Monday, May 21, 2012

Take the Quiz - and Get the Skinny on Cholesterol

Even though cholesterol is a household word, how much to do you really know about it? And how much of what you "know" has come from advertising designed to sell you a food or a drug? Take this little quiz and find out.

1. Where does most of the cholesterol in your body come from?
a) From eating red meat, like beef and pork.
b) From eating egg yolks.
c) From eating cured meats, like bacon and sausage.
d) From drinking whole milk and eating butter and cheese.
e) Your liver. 
2. True or False. Everyone with heart disease has an elevated cholesterol level.

3. True or False. We don't need cholesterol, so the less of it we have in our bodies, the better.

4. True or False. The only way diet contributes to high cholesterol is through consumption of animal fats.

Ready for the answers?

1. The answer is e - your body manufactures 70% of the cholesterol floating around in your bloodstream. Surprised? Cholesterol is animal fat, and humans are animals, after all. Cholesterol is manufactured in the liver, which is why the liver is the target for cholesterol lowering drugs called statins, such as Lipitor and Crestor. These drugs interfere with liver function in such a way as to lower the amount of cholesterol your body produces.

2. False. 40% of people with heart disease have normal cholesterol levels.

3. False. Cholesterol is essential for good health. In fact, you can't live without it. Cholesterol is the central building block for adrenal and sex hormones. It is one of the components that make up cell membranes. It plays an important role in nerve conduction. Some research indicates that cholesterol may even serve as an antioxidant. Your body also needs cholesterol for the synthesis of Vitamin D.

4. False. Remember that big plate of pasta you ate for lunch? And those breadsticks you had with pizza last night? Those carbs were converted into glucose and stored in your liver to provide energy to fuel physical activity. If you weren't active enough to burn off that glucose within a few hours, it was converted into cholesterol.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Is It Possible To Get Over A Food Allergy?

If you asked me that question 10 years ago, or even 3 months ago, I would have said, "No." Emphatically.

I was diagnosed with an egg allergy nearly 20 years ago. Back then the antibody levels in my blood for both egg whites and yolks were off the charts. When I stopped eating eggs, the symptoms - buzzing in my head, difficulty swallowing, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, etc. - went away. Because the severity of the allergy developed gradually, I didn't realize how rotten I felt all the time. Until I didn't anymore. Sweet relief!

Since then, I've had to be diligent in order to maintain my health. As anyone with an allergy to common foods like wheat, eggs, dairy and soy can tell you, it is a challenge to avoid these things. There are traces of them in prepared foods everywhere you look. You learn to read labels, ask a lot of questions at restaurants and rely mostly on your own cooking to stay out of harm's way. But as far as I was concerned, that was all a small price to pay for feeling good. I was absolutely fine living my egg-free life.

So it came as a big surprise to me when, about a month ago, I started craving scrambled eggs! That's just crazy, I thought. That's self-destructive! I can't eat eggs - I haven't even wanted to eat an egg in years. But the craving wouldn't go away. So one day while I was shopping, I decided to buy a half dozen eggs. I figured I'd listen to my body and give them a try.

I knew that after two or three bites of scrambled egg, I would know where things stood. There have been enough slip-ups over the years that I am very familiar with how I react when I'm exposed to eggs. I fully expected to feel an electrical sensation in my head and that my throat would start to constrict. When that happened, I was going to stop eating. Simple as that. I'd feel a little sick, but not terribly so if I ate only a couple of bites. And then I would know whether this craving was simply crazy or whether, by some miracle, I can eat eggs now.

I scrambled my egg and started to eat. One bite, two bites - no problem. I kept eating. Still everything was normal. I finished the egg. I felt fine. I waited for a delayed reaction. It never came. In fact, I felt really good. And that egg tasted great! I wanted more, but decided not to push it. I waited a couple of days and had two eggs for breakfast. Again, no problem.

In fact, I've eaten close to two dozen eggs in the past three weeks without any sign of allergy!

I have no idea how this could have happened. The only thing different in my life lately is that I have been doing T-Tapp exercises for the past three months. It seemed to me to be a stretch to think there could be any correlation, until I read this post on the Chicago Eats Allergy-Free site. All I can say is that I am grateful for whatever it is that has healed my immune system.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pinterest - The Coolest Tool for Vision Boards

I've been noticing that people are finding my blogs by way of Pinterest. Apparently, people have "pinned" various images from my sites onto their boards and other people have found the images interesting enough to click on the attribution links back to my blogs. 

This has happened often enough that I decided I should find out what Pinterest is all about. So I requested an invitation to join. A couple of days later, I was accepted. Minutes after I set up my account, I was hooked. This is just so much fun!

About the best way I can describe Pinterest is to say that it is social media for visual people. The concept is simple. Users create virtual "boards" and then pin images onto them. Each board is a collection of photos and/or videos that relate to a particular interest: art, food, products, favorite places, travel, fashion, etc. Unless users specify otherwise, their boards are searchable and other "pinners" can re-pin the cool images they've found onto their own boards. You can read more about how the service works on Wikipedia.

When first I started "pinning," I thought of it as a sharing process. But what struck me a couple of days in was that I was creating at least one vision board in this process. (I'll back up here just a bit to explain for those unfamiliar with the term that a "vision board," or treasure map, is a tool you use to visualize the life you want to have. The typical process is to cut images of things you love out of magazines and then glue them onto a poster board. The idea is to focus the subconscious mind on those images of happiness and success, thus developing a mindset that matches and eventually brings about those outcomes. Even people skeptical of this process have been astonished to see their dreams come true.)

When I was looking at other people's boards to get some ideas for my own, I saw that lots of people have a board with images of places they would like to visit someday. At first, I passed on that idea because I haven't had much of an interest in travel for a while. But then I remembered that I would like to visit London, and I've long wanted to go to the Highlands in Scotland and see where my McKinsey/MacKenzie ancestors came from. Soon I was realizing that there are several places I want to see. It is time to give up the story that I don't want to travel. Every time I look at my "board" I see my desire looking back at me. And my interest is beginning to expand - the law of attraction in action.

So that's one kind of vision board - one that looks toward the future. It occurs to me, though, that there is another version, the vision of my past, that is shown on these boards. I see it especially on my board titled, "Favorite Places." As I add images of places I have seen in the past 60+ years, I see a story of what my life has been. I, of course, get to choose the version of that story as I decide what to include on my board. Satisfying memories? Or a lifetime of regret? My choice. And I'm going with the happy memories.

If you would like to see what I have pinned so far, you can find me here on Pinterest. To visit the main Pinterest site, go here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Pleasures of the Low Tide Days at Alki

For me, the low tide days of late spring and early summer are the most special days of the season. I avoid setting appointments or making commitments for the time when the tide is way, way out so I can walk the beach. After all, there are only a few days a year when this opportunity presents itself. It is as if a curtain is pulled back from the shore and we can wade out into sun-warmed tide pools to explore a world that is usually invisible.

Exploring tide pools during a -4 foot low tide at Alki Beach in June 2009.
These extra low tides coincide with the days around new and full moons. Last Saturday, for example, there was a full moon, so big and bright it was called a Super Moon. That morning in Seattle, we had a -2.1 low tide at around 11 a.m. The lowest low for this full moon phase was on Tuesday, a -3.4 tide at 12:20 p.m. Now that the moon is waning, the tides are not so low - today it was only -1.8.

There's an incredible array of marine life on display during these very low tides. Jellyfish, barnacles, sea stars and this "sun" star, above, are just a few of them. A recent post on the West Seattle Blog has images of a frosted nudibranch and a type of anemone, which you can view here.

The first time I saw a piece of a moon snail's egg casing, like this one above, I thought it was an old gasket someone had thrown into the Sound. The smooth, dense material looks like it was manufactured somewhere. Which in fact it was, right there, by the mother snail. If I am understanding the explanation furnished on Buzz's Marine Life of Puget Sound blog, which you can read here, the snail combines eggs and sand with some sort of glue and extrudes this collar. A sand collar can contain over 300,000 eggs.

If you want to enjoy the low tide experience, the next series of super low tides will coincide with the full moon on June 4. The lowest low in Seattle, a -3.8, will be on Tuesday around noon. To view the tide tables for Seattle, click here. Beach naturalists from the Seattle Aquarium are on hand at local beaches during low tides to answer questions and teach visitors about the marine life visible during these times. Check the Aquarium website for dates, times and more information.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An R-Rated Botanical Limerick

Once upon a time in the month of May, I gave myself a birthday garden party. I told my friends that I didn't want any gifts. Instead, I encouraged them to write limericks. To make the activity more enticing, I offered prizes for the best entries in various categories.

Even though several people grumbled about this project, complaining that it was more like "doing homework" than having fun, most really got into it. Several dozen entries arrived before the judging deadline.

My only concern with this project was that I might get lots of off-color, girl-from-Nantucket style poetry. I planned to post all of the limericks on foam-core boards for people to read at the party so they could vote for a "people's choice" award. Some of my friends were bringing their children to the party and I didn't want to offend anybody.

As it happened, though, only one dirty limerick was submitted. But it was so cleverly written that only people with some knowledge of botanical Latin names could figure it out. Here it is, written by my brilliant friend, Steve:
A young botanist who hailed from Formosa
Adored his Rudbeckia hirta 'Glorioisa'
But on an extended trip to Madrid
With his blooming Kniphofia hybrid
He went in search of a Brassavola nodosa
Can you guess what he was writing about? 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Get to Know the "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean 15" in the Produce Section

An apple a day keeps the doctor away - unless that apple happens to be laden with pesticides. Which is very likely to be the case if your apple was not raised organically. In fact, apples rank at the top of the Environmental Working Group's 2011 list of fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residue.

EWG's ranking is based on tests for contamination on 53 popular fruits and vegetables, conducted by the US Department of Agriculture and the federal Food and Drug Administration. From that data, EWG creates their annual lists of the "Dirty Dozen," fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide residue, and the "Clean 15," types of produce with the lowest levels.

How much difference does it make if you choose "clean" or organic produce over "dirty"? Here's what EWG has to say on their website:
"If you choose 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day from EWG's Clean 15 rather than the Dirty Dozen, you can lower the volume of pesticide you consume daily by 92 percent, according to EWG calculations. You'll also eat fewer types of pesticides. Picking 5 servings of fruits and vegetables from the 12 most contaminated would cause you to consume an average of 14 different pesticides a day. If you choose 5 servings from the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables, you'll consume fewer than 2 pesticides per day."
 That's a pretty compelling argument for buying organic and choosing clean!

Here's the Dirty Dozen - either buy these organic or avoid them
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines (imported)
7. Grapes (imported)
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries (domestic)
11. Lettuce
12. Kale tied with Collard greens

Here's the Clean 15
1. Onions
2. Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

For more information, visit the EWG website. To print out a handy wallet-sized shopper's guide with both lists, download this PDF.

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