Anti-GMO is not Anti-Science

I’ve got another guest post for you today! I don’t do guest posts that often, but when a topic as fraught as this one is covered in such a well-researched and thoughtful way, I want to share it. I’ve personally been steering clear of the topic of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) over the life of this blog, hinting here and there that I have an opinion, but leaving the topic mostly untouched, but that changes today. Part of the reason for my hesitation is the controversy surrounding GMOs. GMOs hold political weight, and most people who have an opinion on the topic feel strongly about it, one way or the other.

Anti-GMO is not Anti-Science

Loren Rothman: engineer, rock climber, conservationist, husband, and lover of this squishy animal

Strong views on any topic can send people running toward unsubstantiated claims, just to bolster their argument. They can blind people to the actual facts, which makes it hard to have a real conversation about any of it. This piece of writing brings a balanced perspective using analogous issues (albeit also controversial issues).

This isn’t just any old guest post though. This piece was written by my husband Loren Rothman. He’s a mechanical engineer and a self-proclaimed ‘science geek.’ When we first met, we debated regularly (sometimes heatedly) about whether or not science was the end-all, be-all of what makes the world go ’round. I would come home from my ‘hippy grad school’ with ideas he’d scoff at, but he’d later come around after contemplation (and likely some googling) on his own. As a rock climber and outdoor enthusiast, he’s also deeply committed to conservation, sound environmental practices, and sustainability. Loren offers this thoughtful, deliberate, and well-researched piece on a topic he’s contemplated a lot after many conversations and much deliberation, so I’m proud and excited to share it with you today. It accurately represents my views on the topic of GMOs (and the analogous topics he uses) so well, I wish I’d written it myself. 

Anti-GMO is not Anti-Science

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend of media sources dismissing the movement against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as anti-science quackery. Their argument basically goes that scientific consensus says foods from genetically modified crops are safe for human and animal consumption, therefore the stance against their use is mostly hysteria – per se irrational and unscientific. Comparisons to the anti-vaccine and climate change denial communities abound. Unfortunately, the behavior of the most extreme contingent of the anti-GMO movement legitimizes these accusations in many ways, and in turn distracts and detracts from the substantial, legitimate arguments against GMOs. These days, it’s the wackos that get the headlines, so the public is severely misinformed about the actual factors involved in the complicated question of whether we should be using GMOs. The issue has become a destructive false dichotomy that pits self-described rational people against the rabid extremists willing to use any tactic to achieve their goals, and, as is so often the case, the important nuances get excluded from the discussion. Hopefully this post will help clarify some of the myriad real issues at stake and point out why it’s scientific indeed to oppose genetically modified foods. I’ll use the analogies with the anti-vaccination and climate change denial movements as a spring-board, as I think they’re good foils for this discussion.

Anti-GMO is not Anti-Science

Image sourced through Creative Commons via Wikipedia by Rosalee Yagihara from Vancouver, Canada

First off, there’s no doubt in my mind that vaccines are a critical, massively beneficial part of the worldwide fight against preventable disease, and climate change is at least significantly exacerbated by human activities, which we desperately need to reform before it’s too late. The question of GMOs on the other hand is far less clear. Vaccines have been in use for centuries, and we have libraries of evidence as to their efficacy, risks, benefits, and costs. GMOs – not so much.

Climate Change vs. GMOs

Climate change data from a tremendous number of sources tell us that it’s definitely happening, and we’re nearly certain that humans are a primary driver of its effects. Our understanding of it is founded on the examination of trends over thousands of years as well as phenomena we can watch in real time. Importantly, even if we’re wrong about the causes of climate change, yet we still take steps to try to address its effects by moving to cleaner, renewable energy sources and limiting our greenhouse gas emissions, we will still yield huge benefits to the worldwide economy, environment, and rapidly growing community of industrialized nations, not to mention defunding many violent extremist organizations. It’s hard to fathom how the law of unintended consequences could come back to haunt us there, at least in a way that would seem disastrous in retrospect. On the other hand, it’s not difficult to imagine how the ubiquity of genetically modified foods, having displaced most or all traditionally farmed plants, and all that that entails, could turn out to be a huge mistake on which we can’t turn back the clock.

Vaccines vs. GMOs

Some major differences demand to be pointed out regarding the anti-vaccine movement and the anti-GMO movement. For one, the end goal of vaccines is singular: prevent the transmission of the disease for which a particular vaccine is targeted. In this goal, vaccines are wildly successful. In 1952, there were almost 60,000 cases of Polio in the US alone. In 2014, there were 359 cases worldwide. The negative side-effects of vaccine use, both for the individual and the world, have shown to be incredibly small relative to the damage that many of those illnesses cause. The cost-benefit analysis falls so heavily on the benefit side that it is deserving of mockery to claim we should not be vaccinating everyone who can be vaccinated.

The end goal of GMOs, however, is multiple. Some genetically modified crops are designed to produce their own defenses against bugs, theoretically reducing the need to use insecticides (so-called “Bt crops” – named for the bacterium they produce – Bacillus thuringiensis); others are designed to improve their resistance to herbicides used for controlling weeds (“Round Up Ready” crops); and others have improved nutritional characteristics that can address certain major dietary deficiencies, such as “golden rice” that has dramatically increased levels of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A.

In terms of the cost-benefit analysis of GMOs vis-à-vis vaccines, the most glaring difference emerges when looking at the second class – Round Up Ready crops – the most common class of GMOs in use today. The benefits of these GMOs are largely economic – farmers can increase the amount of herbicides they apply, therefore yielding a more successful crop, therefore Anti-GMO is not Anti-Scienceincreasing the profit margin and/or lowering the price of the food. The problem is that this economic benefit comes with a hefty price tag in the form of environmental degradation and harm to human health. A recent analysis found that from 1996 to 2012, the total volume of glyphosate – the active ingredient in Round Up – applied to the three biggest genetically modified crops (corn, cotton, and soy) had increased 10 fold. That means 10 times the amount of herbicide going into our soils, groundwater, rivers, oceans, and ultimately, us.

The really bad news is that the World Health Organization recently published a paper in The Lancet Oncology, one of the most highly respected medical journals, indicating that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic. It has also been implicated in numerous deleterious effects to vital actors in both the natural food chain and our own food system as a whole. Scientific research is starting to look at the effect of glyphosate on honeybees and has found compelling evidence that suggests it plays a primary role in bee population declines.  It has also been directly linked to the fall in Monarch butterfly numbers.  

Pesticide Resistance

The comparison to vaccines is especially ironic to me, considering all you have to do is look at their cousin – antibiotics – to see a true cautionary analog. The alarm bells coming from the scientific and medical communities regarding the overuse of antibiotics has reached cacophonous levels. As in the emergence and proliferation of antibiotic resistance strains of diseases, such as MRSA and incurable gonorrhea, pesticide resistant weeds and bugs have emerged, and will continue to evolve past the defenses created by the genetic manipulation. And as the pests develop resistance, the efficacy of Bt crops decline, begetting the ever-increasing application of ever more toxic pesticides. So while it’s possible that current levels of pesticide application may not be severely harmful to people, it’s very likely that the continued accumulation and escalation of their use will be, given the WHO’s findings.

GMOs and the Developing World

Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain. Image sourced through Creative Commons via Wikipedia by Sophie Clayton

Golden Rice grain compared to white rice grain. Image sourced through Creative Commons via Wikipedia by Sophie Clayton

At this point, I feel compelled to say that the potential benefits, particularly to the developing world, of the nutritionally-enhanced class of GMOs cannot be understated. In countries where many people live on fewer than 500 calories a day, offering them a food staple with dramatically more nutritional content has the potential to save many thousands, if not millions of lives. As an engineer and believer in the power of technology, I feel that we absolutely owe it to those people to continue cautiously pursuing the research and implementation of those products for the populations desperately in need of their impact. The anthropological and cultural implications of introducing these foods to populations in need is a concern, but that’s a discussion outside the scope of this post.

Safe for Human Consumption

I should also acknowledge that, at this point, the body of evidence does show that GM foods are most likely safe for consumption, as most of the studies claiming cancerous or other such outcomes have been refuted or significantly undermined. That said, I do think there remains the very real possibility that the genetic modifications themselves could yield serious consequences for our food and natural ecosystems that we don’t yet understand or foresee. It’s critical that rigorous testing on the safety for human and animal consumption continues so that we can build a record and understand the effects of their long term use. We can’t rest on our laurels just because a few years of study have sufficiently convinced us that it’s probably safe to eat. After all, look how long it took to establish a conclusive determination that smoking kills.

There is ample evidence, based firmly in mainstream, peer-reviewed, concrete science, that GMOs have serious consequences for our environment and health. I absolutely recognize that there are significant contingents in this movement that embrace virtually any notion that floats along that ostensibly bolsters their argument. Embarrassing terms like “frankenfoods” need to be eliminated from the movement’s vernacular if they expect to be taken seriously, and rational GMO critics need to do much better at promoting the legitimate reasons for opposition and try to distance themselves from such truly irrational, destructive movements like the antivaxxers and climate-change deniers. That said, painting this issue with such a broad brush is harming everyone, and true science demands that we look at the nuance and details of this complex issue and try to understand the full scope of the costs and benefits.

Organic vs Whole Foods: What’s Healthy?

I’m planning to start an FAQ page (updated!) for all the awesome questions I get from my readers and fans, but in the meantime, they’re fantastic fodder for new posts! As soon as I get time to organize my questions and answers in a way that makes sense, I’ll get that FAQ page started. I know lots of you have skincare and gut questions that I’ve answered individually, but I figure if a few people have those questions, probably a lot more do too. Please keep the questions coming so I can know what else to put on the FAQ page! 

For NOW though, here’s the question… 

What’s the difference between “organic” and “whole foods”?

Does “organic” mean healthy? Are all organic foods considered “whole foods”? What’s the difference? How do I know if my organic food is healthy? These are all great questions. 

whole foods vs organic

Defining “Whole Foods”

Here’s the simplest explanation: Whole foods are those that come out of the ground and onto the plate as-is with little to no processing. But we’re not talking about only raw food, so that’s not where the explanation ends. Whole foods remain whole when cooked; it’s the type of processing beyond heat exposure from cooking that can dramatically change the makeup of the food, and therefore its nutritional value and how we feel when we eat it.
When a food is separated into many parts and used as additives or ingredients in packaged foods (think soy lecithin, stearic acid, maltodextrin), it’s no longer a whole food. When a whole food like a seed or grain is ground into a flour or processed into oil, it’s no longer a whole food. Even whole wheat. Whole wheat bread made with wheat flour is not a whole food. Same goes for gluten-free options (rice flour is not a whole food). I discussed this briefly in my cereal rant, which I’ll admit had nothing to do with the recipe that followed, but it had to be said. 

Considering going gluten-free? My eBook walks you through the easiest and most delicious way to do it. Check out Nine Easy Steps to Delicious Gluten Free Living in the Kindle store!

When fat is removed from something that naturally contains it, like dairy, that food ceases to be a whole food. Milk comes out of a cow, goat, or sheep full-fat, which means that skim milk is not a whole food. I’ll surely find a place to rant about skim milk, but there’s not enough room in this post for that. Stay tuned. 

Grey Area

Of course, as with nearly everything in life, there’s a grey area. When it comes to dairy, there’s room to argue about what “counts” as a whole food; some argue that pasteurized, homogenized milk is not a whole food, because those two processes negatively affect the quality of the fat and protein in the milk. Technically fermentation is a process, but even purists tend to agree that full-fat yogurt, kefir, and cheese are a healthy part of a whole foods diet.
Nut flours like almond flour are another point of contention. Almond flour is simply ground almonds — nothing is removed, no heat is applied, nothing is changed except the shape of the nut. Some very strict whole food eaters avoid even stone ground nuts and grains, because the grinding is technically a process. For me, it’s a matter of how our bodies take the food in. Processed grain and bean flours tend to hit the blood stream more quickly than their whole food counterparts (which means they should be limited). That change isn’t necessarily so with nut flours.
The biggest danger with something like almond flour is over-consumption. It’s tempting to think that a paleo dessert using almond flour is automatically healthy, and it’s ok to eat a lot of it, but the fact is that almonds are calorie-dense and rich in omega 6 fatty acids. This means MODERATION. Overdoing it on almonds (or nuts in general) can result in negative consequences, both on the scale and in the gut.

What to Eat?

A great example of a whole foods meal is a baked sweet potato with roasted veggies and a chicken thigh that isn’t breaded. Technically, oils aren’t whole foods, but most people on a whole foods diet (myself included) allow for cold-pressed, minimally processed oils such as extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado oil. Highly processed seed oils that require high-heat or chemical extractions like canola, safflower, and soybean oils are not part of a whole foods diet. Those who are super strict and don’t include oils get their fats from seeds, nuts, avocados, and fatty fish.Organic vs Whole Foods

Defining “Organic”

While it’s fantastic and preferable for everything I mentioned in the “whole food” explanation to be organic, they don’t have to be, and they’re whole foods just the same. 
“Certified Organic” is a certification given to farms and food processors that can prove and certify that certain guidelines were followed in the growing of the foods or raising of the animals. Certain chemical pesticides cannot be used in certified organic farming. Hormones and antibiotics cannot be used in certified organic meats. GMO seeds cannot be used to grow organic produce, nor can GMO grains be fed to certified organic animals.
In a perfect world, searching for the USDA Certified Organic seal would be all you needed to accomplish a healthy grocery basket, but the truth is it’s entirely possible to eat organic junk food. There exist organic cookies that use refined organic white flour, organic sugar, and organic milk chocolate chips; and chips fried with organic vegetable oil and organic potatoes. That doesn’t make those cookies and chips healthy or say anything about the way the ingredients were processed. It just makes them full of well-grown ingredients that were processed just like their non-organic counterparts.

Why Eat Organic? 

Great question, and the answer is certainly debatable. I had a great conversation with some family about this very topic a few weeks ago.
An obvious concern is the cost.
Organic is almost always more expensive than conventional, whether we’re talking about whole foods or processed food in boxes and bags.
Another concern is chemical pesticides.
The research seems to be debatable as to whether or not organic produce is more nutrient-dense than its conventional counterparts, but the Environmental Working Group in no uncertain terms shares the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen every year — foods that absorb pesticides to the detriment of the consumer’s health and foods that can be eaten conventionally without consequence, respectively. 
whole foods vs organic
A third concern is the environment, irrespective of personal health.
This blog is about more than personal health. It’s about wellbeing, and part of that is a holistic view of how we exist and relate to the world around us — how we affect the environment, how our decisions affect the ecosystem. We vote with our dollars and our forks, so the more ethically produced food we consume, the higher demand there will be for farmers and businesses to convert to better practices. 
The last concern I’ll mention is the concern about GMOs.
Organic food producers are not allowed to use GMO seeds or ingredients. I’ve steered pretty clear of this topic for basically the life of this blog, because it’s such a controversial one. But one thing is not debatable. GMO seeds are made to resist pesticides, and just like misuse of antibiotics has created superbacteria, misuse of pesticides will create superpests. GMO seeds negatively affect the land on which they’re planted, because the practices employed by those who use the seeds are not sustainable practices. We can argue all day about whether or not GMO foods are harmful to our personal health, but it’s clear that  they are harmful to our land and the ecosystem. It’s up to you to decide how you feel about that.

The Sweet Spot

Ideally, one seeking a healthy lifestyle would eat whole, organic foods. The two don’t always necessarily come together in the same package, but they are most certainly not mutually exclusive. Sometimes it’s not necessary or financially feasible to buy everything organic, but doing what you can and staying away from the dirty dozen is a good place to start. You might even consider printing that list and keeping it in your wallet for trips to the grocery store.
As someone lucky enough to live close to many farmers’ markets, my best recommendation to you is to get to know some local farmers. There are a lot of small farms out there using organic practices who can’t afford the costly USDA certification. You might find that you can get organic quality food grown closer to your home at a lower price if you just get to know some farmers near you!
As always, if you have any questions about this or other information you see on this site, I’m just a comment or email away. Always happy to answer your questions or add to the FAQ page!

My First Internet Troll: Life Lessons for a Blogger

For the first time since I started this blog, I experienced a troll on one of my social media outlets. I don’t want to get too specific because I don’t think it’s worth engaging in it anymore. But I do have to admit that I took the bait when it first happened, and it bothered me enough to blog about it — which I’m doing right now.

I posted something about coconut oil for topical use, and this person completely hijacked the conversation, stating that eating coconut oil and other saturated fats was terrible for heart health, and that instead we should be eating soy and corn oil and more polyunsaturated fatty acids.

  • He likened following traditional diet practices to following a cult.
  • He said that the folks who’ve influenced and inspired my view of healthy eating were “wannabe nutritionists” and hacks.
  • He dismissed a highly regarded meta-analysis that casts serious doubt on the validity of the claim that ‘saturated fat causes heart disease.’
  • He said that the only valid research on this topic is from the 80’s before drugs like Lipotor came out and confounded all the evidence, so was unable to cite any new research to support his claims.
  • Then he said that he hoped that I’d “see the light” before it was too late and I died of CVD (cardiovascular disease) later in life.

This person was a doctor.

life lessons internet trolls

“internet troll” by Eirik Solheim sourced through Creative Commons

People on the thread were thanking him for clarifying “confusing information on healthy fats,” and I just couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t. I wasn’t going to say anything, but the thread was growing and more people started engaging this guy, asking him to share his research and saying they were happy that he could clarify what the “right” food choices were. He cited a website with an intentionally anonymous author and said that this nameless person was the expert on understanding hard scientific evidence and debunking diet trends. The website he referred to has a stated vegan agenda. When I quoted a study that he’d shared through this anonymously sourced website as evidence for my argument and asked him to respond, he ignored me and continued to spew. It was clear that he didn’t want to have a conversation; he wanted to hijack my thread and make it about him and his “expertise” on the topic of CVD and dietary saturated fat. 

Choosing Your Battles

Over the course of my life, I’ve struggled with keeping my mouth shut at appropriate times, knowing (or not knowing) when to leave well enough alone, recognizing a futile argument when I see one, etc.

I was absolutely and fully sucked in to the “liberal college kid” syndrome. You know the one where you leave home for the first time and realize that everyone in your family is a conservative freak? And you simply MUST take it upon yourself to start every idealist liberal argument that comes up vaguely at the Thanksgiving dinner table your first visit home during freshman year? The one where you develop shiny new principled views on every social justice issue from racism to transgender issues to homelessness and the environmental atrocities taking place in your home state of Texas? Yes, that one. That passionate sense of injustice for anyone who’s ever been subjugated or persecuted fills you with rage to the point that you develop a ridiculous notion of personal responsibility to educate the world through teenage activism in the form of calling your republican father a bigot at Christmas. Yes, I did that. I got a bit carried away at times. I yelled. I cried. I slammed doors. I picked up my plate and moved. Yes, I did all that. I was experiencing growing pains, and so were the members of my family victims.

In my adult life, I’ve tried to tone it down a bit. I recognize that I live in the “Bay Area bubble,” and as a result can have some unrealistic expectations of what should go on around me and in the country in general. I also recognize that I chose to live here, in part to surround myself with people more like me. I don’t think those causes that impassioned me in college are unimportant, I’m just an adult now and can temper my emotions and talk to people like a person instead of like a lunatic.

That being said, I make it a conscious practice to empathize and try to recognize that everyone’s viewpoint comes from somewhere, whether I agree with it or not. In fact, I was talking about this very concept with an old friend just a couple of days ago before this troll entered my consciousness. I sometimes forget that there are people in this world who don’t strive for that sense of personal growth at all and in fact thrive on antagonistic commentary, especially online where they can safely hide behind the computer screen. Some people aren’t interested in anything but getting a rise out of people. 

Over the course of this online conversation, my emotions ranged from righteousness to despair, with temporary confusion, frustration, incredulity, and powerlessness peppering between the extremes. I finally realized that it wasn’t worth it. I had to just let it go. This person was citing an anonymous blogger while simultaneously making ad hominem arguments against well-respected doctors, scientists, and nutrition experts. How is that fair? But more importantly, what does it matter? 

life lessons internet trolls

Life Lesson: Let it Go

I was tempted to use this blog post today to discredit this troll’s nutrition claims point by point. In fact, I started out writing with that intention in mind — to create a list of my own bullet points countering each of the claims I enumerated in the list above. But I’ve decided against it. Instead of making this post about nutrition and saturated fat (which was NOT what my original post on social media was about in the first place!) I’m making this post about Life Lessons.

What can we take away from experiences like the one I just described?

Sometimes it can be really hard to rise above conflict when there’s a core principle involved. (And as I illustrated through my inelegant college-aged outbursts, I tend toward “principled” in general.) Sometimes it’s actually worth it to engage. But most of the time it’s not, and experience and time might be the only way to learn the difference.

I am still learning.

My hope is that as this blog grows and more people read and experience the benefits of enjoying life with

  • real food
  • a real sense of purpose
  • a creative endeavor
  • mindfulness
  • movement
  • authentic experiences with nature

the power these trolls have will fall away. (There are my counterpoints!) Because truly, that list of emotions I ran through up there? Despair? Powerlessness? The only person making me feel those feelings was me. I allowed some random person I will never meet to cause me distress and self-doubt (and make me late for work). That was me that did that. Not him. I chose to respond and I chose to let it get to me.

And now I’m choosing to rise above it and turn it into something I can use and learn from and share with you. Maybe I should be thanking him for giving me my first trolling experience. I am too old to have experienced any real cyber-bullying, so I guess this is as close as it gets. So my advice, my lesson is to sit back and decide what’s worth arguing for and what’s worth letting go. Decide who deserves your energy; who deserves your attention; who’s worth your time. And if a stranger with bad information and a chip on his shoulder doesn’t fit into any of those categories, just let it go.

Why I’m Not Getting The Flu Shot: Natural Flu Prevention

This could be a controversial post, considering I work at a hospital and they very strongly encourage all the employees to get a flu shot every year. In fact, we have to proactively opt-out of it and agree to wear a mask in patient care areas should we decline the shot. (I’m almost never in patient-care areas as a member of HR and am fine with wearing a mask if I need to.)

I have never received a flu vaccination and if I’ve ever had the flu, it hasn’t been in the last 6 years. In fact, in the last year or so, I’ve managed to avoid getting sick almost entirely, with the exception of two horrific bouts of  food poisoning and one head cold. One of those horrific bouts was this week, so this might be a short post because I just want to drink my bone broth and go back to sleep … 

flu shot

recipe linked! just click through

Disclaimer and Warning:

This is not a generalized anti-vaccine post. I do not in any way support the anti-vaccine movement that’s going on in certain parts of this country (especially one just north of where I live). There is no evidence that routine vaccinations cause autism. I do not consider the flu vaccine to be in the same category of necessity as any of the standard vaccines recommended for the safety of our collective society, including MMR, hepatitis, pertussis, etc. Feel free to disagree with me on that opinion, but I’m just stating right now, for the record I am not an anti-vaccine advocate. 

Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s continue.

Why I don’t want to get the flu shot

The CDC recommends the flu shot for high risk groups, including the very young and very old, those with compromised immune systems, asthmatics, diabetics, and heart disease patients. I do not fall under any of those categories and I take very good care of myself. That being said, the reputable websites I’ve scoured (including Harvard Health and WebMD) in my quest to justify my desire not to get the vaccine still insist that even healthy adults should get the shot, and they claim that it’s a myth that healthy adults don’t need it.


  • If you have young children in your home (especially infants too young to be vaccinated), you should get the shot. (not me)
  • If you have elderly folks in your home, you should get the shot. (not me)
  • If you regularly come into contact with either of those two categories of people or very sick people, you should get the shot. (not me)
  • The flu is miserable, and getting the shot will save you the trouble of potentially getting the virus. (…ok)

I agree that ensuring the safety of at-risk folks around you is a great reason to get the vaccine, and I’d get it if I worked directly with patients or interacted with them regularly. But I don’t. I also agree that actually getting the flu is horrible, and it’s a great idea to avoid it if possible.

I just don’t agree that getting the vaccine is the only way (or the most holistic and beneficial way) to avoid it. 

flu shot

imaged sourced from Creative Commons: Rueters 2012

Thimerosal in the Flu Shot

Most flu vaccines use thimerosal as a preservative, which contains mercury, a known and documented neurotoxin that bioaccumulates in our bodies over time and is difficult to clear from our systems. The FDA acknowledges the potential ill-effect of thimerosal in vaccines and has been working with vaccine manufactures to reduce or eliminate its use, but the work is not complete by any stretch. In order to get a flu vaccine free of thimerosal, you have to specifically request it, and there’s a limited supply made each year.

Question: Why not just make them all without it if the technology is there to do it successfully?

Answer: $$.

This bothers me a lot.

A Holistic Health Expert’s Take

Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that I love the work of Dr. Mark Hyman. He’s a functional medicine doctor who takes a systems-approach to human health and illness. Functional Medicine doesn’t just focus on the symptoms of illness, it treats the dysfunction in the body that’s allowing these symptoms to occur — a whole-body approach to healing.

“As a Functional Medicine physician, I approach the flu like all imbalances in the body, which is to say I don’t assume the human body is subject to illness when the proper diet and lifestyle precautions are taken.  When a patient is sick, some detective work is necessary to find out what missing pieces are interfering with the efficacy of their immune system.”

Check out this video for Dr. Hyman’s take on the flu shot and make your own decision. 

—-> More details on the safety and efficacy of the flu vaccine from a Functional Medicine perspective <—-


7 Ways to Prevent the Flu

Recommendations for preventing flu infection are predictably similar to recommendations for general good health. The bottom line: take good care of your health and your immune system will be ready to fight for you when invaders come your way.

  1. Stay hydrated. Typical recommendations for hydration are to shoot for half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 100 lbs, drink 50 oz of water throughout the day.
  2. Eat the rainbow: Proper diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables every single day. Try to fill at least half your plate with both raw and cooked vegetables in order to ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients and fiber to feed that healthy bacteria in your gut. 
  3. Load up on herb and spices: Herbs and spices are the closest things to wild foods we have in our diets these days, which means they haven’t been stripped of their natural phytonutrients that help us fight off disease. Garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric, cilantro, oregano, and parsley are all great herbs and spices to add to your daily meals. Garlic and onions even have antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties! Check out this post on how to boost your intake of phytonutrients.
  4. Get some sun or take vitamin D: Vitamin D is a major component to a health immune system, so adequate amounts in the system are vital during flu season. Of course, in the winter months it’s hard to get enough sun for most people not living on the equator. I’m not big on making a broad recommendation for supplements, so I won’t say that every single person should supplement with vitamin D in the winter months, but it’s not a bad idea to find out your numbers to know for sure if you need a little boost. 
  5. SLEEP! I can’t express enough how vital sleep is to the health of your immune system. I’ve written two recent posts on the importance of sleep and how to get more of it here and here. Check them out to get your sleep routine under control.
  6. Steer clear of processed sugars and flours: White sugars and flours are pro-inflammatory foods that weaken the immune system by their very nature. They also wreak havoc on your gut (the next item on the list.) This can be problematic considering flu season and holiday season overlap considerably. Just be smart about your treats this time of year and try to balance them out with numbers 2 and 3 above!
  7. Take care of your gut: Sing it with me now! I will beat this dead horse into the ground and keep beating forever. Gut health is number one for your immune system. Heal your gut and the rest will follow. What goes into your mouth determines so much of how we interact with the world around us, including how often we get sick. Drink bone broth, take a probiotic, maybe even make your own kombucha!  

Sleep Better: How to Create a Sleep-Conducive Life

This post is the second half of a two-part series on getting better sleep. On Tuesday, we talked about the effects that excessive light exposure can have on our sleep quality and our weight. I shared the findings of a study done by the National Sleep Foundation reflecting the negative effects of late-night use of brightly lit technologies, especially interactive technology like games, chatting, and texting. I also mentioned a book by T.S. Wiley called Lights Out, which highlights the ill-health effects of the “eternal summer.” Today I’ll share a few suggestions with you on how to set yourself up for a great night’s sleep.

Managing Time, Managing Mind

In Tuesday’s post, I mostly talked about quality, not quantity of sleep. But in both cases, managing our evening hours wisely is crucial. I recognize that we all have busy lives. Some far busier than others. I will never be able to step into your shoes and understand your struggles. I put that out there now, because the topic of time management can be a hot button for some, especially single parents or folks caring for an elderly parent. I get that I don’t get it. At this point in my life, I have to feed myself, my husband, and my dog, and those responsibilities are shared between my husband and me. This puts me at a different starting place than someone who has three kids and no partner. Ok, disclaimer out of the way. Moving on.

After everything I just said, I still believe that there’s ALWAYS room to improve upon where you are today, especially if you answer yes to this question:

Does your late night ritual involve the TV? Facebook? Candy Crush? Texting?

I’m not going to minimize the value of spending some time veging out on the couch doing a mindless activity at the end of a long day. It’s important to schedule in time to relax, and I don’t think we do enough of it. But how we choose to relax could mean the difference between waking up the next morning refreshed and needing 3 cups of coffee to avoid falling asleep at the wheel on the way to work. 

Even if it’s just minute by minute adjustments, there’s room for change to create an evening routine more conducive to better sleep.

photo sourced through Creative Commons originally from

photo sourced through Creative Commons originally from

Take Control of Your Evening

This advice could actually extend to a number of situations throughout the day. It’s just as easy to get distracted the moment you get to work as it is the moment you get home. Apply these simple strategies to whichever environment is most helpful to you, because at the end of the day, the more control you have over your time, the less anxious you will feel as your head hits the pillow each night, even if it wasn’t a perfectly productive day.

Make a list, then prioritize

Yes, it takes extra time to make the list. But it’s worth it in the end when you can spill everything that needs to happen onto the page (and maybe even the things you want to happen as well), then circle the ones that MUST happen that evening. It can give you ideas on how best to make it happen in the limited time between work and sleep. Here’s an example list:

  1. make/eat dinner*
  2. do laundry*
  3. water plants
  4. walk the dog*
  5. call mom 
  6. mend a sweater
  7. change the cat litter box
  8. clean the living room
  9. watch an episode of Breaking Bad
  10. listen to the newest episode of the WTF podcast*
  11. take a shower
  12. get ready for bed*

Let’s say I want all of these things to happen between 6pm and 10:30pm. That’s 4.5 hours to do 12 things. I’ve put a * next to the “MUST-happen-tonight” things, because I am all out of socks and laundry HAS to happen, and my favorite comedian ever is being interviewed on WTF and I can’t wait to listen. 

Ok, so how do I make this list happen? What things can I combine? What things can I leave for tomorrow night’s list and still go to bed relaxed?

What if I came up with something to cook that required 30 to 40 minutes in the oven and I listened to WTF while I prepared the ingredients? (maybe some chicken thighs, root veggies, and broccoli, all in the same pan?) I could throw in a load of laundry and take the dog for a walk while the food is in the oven. What if I called mom while I watered the plants and picked up the living room? I can throw the laundry in the dryer as I move toward getting ready for bed. That’s 7 out of 12 things and 100% of the “must-dos,” including one that was strictly about pleasure. Pretty good!

Be happy with that, and don’t compromise that 10:30 bed time to try to get one more thing done. Tomorrow, watching Breaking Bad and folding the laundry can happen at the same time, right?

sleep better

Set and stick to a sleep schedule

Going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day helps regulate your circadian rhythm. It’s tempting to stay up late and sleep in on the weekends, but it always makes Monday a lot harder to bear. If you’re true to weekday schedule and can let go of the parts of the list that can be put off until tomorrow, you might not need to sleep in on the weekends anyway.

Create Your “Sleep Better” Environment

Setting up your space for sleep is crucial. Last week we talked about reducing your light exposure close to bedtime. This includes moving from bright overhead lights to softer lamps, turning the TV off and leaving the phone alone.

Consider removing the TV from your bedroom entirely.

Your bedroom should be reserved for sleep and sex. In order to begin training your mind that when you’re in the bedroom, it’s time to get sleepy, keep other distractions like the TV and the laptop out of the bed and out of the room.

Infuse relaxing essential oils into the space an hour before bed

Lavender oil is used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation. There are both electric options and options that burn the oil with a small tea light candle, but be sure to only use pure lavender essential oil, not something “blended” or “scented” with lavender. Candles from department stores or scented wall plug-ins are not going to have the same effect.

Create a dark, cool, cave-like room for sleeping

Make sure there’s good air circulation in the room by using a fan or turning on the AC. Excessive heat can often result in a poor night’s sleep. If you can find blackout curtains or shades for your windows, consider installing some to prevent light pollution from outside from affecting your sleep. Eye covers are also great to ensure that light doesn’t disrupt your sleep.

photo credit: niekverlaan. source linked

photo credit: niekverlaan. source linked

Sleep Better: Why Your iPhone is Ruining Your Sleep

Ahh, sleep. That ever-elusive state we keep chasing as our lives fill with tasks and obligations. Doesn’t time seem to speed up the moment you get home for the evening? Those hours between work and bedtime go so quickly. When you think about your game plan — IF you think about your game plan — does it seem reasonable to fit in everything you need to do before your head hits the pillow each night? Do you budget in time to unwind before bed? Do you honor your intentions for your evening?

image credit: fitnessjunke

image credit: fitnessjunke

Those few hours before bed are precious, but how we spend them is sometimes not up to us … or is it? Is there a baby crying? A neighbor calling? Did you bring work home with you? Is the sink full of dishes? Laundry? Will it ever end? How much control over our evenings do we really have? And what could be gained from recognizing our own power in our everlasting struggle to get enough zzz’s?

Sleep Better Series

Over the course of the next couple of posts, I’m going to address some of the challenges we face in getting enough quality sleep and how a lack thereof might be affecting our health.

Today, we’re talking about how technology could be playing a role in:

  1. Fewer hours of sleep each night
  2. Lower quality of the sleep you are getting
  3. Weight gain

And we’ll wrap up with a few suggestions for reducing the role technology plays in the last few hours of the day.

Friday, we’ll talk about some strategies for:

  1. Taking control of your evening
  2. Creating an environment in your bedroom conducive to falling asleep and staying asleep
  3. Creating a mindset and lifestyle for better sleep

Light and Sleep

We all need different quantities of sleep, but what’s nearly universal is our need to prepare to have a good night’s sleep. We need our bodies to work with us in our pursuit of better quality sleep – it’s not all about quantity!

sleep better

image credit: Army Medicine. Source file linked

Question: Does your late night ritual involve the TV? Facebook? Candy Crush? Texting?

In her 2000 book Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival (affiliate link), T.S. Wiley argues that we’re expose to too much stimuli, mostly in the form of light (including cell phone light), too close to bedtime to properly prepare for sleep. She draws connections between our ever-decreasing (and ever-crummier) sleep and our increasingly long days resulting from our technologically lit-up nights. She even makes a claim that these “long days and short nights” are tricking our bodies into believing that we’re in a perpetual state of summer, and therefore a perpetual state of “storing for the winter” (read weight gain). Our bodies haven’t evolved quickly enough to offset the massive lifestyle changes that have come with technological advances – more on that in a second. My point right now is that the way we spend our evenings in those few hours before bed could very possibly affect the sleep we get each night. 

Quality and Quantity

In 2011, The National Sleep Foundation released the results from the Annual Sleep in America Poll Exploring Connections with Communications Technology Use and Sleep. They share some very interesting findings:

The poll found that 43% of Americans between the ages of 13 and 64 say they rarely or never get a good night’s sleep on weeknights [emphasis added]. More than half (60%) say that they experience a sleep problem every night or almost every night (i.e., snoring, waking in the night, waking up too early, or feeling un-refreshed when they get up in the morning.)

About two-thirds (63%) of Americans say their sleep needs are not being met during the week. Most say they need about seven and a half hours of sleep to feel their best, but report getting about six hours and 55 minutes of sleep on average weeknights. About 15% of adults between 19 and 64 and 7% of 13-18 year olds say they sleep less than six hours on weeknights. (source)

Are those numbers crazy to you, or do they sound familiar?

Wiley tells us that our ancient ancestors used to sleep 4,370 hours a year. That’s almost 12 hours a night, compared to our current <7 hours! We’re getting fewer hours of lower quality sleep, and there could be a pretty universal reason for it.


sleep better

image credit: master-of-design on deviantART. sourced linked

Interactive Technology

Research by Michael Gradisar, PhD, Flinders University (Australia) parses out the difference between “passively received technologies” and “interactive” ones before bed. Watching TV or reading by a light is passively receiving technology. Playing a video game, texting, or chatting on social media are interactive, which require more brain power. Gradisar hypothesizes that the latter could cause a greater sleep disruption than the former. (source)

“Invasion of such alerting technologies into the bedroom may contribute to the high proportion of respondents who reported that they routinely get less sleep than they need.” – Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital


In short, those activities I mentioned earlier — the ones that you do on your phone — are a very likely culprit if you’re having trouble sleeping or waking up exhausted. 

sleep better

photo credit: Bill Branson, National Cancer Institute

Endless Summer and Weight Gain

Summer is one of my favorite seasons, but an endless summer could be causing us serious problems.

Long days and short nights of summer in our natural world precede colder, darker months of famine. Our bodies evolved to crave sugar and store fat during the summer months to ensure that we’d have enough fat to survive a winter famine. This translates physiologically to rising insulin levels and sugar cravings.

The longer we are exposed to light, the longer cortisol (a stress hormone) is produced in our bodies. The longer we produce cortisol, the more water we retain, the more midsection body weight we gain, and the less melatonin (a chemical essential to proper sleep) we produce.

The less sleep we get, the less effective our immune systems are, and the less we’re equipped to fight off diseases from the common cold all the way to rogue cancer cells.

Endless summer means endless overload for our bodies and almost guaranteed weight gain.

All that dieting, all that exercising, all that calorie counting goes out the window if you don’t get enough sleep. Why fight an uphill battle?

Unplug Your Evenings

Separating yourself from your personal device long before your head hits the pillow sounds impossible. After all, our phones are now our connection to nearly everything except the person sitting next to us (and maybe even that person too — boy am I happy that Scrabble phase is over!). The advice I’m going to share might not come naturally at first, but if you just give it a try, you might be surprised at what you find.

Leave your phone in a different room at night.

Or at the very least put it on silent and plug it in on the opposite side of the room. Try not to be looking at your phone as you climb into bed at night. The bright light from the phone doesn’t belong in bed with you, nor do the beeps and pings of texts and emails. The NSF study I mentioned earlier reports that about 20% of generation Y and Z’ers are awakened by a phone call, text, or email multiple times a week. Try using a regular alarm clock or at the very least disabling notifications on your phone at bedtime.

photo credit: espensorvik. source linked

photo credit: espensorvik. source linked

Turn off your computer and the TV at least an hour before bed. 

Related to the point above, but taking it a small step further into the hour before bedtime, this tactic reduces exposure to bright lights and extra stimuli as you’re winding down. With all the awesome TV that’s available to us these days, it’s tempting to watch all the way up to the second it’s time for bed. Shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead are stressful to watch, however, and that stress can affect our ability to fall asleep — even though it’s fiction. Wrapping up the TV watching and web surfing (on the computer or the phone) an hour before bed would be ideal. Consider charging your phone with the sound off in another room an hour before bed to avoid the temptation.

Now it’s your turn! Do you have any suggestions for tuning out technology before bed? Share in the comments below.

Stay tuned for more suggestions for sleeping better coming up on Friday.

QUIT Doing These 3 Things For Noticeably Clear Skin

A while back I shared my personal struggle with acne and the amazing solution I found that cleared up a lifetime of problems in just two weeks (linked at the end of this post). This post might seem like it’s geared toward vanity and outer appearances but here are two big reasons it’s about more than that.
  1. What happens on your face is often a reflection of what’s happening inside your body, so you want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself all around.
  2. How you feel about yourself when you look in the mirror every day will inform the way you interface with the world. Do you love what you see? Would you love it more if you didn’t have a breakout across your left cheek? Do you think you’ve tried everything?
Today I want to share the top 3 mistakes that people make when they are struggling to clear their skin, why they should change their ways to gain noticeably clearer skin, and what to do instead. I’m all about solutions here, so let’s get started!
clear skin

phone found at via Creative Commons

Quit depleting your skin from its natural oils by stripping them away with harsh cleansers and astringents.

Why? If you’re concerned about acne, drying your skin out simply encourages MORE sebum production, making the problem WORSE than it was to begin with — more black heads, more shine when you don’t want it. If you’re concerned about wrinkles, you want to remain hydrated and nourish your skin at a deep level.
What to do instead:
Cleanse with gentle, natural products you might not think should be in your bathroom. Raw honey is a great cleanser and gentle exfoliator, and coconut oil is great at removing make up and keeping the skin hydrated. It’s also naturally antiseptic, so it’s great for preventing infection on a “picked” blemish.

Quit picking. (This is SO hard for me.)


image pulled from

Why? Picking, especially if you aren’t using something sterile to pick with (your fingernails are NOT sterile), spreads the infection around on your skin and can cause a bigger breakout. Also, your skin is almost always worse-off once you’ve extracted the pimple — in its place, you’ve likely left either a bloody mess or something that will become a larger, more painful, more infected blemish the next day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve extracted a small blackhead and woken up the next morning to a red, raised bump in its place.

What to do instead: 
Cleanse well, use a good natural moisturizer like coconut oil, and leave it alone. Just don’t look in the mirror when you wash your hands in the bathroom — that’s my moment of weakness.

Quit eating garbage.

Why? The food you eat matters for the health of your skin. If you eat sugar, pasteurized conventional dairy, and other inflammatory foods like processed seed oils and soy, your skin won’t be happy.

Don’t forget, your skin is the largest organ on your body, and it acts as a filter for everything that you come into contact with. What you put in and how your body reacts to it is reflected on your face. Check out my secret to clear skin in two weeks, a solution that was all about input.

What to do instead: 
Treat your skin well by taking care of your diet and your gut. Eat fermented foods or take a probiotic. Drink bone broth, pack in the vegetables at every meal of the day. Enjoy healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter.
clear skin

photo: HannahFarsiPhotographs through Creative Commons

Now it’s your turn.

What have you tried that works for you? Please share in the comments below!

No, I am Not Pregnant. Self-Confidence in a Self-Conscious World

I’ve been asked if I’m pregnant a number of times by a number of people in a number of cities. I’ve been asked at 130 lbs, 140 lbs, and 150 lbs. I’ve been asked while wearing “empire-wasted” dresses, loose-fitting tops and sweaters, work aprons from my Whole Foods Market days, and most recently in a long skirt with a wide black-banded waste. I’ve been asked in Baltimore, Oakland, Hayward, San Leandro, and now Murphys, CA.

When I post to this health and wellness blog, I’m hoping to establish myself as an expert in the field by offering excellent, evidence-based advice and a creative perspective on how to live a sweet, rich life — and I believe that experts should look the part.

At the risk of completely undermining my credibility, but to prove a very salient point at the expense of my own ego (or perhaps to serve it, I haven’t yet decided), I’m telling you now that your “wellness guru” is asked if she’s pregnant on a regular basis.

By regular basis, I mean that since 2007, I’ve been asked about 8 times, counting one time when a stranger commented on my “belly” to her friend as I passed her on the sidewalk a few years ago (at about 148 lbs). I’ve been asked “when are you due?”, “may I ask when the baby’s due?”, “are you pregnant?” and my favorite, “can I ask you a question? don’t get mad, are you pregnant? No? oh, it’s just the dress.” All but 2 were women asking, and of those 6, 3 were of child-bearing age and one was my mother telling me that I looked pregnant to prove a point about how certain clothes make me look. Out of those 8, I’d say that about half were asking in earnest and the other half were being mean. Here are two examples of actual clothes I’ve been wearing when asked:


I do not believe that I’ve looked pregnant in any of the outfits or uniforms I’ve worn when asked. I do not believe I looked pregnant at 130 lbs, and I do not believe I looked pregnant at 150 lbs. I do not believe I look pregnant today. In fact, I wore the dress on the right this past weekend and two complete strangers went out of their way to tell me that they loved my feminine figure and how nice I looked in my dress.

Lucky for me, the same mother who “wasn’t telling me to hurt my feelings” that I looked pregnant “in a very cute dress” also did a great job instilling self-confidence in me as a child, and I still have that self-confidence today.

Lucky for me, the fact that I’ve been asked if I’m pregnant almost 10 times hasn’t sent me down an anorexic spiral of self-loathing or abuse.

I’ve told my friends and my husband that it’s happened so often at this point that I can just laugh it off, but in truth, I cry every time. Laughing is a defense mechanism to shield a temporary feeling of total deflation. Every time it happens, it ruins my day and keeps me up at night.

But I always bounce back.

My parents happened to be in town visiting the most recent time a stranger asked me when my baby was due, which spurred the comments I just mentioned from my mom. My dad said that he once asked a woman if she was pregnant, and he’ll never do it again or forget that day. He remembers exactly where he was, what she was wearing, and the look on her face. It was over 35 years ago.

If that’s how an accidental offender feels, how do you think the victim must feel? 

I’ll tell you. I remember where I was and what I was wearing every single time it’s happened to me since 2007, and I don’t think I’m soon to forget. I think about those times when I’m feeling down to confirm whatever negative thing I’m already thinking about myself or my body.

I’m sharing this very personal Achilles heal with you, because I’m tired of female on female inconsideration/competition/aggression/whatever it is, and I’m tired of people in general asking offensive, ignorant questions. If someone as confident as I am can be as bothered by this as I am, imagine how devastating it is to others who weren’t constantly told how awesome they were as young kids. I want people to stop and think before they ruin someone else’s day with a question like “are you pregnant?”

Spread the Love: A Positive Feedback Loop

I believe that part of taking care of ourselves is creating an environment around us that is loving, affirming, and supportive. I believe that part of lifting ourselves up is in lifting up others, supporting others, encouraging others, and assuring them that they are not alone in the world in whatever struggle they might be facing.

I believe that a healthy self-image is necessary for proper self-care, not the other way around. 

And I’m very grateful that I have a healthy self-image, despite these ridiculous questions and comments. If you’ve been asked if you’re pregnant when you are clearly not pregnant, you are not alone. It’s not what you’re wearing; it’s the jerk asking the question. You are beautiful.

If you are plagued with body image issues that are confirmed by ignorant commentary from those around you, you are not alone.

If you fall victim to the entrapping images of airbrushed women in magazines and feel that your body isn’t good enough, you are simply mistaken.

You are beautiful.

You are loved.

You are sexy.

I’m selfishly writing this post to vent my feelings of frustration that I’m awake at 11:50pm on a work night thinking about this, but my hope is that I’m also affirming you on your own journey to self-acceptance. I’m confident in my own resilience; I want you to be confident in yours. I will not be knocked down by this, and nor should you be.

I read a post recently by a 19 year-old woman “liking this picture of [her] cellulite,” and I think we need more messages like the one she’s sharing. I am not defined by my imperfections, and neither are you. We need not only to accept our own imperfections as part of what makes us us, but we also need to lift up those around us.

And if I haven’t made it clear yet, NEVER ask a woman if she’s pregnant. If she wants to tell you that she’s expecting, she will. Mind your own business and let her enjoy the rest of her day.

Misleading Headlines: Gluten Sensitivity in the News

Gluten Sensitivity Might Not Exist?

You may have recently seen some buzz in the news about gluten — specifically, that non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (or intolerance) might not really exist, and in fact the condition could all be in our heads. One recent study has apparently shown that test subjects reported digestive discomfort very inconsistently with regard to how much gluten they were administered at a given meal during the study period. I’ve seen quite a few articles reporting on this study, but the one in Forbes seems to sum it up best.

Since I’m writing a book about the best, healthiest and most delicious ways to go gluten-free, I feel the need to address these new findings — if you can call them that at this early stage in the game.

Jumping to Conclusions

The idea of gluten-sensitivity wasn’t based on evidence from one study done one time by one scientist. That’s not the way scientific rigor works, as we learned in 5th grade science class, and just as the Forbes article states in plain English. A simple search in Google Scholar for “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” will show you that many studies have been done on this topic, some isolating wheat, some addressing gluten from all the various sources, nearly all finding that there is in fact a non-immunological response to gluten in a number of subjects. One study of 37 subjects cannot negate a body of research, nor can it override the myriad anecdotal and experiential testimonies of hundreds of patients across the developed world.

fodmap foods


FODMAPs to Replace Gluten?

The article mentions the potential misplacement of blame on gluten, that perhaps FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols) are the real digestive disruptors, and gluten isn’t the problem at all. In fact, FODMAP foods overlap greatly with glutenous foods, so attempting to tease this distinction apart might result in similar lifestyle choices already being practiced by those on a gluten-free diet. Granted, the list of FODMAPs is far broader than the list of glutenous foods, however it’s often the case that those with gluten sensitivity also have other sensitivities due to damaged intestinal lining or leaky gut. Often eliminating problem foods to allow the gut to heal can precipitate the reintroduction of some of FODMAPs, if not all. 

There are definitely FODMAP-free diets out there that have helped a number of very sensitive folks get their guts on track to be able to heal and potentially start eating a broader range of foods again. It’s true of any elimination diet, including a gluten elimination, that certain individuals can repair their gut and reintroduce trigger foods that no longer cause problems. Most holistic doctors will suggest abstaining from particular foods for a certain amount of time and then slowing reintroducing each one separately to attempt to decipher which foods cause problems. In some cases, these trigger foods can be successfully reincorporated into the diet without upset, and in some cases they can’t.  

For me personally, I’ve attempted to fully reintroduce gluten a couple of times, and the results have been unpleasant after about two weeks eating it regularly. That being said, trace amounts like those found in soy sauce don’t seem to cause any ill-effects when used very occasionally for me. Others might experience negative effects from even trace amounts.

The overlap between FODMAPs and gluten-containing foods definitely merits more research, and by all means, I can’t wait to read the studies when they come out. Until then, I’m sticking with what works for me and so many others working hard to repair their damaged digestive systems and improve their lives.

gluten sensitivity

image borrowed from

Take-Away: Media Hyperbole

Sensational headlines that throw into question lifestyle strategies that have worked for a huge number of individuals (myself, friends and family included) when “much, much more research is needed” really don’t do anyone any favors in the long run.

The truth is that everyone’s different and everyone reacts differently to different foods based on their own internal environments. If you stop eating gluten and you feel better, then great! Keep doing what works for you. The marketing hype that’s brought gluten-free sales through the roof over the last few years probably doesn’t have all that much to do with how you feel every day. Nor should a study of 37 people throw your personal wellness strategy down the tubes. Take care of yourself and listen to your body. There’s some advice worth taking.


Your Single Most Important Health Advice – Heal Your Gut

Editor’s Note: For a full series dedicated to gut health entitled “Why Gut Health Matters,” click here.

Recently I was asked a tricky question:

“If you had one single piece of health advice to share for living a healthy lifestyle, what would it be?”

This is a tricky question for a number of reasons, the first and most obvious one being that every individual is different and everyone needs their own tailored solution for achieving a healthy lifestyle. Yes, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean this question can’t be answered.

I see a question like this one as a personal challenge; how far can I zoom out to accurately answer a question like this one and truly address nearly every single health concern that plagues modern man? Is that even possible? I’d venture to say that yes, it’s possible.

The single most important piece of advice for healthy living is to HEAL YOUR GUT.

gut health healthy gut heat adviceHeal your gut and the rest will follow.

That’s the advice. It’s that simple. You might be thinking that we’re right back where we started, that ways to “heal your gut” are as varied as the individual, or that surely there are tons of diseases that have nothing to do with gut health.

You might be mistaken.

If the gut isn’t working properly, nothing is working properly.

Vitality starts in the gut where we assimilate input from the outside world into resources for inside our bodies. Gut health is crucial for the health of every other system in our bodies. It affects our skin, our immune response, our hormones, our weight, or energy level, our bowel movements (obviously), even our MOOD and PERSONALITY. That’s right, there are studies taking place now that attempt to isolate certain bacteria in the gut responsible for depression and anxiety. That level of detail hasn’t been worked out in the lab yet, but rest assured that altering the human biosphere to address any number of mental health problems is in the not-too-distant future. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself.

5 Facts About Gut Health that Might Surprise You

1. The microbiome in the gut comprises more than 60% of our immune function (some say as much as 75%)?

We have more cells of bacteria in our bodies, and especially in our gut, than we do human cells. 10 times more, in fact. Certain bacteria in our gut represent the body’s ability to fight off invaders, and they actually communicate with those neurons I just mentioned above. When the right bacteria are overtaken by the wrong ones, we start to see both acute and chronic malfunction in our bodies, often accompanied by inflammation and pain.

A healthy gut means a healthy immune system.

2. 95% of serotonin is found in the Enteric Nervous System.

It makes sense that medications aimed at addressing depression through SRIs (serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) would disrupt bowel function, considering that so much of it resides in the bowel. Surely it would follow that ensuring the healthy functioning of our second brains would some day enter the scope of practice in mental health care. That day could come very soon indeed!

A healthy gut means a healthy mood.

gut health leaky gut

3. Gut permeability (aka “leaky gut”) is the culprit for a large number of autoimmune diseases and possibly allergies too.

In fact, leaky gut is arguably to blame for the sharp rise of food allergies (gluten, corn, dairy, soy to name the most common).

Debunking PCOS

click my image to learn how I finally cleared my skin!

If your intestinal lining is compromised, you could suffer from something called gut permeability. In layman’s terms, what should stay inside your intestines leaks out into the rest of your body through tiny holes that shouldn’t really be there. The partially digested food that leaks into the gut is seen by the body as a foreign invader, so an immune response occurs– an allergy. 

The causes of gut permeability definitely vary from person to person, but a major factor is inflammation. Inflammation can occur for a number of reasons and is actually implicated in the chronic diseases of the western world – heart disease, diabetes, obesity, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. Inflammation in the gut can occur due to over-consumption of inflammatory foods, gut dysbiosis (too much of the wrong kinds of bacteria wreaking havoc in the gut), and too much sugar in the diet (can be a cause of gut dysbiosis). That’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a good start.

A healthy gut means less allergies and inflammation (often resulting in healthy skin).

4. The gut is often called our “second brain” due to the more than 500 million neurons that reside in the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).

In fact, communication between the gut and the brain is a two-way street, with information going from gut to brain far more often than we ever thought was the case in the past. The term “gut feeling” is a lot less metaphorical and a lot more literal than you might think.

A healthy gut means proper communication between the systems of the body.

gut health leaky gut

5. The bacteria in your gut might determine your cravings AND your ability to gain/lose weight.

Scientific studies are being done to test this hypothesis, and very interesting findings are coming about. We’re learning so much about the communication between the bacteria in our gut and our brains, and while major conclusions haven’t yet been drawn as it relates to common medical practice, this field of research could revolutionize the way we address obesity in medicine.

“…the capacity of bacteria to adapt is such that if it is to their advantage to influence their host preferences for food, they will.” (source)

It’s been shown that “bad” bacteria such as candida thrive on sugar and foods that quickly turn to sugar. When there’s an overgrowth of candida, the bacteria actually cause you to crave those foods that they like to eat! Likewise, when you have “good” bacteria at healthy levels in your gut, you’re more likely to crave a diet that they want to eat – one rich in fiber.

Studies have also shown that when certain bacteria are placed into the intestines of mice, and the mice are fed the same exact diet, those implanted with “bad” bacteria gained weight and those implanted with “good” bacteria lost or stayed the same.

A healthy gut means a healthy weight.

Heal Your Gut, Change Your Life

You might be surprised at some of the easy changes you can make to start improving your gut health today. Of the listed suggestions, for me personally eliminating sugar is by far the most challenging to stick with consistently. It might be a different story for you, but considering how much sugar we as a country consume every day, I’m guessing we might have this in common.

If you truly want to see positive results in your health, this is one of the only times I suggest going cold turkey.

If you completely eliminate sugar for at least 2 weeks, it will have a synergistic effect with the rest of the suggestions on this list. If you do all the things below but remain on a high-sugar diet, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Sugar is a highly inflammatory food. After your two weeks of cold turkey, test the waters with fresh berries or a small amount of dark chocolate, but pull back for another week or so of you see negative side-effects.

5 Ways to Heal Your Gut:

  1. Eliminate sugar from your diet for two weeks to a month (depending on the severity of your problem) and then slowly reincorporate natural sugars only and very sparingly.
  2. Take a probiotic and eat foods rich in live cultures (kim chee, kefir, sauer kraut, yogurt, kombucha).
  3. Heal the gut lining and reduce/eliminate permeability by drinking bone broth and/or supplementing with l-glutamine.
  4. Eat foods that support the propagation a healthy gut biome – fiber-rich foods that represent every color of the rainbow.
  5. Explore the possibility of food sensitivities through an elimination diet (start with the ones I listed above). By identifying trigger foods, you can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. Once your gut is healed, you can attempt to reintroduce the trigger foods watching closely to see if any old symptoms return.

Want to buy pre-made bone broth to jump-start your way to a healthy gut? Check out my very favorite product! 

bone broth acne cure kettle and fire

FED UP – Who’s Sleeping with the Enemy Now?


The heavy hitters knock it out of the park in this newly released movie about the seedy relationship between the government and Big Food. In the trailer alone, we see Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Robert Lustig, Gary Taubes, and Michael Pollan, all at the forefront of food activism in this country. They all agree: the misinformation propagated by mainstream medicine (Registered Dietitians), the CDC and Big Food needs to be corrected.

A calorie is NOT a calorie.

A sugar calorie does not operate in the body as a broccoli or steak calorie would. Where we get our nutrients matters for our health, and Big Food will do anything and everything in their power to prevent legislation against their toxic products. New York Times Columnist Mark Bittman goes as far as comparing junk food companies today to the tobacco companies of the 1980’s.

What do Julia Roberts, the CDC, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have in common?

They’re all sleeping with the enemy. I’m not a Registered Dietitian, but I work with quite a few. I spoke with them before posting this piece and they have some opinions of their own about the relationship between Big Food and major associations for dietitians. Their opinions range from outrage to dismay — one even said that after attending a CDA event last year, she boycotted all events this year and expressed her concerns to the folks in charge. Another shared her frustration with the complicated marriage between big money and policy advocacy for patients (conversation for another time). Still another holds onto hope that eventually RDs won’t need these large associations, and a lack of membership will shift the conversation to what’s right instead of what’s profitable.

All this is to say that what I’m about to share with you does NOT represent ALL Registered Dietitians.

I was extremely disturbed upon reading a recent article from Mother Jones about the disheartening partnerships taking place between Big Food and the major associations with which Registered Dietitians affiliate themselves.

Just so we’re all on the same page, the associations included are:

  • California Dietetic Association (CDA)

    • Vision: Optimize the state of California’s health through food and nutrition.
  • School Nutrition Association (SNA)
    • Mission: SNA is a national organization of school nutrition professionals committed to advancing the quality of school meal programs through education and advocacy.
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND)
    • Mission: Empowering members to be the nation’s food and nutrition leaders
    • Vision: Optimizing the nation’s health through food and nutrition

(all Mission and Vision statement copied and pasted verbatim from the respective websites.)

The largest annual meeting for the RD profession took place earlier this month in Pomona, CA, and the primary sponsor for the event was none other than McDonald’s.

According to the MJ reporter, McDonald’s food was the ONLY lunch option for the attendees, much to their dismay. Other sponsors, panelists, and speakers included representatives from the beef lobby, the corn lobby, PepsiCo, Nestle, Nabisco, Boston Market, Sizzler, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Hershey, and the list goes on and on.

What do the missions and visions of these companies have in common with those of the three associations listed above? (Hint: NOTHING.) I’m not going to list them all here, as I assume if you’re reading this, you have access to google, but I’ll take a short snippet from the PepsiCo mission:

“Our mission is to be the world’s premier consumer products company focused on convenient foods and beverages.”

On what planet should this company have a seat at the table with folks who profess to “optimize the nation’s health” and “advanc[e] the quality of school lunches?” Is there a more unapologetically obvious conflict of interest here?

The most egregious offense coming from this event is the claim that these members are fair and unbiased. The Corn Refiner’s Association sponsored a presentation claiming the absolute safety of high fructose corn syrup, that it shouldn’t be singled out as a cause for increased obesity in children (this, despite scientific evidence to the contrary).

Context Clues: A Look Back

fed up

Let’s join Michael Moss, author of Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, and take a look at a well-kept secret in the history of convenience food. In 1999, CEOs from some of the major players listed above (also included were Nabisco, General Mills, Proctor and Gamble and Mars) met at a secret meeting in Minneapolis to discuss … drum roll please … their role in the rising childhood obesity statistics. Let me remind you this was 1999, and the numbers since then have skyrocketed.

Spoiler alert! They agreed to take care of themselves and their own pockets.

Have these corporations had a change of heart? Are they suddenly less interested in the success of their toxic products than in the health and wellbeing of our nation’s children? Is there any substantial evidence that they’re genuinely interested in engaging in real solutions to the obesity epidemic in this country? No, there’s not.

The Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken from McDonald’s doesn’t count as a health food, by even the loosest of standards. Sorry guys.


As I said last week, the personal becomes political when it comes to something as obviously corrupt as partnerships between Big Food, Big Government, and the associations of Registered Dietitians. Educating yourself on the reality of what’s going on at this level will help you untangle the wealth of misinformation out there. Make informed decisions for your own health and that of your family at the grocery store by keeping it simple.

  1. Stay on the outer perimeter where there are the fewest labels to decipher (produce, meat and fish counters, dairy and eggs, bulk section)
  2. Avoid anything with a label making a health claim
  3. Choose products with no added sugar
  4. Choose local and organic where possible

Check out FED UP wherever it’s playing in your area, and VOTE WITH YOUR FORK.


Woody Harrelson’s “Thoughts From Within” – Vote With Your Fork

The Personal is Political. Vote with your fork.

Most people use YouTube and other public forums as places to be nasty to each other behind the protection of internet anonymity. That’s not happening in the comments section of a video that puts Woody Harrelson’s poem “Thoughts from Within” to music.  Nearly every single comment of the almost 800 listed is in support of the celebrity’s revolutionary message. Even if the picture of the president isn’t up-to-date (looks like this video was created in 2008), every word seems to ring true to those who comment — most of whom do so pretty recent. Why am I sharing a YouTube video today featuring celebrity poetry?

Cultivated Wellbeing was never explicitly intended to be a hub for political commentary, but as a former political activist, I felt compelled to share this with you, fellow life-lovers, food-lovers, and joy-lovers. I studied sociology, anthropology, and political science in college where the notion that “the personal is political” was propelled at me from all sides. The message was received, and I still believe that in a very real sense today. My favorite line in this poem illustrates perfectly why I’m sharing this with you on a health and wellness blog:

“Do you dare to feel responsible for every dollar you lay down? Are you gonna make the rich man richer or are you gonna stand your ground?”

Harrelson talks about big agriculture, big food, political corruption, and then follows up with a message to vote with your dollar! This is the SAME message Michael Pollan and other voices in the food activist movement preach every day. Vote at the grocery store, at the farmers’ market, at the local eatery. Put your money where your mouth is — vote with your fork! Choose local, sustainable, health-giving, life-affirming foods that support and nourish both your body and the one and only Earth we have to live on. Do these things and the world will change! Do these things to make a difference every day without sacrificing your sanity (as I was as professional activist). What you eat matters! What you buy matters! How you live matters! Check out the video, and please share.

“Can you imagine clean, water, food and air, living in community with animals and people who care?”

vote with your fork

click the picture to find out how to vote with your fork

5 Ways Rock Climbing Empowers You

When I first embarked on this blogging journey, my plan was to create a sounding board for my broad approach to health, fulfillment, and balance. I’d share stories about my adventures in the kitchen, in the garden, at local establishments, and in nature. I fully planned to write about my experience in nature from the perspective of a rock climber, but after a recent trip to Yosemite, I realized that I haven’t shared anything with you about climbing at all.
Part of the reason for this is that I’m not an elite climber. I’m not even a great climber – I’d put myself at slightly more advanced than a beginner with only a few years of the sport under my belt, so I surround myself with folks who have far more skill, knowledge and strength than I do. I’m always striving to learn and keep up – a position I grew used to as the younger, shorter, less-athletic sister always getting stuffed at the hoop in our driveway. Being in that position as a kid made me a stronger player, both physically and mentally. I wasn’t afraid to try as hard as I could, and I wasn’t afraid to fail. I just went for it, and I try my very best to apply that mentality to climbing.

There’s only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything. Football Coach, Vince Lombardi

People ask me why I climb, why I couldn’t pick something that keeps both feet on the ground as my adult activity of choice. My mom worries about me on the weekends, my coworkers think I’m crazy – why risk an injury? (Truthfully, when done properly and safely climbing isn’t much more dangerous than other sports, but that’s commentary for another time.)

rock climbing

Owens River Gorge – Bishop, CA

The answer, in short, is to conquer fear. Fear holds us back from pursuing our dreams. Fear of failure, fear of not being the best (or even all that good). Fear of learning something new. Climbing forces you to face your fears – in fact, before I started climbing I had a relatively intense fear of heights. The perpetual quest to conquer fear through climbing has tremendous benefits for your life as a whole. Here are the ways it empowers you.

5 Ways Rock Climbing Empowers You

1. Climbing pushes you out of your comfort zone, repeatedly.

You’re reaching for something you never thought you could reach, you’re shifting all your weight onto a tiny feature in the rock and trusting yourself, your shoe, your body, your strength, to hold you there. Your resolve is constantly tested, and the limit of what you can manage physically and mentally gets higher and higher with each summit. You’re stretched, you’re challenged, and as a result you grow.

2. You are only competing with yourself.

Nobody’s keeping score. Your teammate is there to keep you safe, and the two of you are working together to do something amazing. But the only opponent is the rock (although I will admit that sometimes you feel like the rock is fighting back!) Climbing is all about personal best and working toward your own goals. Worrying about how you compare to others is only a detractor, and the exercise of controlling that tendency to compare is an advantageous mental task to master in itself. The gratification of sticking a hard move and finishing the route is all the motivation you need. This inner drive will carry over into many aspects of life where the only one keeping track of whether you accomplish your goal is you.

3. The Unknown awaits on every climb.


Happy Boulders in Bishop, CA

Every route has a ‘crux’ – the hardest part of the climb that determines the difficulty rating. The crux can be anywhere in theclimb. It can be the first move when you’re not quite warmed up or it could be toward the top when you’re totally burnt out. You can guess based on the rating if you’ll be able to do it, but you never know until you try, and often it’s that part of the climb that truly tests your grit. Even though we usually have a guide book to tell us roughly where the route goes, I often find myself in spots where the exact path is unclear or the best sequence of moves is elusive. Sometimes you have to just commit and have faith in your intuition that you’re going the right way and you’ll make it through. Sometimes I see my partner climb first and I know that whatever he’s doing is definitely NOT what I’m going to do – whether it’s because of a difference in height, skill, strength, or a combination – and that I’m going to have to figure out my own way when it’s my turn. One of the best parts of climbing is pushing through and accomplishing something you didn’t know you were capable of. Often that’s the real unknown that awaited you.

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great. – Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own

4. Persistence, determination, and problem-solving are crucial to climbing.

These three characteristics are among the most valuable in ensuring that you are achieving your personal potential. And I’m not just talking about climbing anymore. Building and practicing these skills is a huge factor in professional success and personal growth. It’s impossible to grow as a person without pushing forward through (at least some) adversity and difficulty. When you’re on a wall working to find the next move, you might have to rearrange your feet, switch your hands, or shift your center of gravity. You might have to try, fail, and rework it another way. All of this while dangling high in the sky. The harder you work to get it right and solve the puzzle, the deeper your commitment to yourself and the climb.

rock climbing

Grotto – Sonora, CA

5. Climbing fosters an alliance between humans and nature.

No one appreciates the reality of gravity like a climber. That might have been a bad joke, but seriously, climbing was meant to be an outdoor sport – even a wilderness sport. Most climbers train in the gym in preparation to climb outside on real rock under an open sky (or sometimes in a cave!). Groups like Access Fund that work to ensure climbing access across the country are focused on conservation, respect for the sanctity of nature, and reverence for the pristine outdoors. Climbers carry that mentality with them at the crag. Not only is there an etiquette that accompanies this sport in terms of keeping crags clean and safe, there’s also a spiritual relationship built between humans and nature when you spend that much time outside. Having that connection to nature and recognizing the role and responsibility of humans in preserving its beauty is empowering and motivating.

Climbing is a sport with transformative grit that demands a respect for how nature and humans interact. You don’t have to be an elite climber to know that climbing builds strength, character, community, and alliance with nature – maybe that’s another way of saying that it strengthens “mind, body, and spirit.” I may not have the skill and experience of an elite climber, but I think that’s something worth sharing.

rock climbing

Yosemite National Park, CA

rock climbing

Lake Tahoe, CA



















Why I do What I do – My First Radio Interview

I’m excited to share my first radio interview! Well, technically this is my second one, as I spoke with a public radio station in Houston, TX when I was 18 years old and trying to promote my first full-length folk-rock album, but that’s a story for another time.

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have already seen my mention of the radio interview I did with Suma of the Wise Health show on PLV Radio. If you don’t follow me (you should start now!), or if you haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, I’ve made it easy for you by sharing the interview here! Suma is a holistic healer out of Nevada who interviews all manner of alternative practitioners for her show. She found me via LinkedIn, and after checking out my work on both of blog sites I run, (here’s a link to the other one), she asked if we could make some time to talk.

When you first started reading this blog, you may have visited my “about page” and learned a bit about my background and what has motivated me to move into this awesome field of health and wellness. You might have also recently read about my miracle acne cure. What you might not know about yet is the work I do every day to serve the employees of a major public hospital chain in Alameda County, what drives me to keep moving forward, and where I want to go next, both personally and professionally. This interview will answer all of those questions — plus you can listen to it while you’re making something delicious in the kitchen this weekend like my Guilt-Free Adult Brownies. 🙂


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