grand scheme of things is my leap of faith.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Every summer while our children were growing up we took them to the ocean for a beloved family vacation. We stayed in a “kamping kabin” (don’t know what is up with the kute k’s) at the KOA near Santa Cruz in Watsonville, located less than a mile from one of my personal sacred places:  Manresa Beach. Over the years, we developed a number of routines that our family looked forward to and depended on as part of the vacation. Each of our children invited one friend to come along. We always stayed in the same cabin. (As the children grew up and invited more friends, we had to expand to another cabin or two.) We always went for a big pancake breakfast in Santa Cruz on our last morning before driving home. We always went to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk for one evening and Ron and the children played Laser Tag at the arcade while I babysat the jackets, backpacks, and handbags. We always made s’mores over the campfire. We flew kites on the beach, bought sandwiches at the deli up the road, rented bikes at the KOA, built sandcastles. We had our rituals and our favorite activities.

For all of us, Manresa Beach, and what we referred to as “Going to Santa Cruz,” took on a magic aura in family lore.

One year, as we prepared to “Go to Santa Cruz,” I called my friend Nan, who at that time was dying of a blood disease. Nan was a deeply spiritual person, who had special connections to many natural living things. I told her we were heading to the beach in a few days and she requested, “Say hello to the dolphins for me.” I laughed. “I have never seen any dolphins at Manresa,” I told Nan, “but I’ll say hello for you anyway.” “You do that,” she insisted.

Not long after our conversation, I found myself walking along the water’s edge at Manresa while Ron kept an eye on the children. I walked and walked, far down the beach, as I contemplated my life and reflected on new directions to take in the coming year. Then I remembered Nan’s request. I held my arms open to the magnificent day, the brilliant sun, electric blue sky, and sparkling water, and I called out “Hello dolphins! Nan says hello!” There, I thought, I kept my promise.

I must reiterate that I had never previously ever seen a dolphin at Manresa. But later that afternoon, as we lazed on the sand, the children exclaimed, “Mom, Mom, look, dolphins!” Sure enough, a large school of dolphins was swimming past us in the waves, clearly visible as they hopped up in the water. It was such a thrill to see them. I told the children to shout to them that Nan said hello and they did.

When I returned home from the beach, I called Nan to tell her we had seen dolphins and that we had sent them her greetings. By the following summer when we went to Manresa, Nan was no longer living. But we saw the dolphins again and we told them she sent her greetings. I am almost certain that we have seen dolphins at Manresa every year since. One year, when my father, brothers, and family joined us for a family reunion at Santa Cruz, the dolphins came and swam so close to shore that my children and my brother’s children actually swam in among them. The dolphins stayed nearby for a very long time that year. We think they were showing off for us.

Now that the children have grown up and gone off to their own lives, we have not gone to Manresa together for many years. But I make a point of going with Ron or on my own each year to walk again on Manresa Beach. Last weekend, I drove down to Manresa with my dear friend Jessica. She had known Nan, so I told her the remarkable story about the dolphins. Jessica and I walked for several miles. We had a gorgeous, sunny, clear day for it. What terrific luck, since Manresa is often fogged in. After we had walked for quite some time, I commented to Jessica, “I haven’t seen any dolphins today.” She replied, “You didn’t call to them for Nan.” I laughed. “OK, OK,” I said, “I’ll call them.”

We paused in our walk and I flung my arms wide to the ocean and shouted, “Greetings dolphins. Nan says hello.” In a stunning moment of serendipity or harmonic conversion in the universe or miraculous coincidence or perhaps a visitation from the spirit of Nan, several dolphins suddenly appeared right nearby, extremely close to shore, and hopped up out of the water. It happened so quickly and they revealed themselves to us so briefly and so instantly after I had called out that if Jessica had not seen them too I would have thought I was hallucinating. They came and went in a flash and we never saw any more dolphins that day. Although, we did see lots of whales later in the afternoon. We caught sight of them spouting and I grabbed my binoculars. Both with the binoculars and with the naked eye we could see their backs as they surfaced far out among the waves. Wow, dolphins and whales in one day, how cool is that?

Last Saturday was a spectacular day at Manresa. Dolphins. Whales. The clarity of the day. The sunshine and warmth. The crash of the waves, their soothing sound. The diamond-bright glitter of the water. The companionship of my good friend with whom I share such history. Perfection. Keep sending me messages from the deep, oh mysterious universe.