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Mr. Green Jeans through the looking glass

I just read a really good article on the Web that, of course, I didn’t bookmark and can’t find again, on the new fad of being gluten-free. Alas, it triggered memories of what I call “Signature Ailments and Cures” across the many decades I have been a resident of this big blueberry in sky.

When I was a child, I watched a kiddie show hosted by Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshum). His sidekick was farmer/handyman, Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh Brannum). Green Jeans was the voice of natural healthiness. I would sit on the floor, in front of our  black and white TV, munching on my Skippy peanut butter and Welches’ grape jelly sandwich on fluffy Wonder Bread, totally ignoring what he was saying about “eat your vegetables.”

It seems that in the era following the 1970s, we have sent Mr. Green Jeans into the looking glass and our ideas about health are as convoluted and twisted as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum dancing with the Mad Hatter. We have food fads, gourmet illnesses, food cures that seem like they must have come from outer space, and strange beliefs about will give us everlasting health and vitality.

In the 1970s and ’80s, the big, must-have ailment was hypoglycemia. Recently, the low- or no-fat fad claimed our attention. A silver medal goes to the acid/alkaline cure for everything that ails us. And, let us not forget the low-carb frenzy. I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two other fads. Oh, yes, sleep apnea is another one that is popular now. I could also include Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), although it isn’t dietary. Or is it? Some people think it is a result of the cargo-load of crappy food that kids eat these days. No comment. That’s another rant entirely.

The point is that some of these “ailments” have a legitimate basis in truth. Hypoglycemia—chronically low blood sugar, for example is a recognized medical problem. It is primarily related to deficient glucose in brain, and it is treatable.

What everyone in the days of hypoglycemia frenzy were calling hypoglycemia was actually a zebra of a different stripe altogether. Symptoms are many and varied, including shakiness, impaired thinking, rashes, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, allergies, craving for sweets, and a host of other problems that could describe any number of ailments.

I thought I had hypoglycemia. I was chronically tired, my hands shook, I couldn’t think most of the time, memory was failing, joints ached, etc., etc. I attended a seminar that talked about hypoglycemia (in the popular definition, not the medical). The speaker said it was caused by a diet high in sugar and junk food. AHA! That was me! I went home, cleaned out my cupboards, learned about eating whole, real, and natural foods. I followed a regimen of food and supplements recommended by Dr. Paavo Airola (1918-1983), in his book, Hypoglycemia: A Better Approach (available on Amazon.com) and voila! I was cured.

In my mind, it doesn’t matter whether what I had was really clinical hypoglycemia, cutting out all the junk food and sugar, following a supplement system of vitamins and minerals, brought me back from the brink.

Hypoglycemia is on my list of Signature Ailments because, at the time, and even now although to a lesser degree, tons of people think they have it when there is no medical basis for their claims. A glut of dietary carbohydrates or fats in the diet can and do create tremendous health problems, especially when coupled with chemical-laden processed foods. That, I’m sure was my real problem.

Then there was the low-fat craze. Agreed, cutting out a lot of the blubber we shovel into our mouths is a healthier life choice, but human primates take everything to extreme. A diet too low in fats cause, among other evils:

  • Poor vitamin absorption, especially those that require fat to assimilate into your body—A, D, E, K.
  • Cholesterol problems. Low-fat marketing scares us with the threat of bad cholesterol and heart disease. In fact, an extreme low fat diet can do just the opposite and make us deficient in essential fatty acids that will help our good cholesterol do its job of protecting our heart and taking care of the bad cholesterol.
  • Mood Swings and depression. You might not really need that anti-depressant pharmaceutical. You might just need to get off of the extreme low-fat diet.
  • Higher risk of Cancer, especially colon, prostate, and breast cancers. These have been linked with not having enough omega 3 fatty acids in our body.
  • Osteoporosis, kidney problems, liver problems. When we don’t eat enough fat, we are likely to pig out on carbs or protein. Too many carbohydrates increases risk of type 2 diabetes, candida, weight gain, and overall body chemistry imbalance.
  • Weight gain and vitamin/mineral deficiencies. When choosing low-fat or fat-free foods at the market, READ LABELS! Low fat foods that normally fat, taste dreadful. So, the manufacturers add a bunch of flavor enhancers, texturizers, thickeners, and mucho sugar to fool us into thinking we are eating real food. This most assuredly disrupts our digestive systems and adds calories. Fat is what carries flavor in our foods and helps us know when we are full.

When the fat is gone, we eat more. Most of the the time, we eat more calories than the low fat takes out. Choose your fats wisely. Cut down on saturated animal fats and trans-fatty acids (hydrogenated fats), then let yourself benefit from healthy fats such as in avocados, olive oil, nuts, and oily fish.

If you are worried about cholesterol, eat monounsaturated fats: nuts, avocados, organic canola oil, olives, pistachios, sesame seeds and oils. Polyunsaturated fats that lower overall cholesterol are: corn oil, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. Heart-healthy polyunsaturates are: fatty fish, seafood, squash, flaxseeds and oil, hempseed and oil, walnuts.

On the other end of the scale, there is the Carbs-are-poison-and-making-us-fat” camp. Well, yes, when we eat nothing but processed, sugary, starchy foods, we are going overboard. It’s about balance, folks,not about extremes. We need carbs to stay alive. We don’t need to have a diet that consists of 90% carbs.

If you are burning fats through exercise and activity with too little in the way of carbohydrates, the body produces ketones. Ketones give us headaches, acetone breath, dehydration, bone loss, muscle breakdown, and high risk of kidney disease.

There is also a higher risk of heart attack with low-carb diets, according to a study cited in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Frederick F. Samantha, a researcher in this, stated that a low-carb diet that is high in fat will increase the risk of heart attack.

Even Dr. Atkins, the guru of a low carb, high protein diet died with artery blockages. This diet can be deadly. There are tons of reports of serious effects, even death, caused by Dr. Atkins’ diet. See three eye-opener stories at http://www.atkinsdietalert.org/survivor.html.

Be aware that most processed foods touted as low-carb are also nutrient deficient, full of dangerous artificial sweeteners or synthetic ingredients. Aspartame, one of the most popular sugar substitutes should be dumped on the moon and outlawed. There are over ninety-two documented side effects linked with Aspartame. Some are:
methanol poisoning (mimics Multiple Sclerosis), irritability, mood swings, anxiety, insomnia, migraines, and depression.

I could go on. Maybe in another rant.

This one is really popular and totally unfounded scientifically. First of all, changing your diet cannot significantly change your blood’s acidity. It does, however change the acidity of your urine.

We exist within a slim range of acidity (pH). Water has a pH of 7 (neutral). Less than 7 is acid, more than 7 is alkaline. Our blood pH is 7.25-7.4. If it changes, even a little, we die. This is usually from serious problems with kidneys or liver.

Certain foods can make our urine acid or alkaline, but not our blood. Urine pH doesn’t affect any other body system.

In our stomaches, what we eat in the way of acid or alkaline doesn’t affect the pH toward alkaline. Stomach acid is so acidic that nothing we eat changes our stomach acid to alkaline. Also, eating acid foods such as tomatoes and vinegar won’t make our stomaches more acid. When we eat acid foods, the pancreas secretes a fluid that neutralizes the stomach acids in foods that are in our intestines.

Saliva tests don’t show our body pH. Like urine, the pH there is not a reflection of what is going on in our blood. The claims that cancer cells like an acid environment are false. Cancer can’t live in either acid or alkaline extremes. There is no food or supplement that can make our bodies more alkaline.

This Signature Ailment/Cure is purely bogus. The only thing it lightens is our wallet.
Okay, now to the fad de jour—Gluten
Just like hypoglycemia in the 1980s, Gluten intolerance, sensitivity, etc. is the thing to have. I’m not discounting the mounting evidence that 6% of the population are somewhat gluten sensitive. This can make life difficult but not life-threatening, like Celiac.

About one out of 133 people in the U.S. have Celiac disease. That’s a lot, and more than that are gluten sensitive or intolerant. If this is the case, going gluten-free is more than a good idea, it is crucial for health. Celiac is a dangerous, life-threatening disease and sensitivities or intolerances can make your life miserable.

Gluten intolerance is on the rise. Many people think it has to do with the massive hybridization of modern wheat. There are now 25,000 types of wheat. Whoa! People with intolerance can sometimes eat ancient, not hybridized grains like Spelt or Kamut with no problem even though they contain gluten.

However, like all fads, this Signature Ailment is blown way out of proportion so that normally healthy people think gluten is the enemy and that the devil is in their toast. When the Mayo Clinic examined blood samples taken from U.S. Americans in the 1950s and compared them to samples today, they found that the problem with gluten is four times as common now than it was then.

If you don’t have a sensitivity to gluten, and believe me you would know it if you do, then cutting out gluten is not a good idea. For one thing, people on a gluten-free diet usually gain weight. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center found that 81% of studied subjects gained significant weight after two years on a gluten-free diet.

So what are some of the major problems of cutting out this important protein (gluten is a protein)?

Gluten-free foods are usually very low in fiber, interfering with your intestinal health.
Starches are often added to gluten-free foods to compensate for the texture and feel that gluten gives to foods. This causes us to load up on too many problematic starches. Manufacturers often add tapioca starch, corn starch, rice starch, potato starch, and such. These starches are fine in the whole foods, i.e. rice and potatoes, but the separated starch can interfere with digestion in more than small quantities. Plus, unlike gluten, they have no nutritional value.

TProcessed gluten-free foods cost a lot and have nearly double the calories of their “real” counterparts. If a food is supposed to contain gluten but doesn’t, fillers and substitutes have to be included or we won’t pay through the nose for the privilege of eating something that tastes like a cross between a dish sponge and dirt.

Xanthan gum is often put into gluten-free foods. A lot of people are sensitive to it. If you are, it can be a laxative, or give you flu-like symptoms. It is an intestinal irritant for many people.

Sugar is one of the preferred ways for food manufacturers to mask the deadly texture and taste of their foods. Like hamsters, with enough sugar, we will eat nearly anything.

So, too much of this and too little of that nearly always causes problems. Pseudo-science, half-truths, marketing magic, and more all conspire to make us believe in the magic pill, food, diet, etc that will solve all of our problems, prevent us from becoming old, crotchety, sick, and miserable.

For centuries, we have looked for the alchemist’s formula that will let us maintain our lifestyle of sedentary, fat, sugar, and salt guzzling and still be healthy. From Medieval times through the 16th century Restoration era, it was thought that vegetables were unhealthy because they came from dirt. Massive meat was the answer. Yo Ho. Can you say gout and liver disease?

Sorry, the magic pill isn’t going to happen. Alas, we can only be healthy with a combination of exercise, eating a variety of real, unadulterated, natural foods. Good genes also help. Any extremes throw our systems off and cause problems, sometimes lethal ones.

Indulge yourself a little in sinful treats such as sugar and refined foods, but keep your diet 90% whole foods. And, drum roll please, move your butt. Exercise is one of the singularly most beneficial things you can do for your body! Oh, yes. Don’t smoke. By now you surely know that smoking is really bad for living things.

In my personal, educated opinion, I would add:

  • Don’t use recreational drugs on a regular basis.
  • Handle stress
  • Have a supportive social structure
  • Let go of dysfunctional relationships (including family)
  • Read labels and educate yourself on the garbage dump that is most of your supermarket.

Lastly, don’t fall for fanatic claims about the health or toxic properties of foods. Research. That’s why god made Google. Sheesh! I know there’s a lot of junk on the Internet, but a lot of good research is there too. Know the difference. i.e. No matter what someone claims, there is no superfood or supplement that will cure all ills.

The formula is: Eat well, find joy, live, love, dance.
That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.