Monday, February 25, 2013

Food as Medicine, Part 3: The Pancreas

The pancreas isn't thought about too much.  It should be, though, because a sick pancreas can lead to a very sick you. 

The pancreas has a very important role in the body.  It is a gland that sits just below the liver, below the stomach and in front of the spine, where it helps break down food and digest fat and plays a pivotal role in regulating blood sugar.  And if it's not working right, you can end up with some pretty major problems.  Here are a few: 

  • In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn't make insulin any more because the body has, for some reason, attacked the beta cells that produce the insulin.  In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas simply loses the ability to produce enough insulin between meals.
  • Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas which can cause bleeding or even death of the tissues of and around the pancreas.
  • Pancreatic cancer is a particularly deadly form of cancer.
  •  In cystic fibrosis, the sticky mucus that comes along with the disease can also block tubes of the pancreas.
 In Chinese medicine, the pancreas is bundled with the spleen as a digestive organ that cleanses and modifies the blood.  It is associated with the positive emotions of trust, honesty, acceptance, and impartiality, and with the negative emotions of worry, overthinking, obsession, remorse, and self-doubt.  It is thought to be the seat of thoughts and emotions in the body, and is in charge of ideas, analytical thinking, memory, and intelligence.

If you want to maintain a healthy pancreas, you're going to need to ditch a few bad habits:

  • Alcohol.  Heavy drinking (3 drinks per day or more) seems to put people at a higher risk for pancreatic cancer and other diseases of the pancreas such as pancreatitis, and even regular moderate alcohol consumption may increase risk as well.  Limit your alcohol consumption to a drink a day or less if you can.
  • Smoking.  Cigarette and cigar smoking, and even exposure to secondhand smoke, puts people at an extremely high risk for pancreatic cancer (and a host of other cancers, too).  To reach safety levels of nonsmokers, cigarette smokers need have been off the butts for 20 years.  So if you got 'em, don't smoke 'em. 
  • Soda.  There is some evidence that soda consumption increases pancreatic cancer risk (but not tea or coffee, so 'whew!').  While more research needs to be done on the subject, that soda really isn't doing you much good to begin with, so better safe than sorry... and may be due to the fact that fructose has been demonstrated to raise risk of pancreatic cancer.  (1)  (2)  (3)  The amount in fruit is not enough to be of concern, and the health benefits of fruit are tremendous.  It is best, however, to avoid high fructose corn syrup and agave (which, despite its low glycemic, "healthy" reputation, is extremely high in fructose).
  • Grilled red meat, processed meats, and red meat consumption in men have been linked to diabetes risk, and in some studies to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer, so you may want to change the way you cook/prepare your red meat, and cut down on how much you eat.
  • Obesity is well-known for its association with diabetes risk.  (1)  (2)  Maintaining a healthy weight is imperative for a healthy pancreas!
In the mean time, the following habits lead to a happy pancreas:
  • Quinoa seeds and Amaranth leaves seem to have a protective effect against frutcose-related damage to the pancreas in rats (2) (3).  Obviously, more research needs to be done in humans, but this is interesting stuff, anyway. 
  • A diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil, krill oil, flaxseed, chia seeds) seems to help fight pancreatic cancer. (1)  (2)  (3) 
  •  Vegetable intake.  You've heard me say it before, and you certainly haven't heard me say it for the last time:  EAT YOUR VEGGIES.  High intake of vegetables (especially cruciferous ones such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc) is correlated with a significantly decreased risk of pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, and diabetes.  (1)  (2)  (3)  (4)  (5)
  • Low levels of the following nutrients are associated with a higher risk of pancreatic cancer
    • magnesium
      • Sources include: rice/wheat/oat bran,  dried coriander, squash/pumpkin/watermelon seeds, flax/sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, molasses, soybeans
    • potassium
      • Sources include:  white beans, potatoes with skin, bananas,  dark leafy greens, acorn squash, salmon, avocado, mushrooms
    • selenium
      • Sources include:  Brazil nuts, eggs, tuna, cod, black walnuts, sunflower seeds
    • alpha-carotene
      • Sources include:  sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, winter squash, carrots, broccoli, dark green vegetables, fresh green herbs such as thyme and oregano, green beans, apples, avocadoes
    • beta-carotene
      • sources are pretty much the same as those foods rich in alpha-carotene
    • beta-cryptoxanthin 
      •  Sources include:  red bell peppers, papaya, cilantro, oranges, corn, watermelon, serrano pepper, avocadoes, grapefruit
    • lutein and zeaxanthin
      • Sources include:  just about all green veggies, including peas
    • niacin
      • Sources include:  yeast extract (like Marmite or nutritional yeast), rice/wheat bran, anchovies/tuna/swordfish, liver, paprika, peanuts, sundried tomatoes
    •  alpha-tocopherol
      • Sources include: wheat germ, almond, hazelnuts, sunflower, grapeseed, rice bran,  and many other oils, sunflower and many other nuts and seeds, paprika, cayenne, curry powder, oregano, ginger
    • vitamin A
      • Sources include:  liver, paprika, curry powder, cayenne, chili powder, sweet potatoes (and other orange veggies and fruits), dark leafy greens
    • vitamin B6 
      • Sources include:  garlic, tuna, cauliflower, mustard greens, crimini mushrooms, asparagus, kale and other green leafies, broccoli, winter squash, salmon, leeks
    • vitamin C
      • Sources include: citrus fruits, guava, bell peppers, kiwi, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe

        Suffice it to say, you can get most or all of these nutrients from a diet high in fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. 
  •  Exercise.  It helps increase lean muscle mass and reduce adipose tissue, thus reducing the risk of diabetes.  It helps lower glucose in the blood (decreasing the amount of work the pancreas has to do).  And it even seems to lower risk of pancreatic cancer.  Making excuses is no longer an option.  Get moving.

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I have long held the belief that one of the biggest keys to good health is happiness and satisfaction in your own life.  No amount of broccoli and lima beans is going to healthify away the effects of a bad attitude.  Anger, depression, perfectionism, and high-stress lifestyles have been linked to everything from cancer (1) (2) (3)  to heart disease (1) (2) (3) to inflammation of all kinds (a major disease precursor) (1) (2) (3).  So I think it is very safe to say that simply being happy could very well save your life (as well as make your life a lot more fun to live).

It really doesn't get much happier than this.

Now, I'm no Wise Man on the Mountain, but I'd like to think I'm a pretty happy person.  My life has been far from perfect, and I have overcome many difficulties.  But I have managed, I think, to keep a very positive attitude through it all and make the most of what I've been given.  I am, as a general rule, unabashedly cheerful, happy, content with my life, and excited for the future.  People usually ask me what drugs I'm on.  (None, by the way, and thank you very much.)  In any case, I'd like to throw some of the lessons I've learned so far at you in hopes that maybe some of it might help someone.  So without further ado, here's Melody's Tips for Being Happy.

1)  Get the poison out.  There is always going to be someone who wants to poop on your petunias.  Some people are just going to suck the joy right out of you.  To me, it honestly does not matter if they are friends, family, significant others, someone you've known since you were a fetus, or whatever.  I don't believe blood makes family-- family is something that is proven through relationships.  If you have someone in your family, blood-related or not, who brings you down, it might be time to clean them out of your life.  Maybe they can come back someday when they are ready to love you and support you as you are, but until then, they are simply not doing you any good.  Now, I know this is not an easy task.  However, once your life is clear of human poison, you'll be amazed how much better you'll feel.  Trust me-- I've had to do this over and over again.

I've noticed that people who don't deserve to be in your life tend to weed themselves out over time.  It usually happens when either something really, really good or something really, really bad happens to you.  Poisonous people will rear their ugly heads, either unable to handle the situation, jealous of your success, or reveling in your misfortune.  Take this opportunity to politely tell them to go F themselves.  At the same time, these events are usually where you can see most clearly who your true family is.  Hold on to those folks.  They are few and far between, and worth more than anything money can ever buy.

2)  Care.  First and foremost, care about yourself.  If you have no love for yourself, it's virtually impossible to truly love anyone else.  And if you won't take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of anyone else, either.  If you have feelings of self-loathing, or even self-indifference, care enough to get outside help, whether it be through a social support network, therapy, meditation, or some other healing process.  These wounds are old and unnecessary, and they can be healed.

Next, care about others, and give them some of your time.  Go have dinner with your best friend who you never see because you're always so busy.  Call your mom.  Take your dog for a nice, long walk.  Play with your kids.  Smile at your neighbor.  Have a friendly chat with the cashier at the supermarket.  It is these interactions that put smiles on faces and make life worthwhile.

3)  De-stress.  You know what?  There's a really good chance you're never going to look back on your life and wish you had worked more hours.  Stress kills, and it's a damn shame so many people fall victim to it when there is much that can be done to mitigate it.  Find a little bit of "you" time every day, even if it's just 5 minutes during your lunch.  Make that time belong to you and no one else, and do whatever makes you happiest during that time.  Learn to breathe properly.  Take a vacation EVERY YEAR, even if you don't go anywhere.  Do not bring your work with you for that period of time, no matter what.  Get some bodywork done (chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, etc) to help undo some of what stress does to your muscles.  Physically put in your calendar time to exercise, sleep, and perform de-stressing activities such as meditation, spending time with friends and family, and so on.  You'll be glad you did.

4)  Don't compare yourself to anyone but yourself.  You are not a Victoria's Secret underwear model.  (Or maybe you are.  I don't know.  But if you are, you're not a different Victoria's Secret underwear model.)  In any case, stop comparing yourself to people who are not you.  You will never have someone else's body, someone else's personality, someone else's hair, someone else's sense of style, or anything else that makes that person the unique individual that they are.  Stop wasting your time trying to be someone you're not.  Just be the best "you" you can be.  If you know you're not quite living up to your capabilities, make a clear plan to figure out how to get there, and concentrate on achieving what you want to achieve.  But don't base it on someone else's life-- it is not realistic, not feasible, and will only lead to frustration.

Happy Sloth is happy.
5)  And, on that same line of thought, stop caring what the neighbors think.  If I lived my life based on what my parents wanted me to be, I would have been a doctor, lawyer, or investment banker, had married another doctor, lawyer, or investment banker straight out of college, would still be living in the New York suburbs, would have had several children by now, and, quite frankly, would be miserable, because none of this is what I wanted to do with my life.  I don't make my life decisions-- not my personal style, not my behavior, not my career choice, not my life path-- nothing-- for anyone else's approval.  No one knows what will make me happy but me, and I refuse to settle for anything less than what I want out of life.  If you're living your life by someone else's standards, you're probably never going to live the life you really want.

6)  Get involved in extracurriculars.  I love my job and am incredibly passionate about the fitness world, but I do have other interests in life.  There is so much out there in this big, beautiful world-- why not explore it?  I love to travel, so I jump on any opportunity I get to do so.  Music is one of my biggest passions, so I make time to sing in two bands, and I have the best time doing it.  I've jumped off 2 planes, gone hang gliding in Hawaii, snuggled elephants in an elephant rescue area in Thailand, helped save sea turtles in Costa Rica, got mugged in Brazil (it wasn't part of the plan, but it does make one hell of a story).  I educate myself constantly in subjects that interest me, and I never regret the learning process.  I went through 4 1/2 years of my master's degree in Chinese medicine before I decided I did not want to continue (I had about 4 years left).  People kept telling me how crazy I was, since I had already put in so much time and money.  I disagree-- I learned what I wanted to learn, and also learned that it was not important enough to me to spend another 4 years and countless hours trying to finish up, and now I can use that time to study something else.  My point is, don't make your job your life.  There is so much to see and do.  Take advantage of it.

7)  Stop being afraid.  I have lived in 9 cities and three countries since college.  Most of these, I knew no one when I arrived.  People shook their heads in disbelief at me.  I did it anyway, made the most of it, and learned a lot in every place I lived.  When I started my business, people kept telling me what a bad idea it was-- there was so much competition out there; it was so much safer to work for a company; personal trainers don't usually make much money... it went on and on and on.  I knew what I wanted to do, and I needed to at least give it a shot.  Now, I did it intelligently-- I had amassed a very loyal client base before I decided to go it alone.  But I was willing to take the risk, and I am so glad I did.  Not every risk pays off, but I am a firm believer in never looking back on my life and wondering "what if?"  Take some risks.  You never know what treasure you might find.

8)  Get to the root of the problem.  If you are angry, depressed, fearful, or stressed out, stop trying to gloss it over or medicate it.  Figure out what is causing the emotion.  This will require some deep soul-searching, and possibly some help from an outside source (friend, family member, therapist, whatever).  If you address the root of what ails you, you will usually cure the symptoms.  Find out why you're not happy.  Then figure out a way to fix the problem at its source.

9)  Express yourself.  In many of the studies done on how anger affects disease risk, the anger itself is not as much of the problem as is the method in which it is expressed.  People who hold emotions in tend to have more problems than those who get them out.  Shoving everything down until you become a seething cauldron of repressed emotion can't go anywhere good.  Now, it is important to get your emotions out in a healthy manner-- talking to friends, wailing on a punching bag and/or spending some time in the yard with a sledgehammer and a tire works for me in times of anger-- but get them out.  Talk to someone, be it a good friend, family member, or therapist.  Meditate.  Breathe.  Get the bad stuff out so that you can put more good stuff in. 

10)  Forgive.  Once upon a time, I dated someone really, really bad.  (OK, I've dated a lot of people who were less than stellar.  But this one was really, REALLY bad.)  When the relationship ended, I was angry about a lot of things.  I do not tend to be an angry person, and I think this was the angriest I've ever been for the longest time I've ever been angry.  I was boiling mad for two months straight.  And quite frankly, it was really bothering me.  I felt like I was trapped in a bad pattern that I could not get out of.  One day, I got the help of someone who guided me through a visualization technique.  I imagined my ex-- I could see him very clearly-- standing in front of me.  And right there, I explained to him that I forgave him.  This doesn't mean that I was OK with his behavior-- it simply meant that I was willing to let go of it and move on.  And then-- *poof*-- he was gone.  And so was my anger.  It was unbelievably freeing.  I strongly recommend forgiving-- I mean really, truly forgiving-- the people who have caused you pain-- including yourself.  You don't have to confront anyone with your forgiveness if you don't want to.  Just do it with a visualization if you'd like.  I know this sounds really woo-woo, but it really does work, and it's the best way to move on from bad situations.

11)  Stop making excuses.  "I would (insert positive action here), but (insert lame but plausible excuse here)."  Stop thinking about why you can't.  Start thinking about how you can.

I hope this helps someone somehow.  In the meantime, what are your secrets to happiness?  Post 'em here!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lessons Learned At My First Powerlifting Meet

I'll be honest with you-- 2013 has pretty much sucked so far. 

It started, literally on New Year's Eve, with my mother-- my vibrant, health-obsessed, mother-- going into the hospital, coughing up blood.  A few hours later, she was on a ventilator.  She was diagnosed with lung cancer two days later.  Just days after that it was double pneumonia.  They couldn't get a feeding tube in her-- she was too skinny, and her skull structure wouldn't allow it to be inserted nasally.  I was told she wouldn't make it through the weekend.  I dropped everything and flew to New York (where she lives).  I sang her songs.  I rubbed her feet.  I played her favorite music.   I did some energy work on her.  I brought in a much better energy worker (it was all I could think of that they would allow me to do in the hospital).  I did everything I could think of, and saw her oxygen levels get better each day I was there.  They said they were going to try to wean her off the ventilator.  I flew back to Los Angeles.  She got worse again.  She got a tracheotomy.  She had a massive stroke.  I flew back to New York.  She was brain dead.  We buried her a few days later. 

So yeah, you could say this has been a pretty horrible year so far. 

My mom and me in November, just about two months before her death.  She came to visit me for Thanksgiving.  We went hiking.  

My training fell to the wayside due to constant travel and stress.  I was mentally. physically, and emotionally exhausted.  My hormone levels were skewed from stress.  My digestive system was not working right.  I didn't want to eat much, and when I did eat, I felt sick.  I had random, scattered pains from nothing in particular.  I felt like there was an elephant sitting on my chest, and I couldn't get enough oxygen when I breathed. 

And I had this little matter of my very first powerlifting meet that I had signed up for at the beginning of January. 

People told me not to do it-- I wasn't ready, I hadn't trained, I wasn't feeling well, I had too much going on, I should just rest, there would be other meets.  I got why they said that.  But honestly, I needed it.  It was something I had wanted to start doing for quite a while now, and I am not someone who gives up easily.  Lifting and music are my happy places.  And also, I am a little crazy.  So despite everything, I decided to go through with it.  I did not figure I would be hitting any records this time around.  I was going for the experience, to learn more about the sport, to figure out what it would take for me to get really, really good. 

I spent most of the time between my mother's death and the event (a little over a week in total) trying to take care of myself the best I could.  I did a little bit of light lifting to "grease the groove" a bit, but nothing too taxing.  I got some healing work done to try to take the elephant off of my chest (I have been breathing almost normally ever since!).  I tried to get more sleep, although one of my Evil Kitties tried to wake me up every chance he got.  I got inspired watching videos of powerlifters like Ed Coan.  And I just did some visualization work, imagining what my deadlift and bench press would look like and feel like, over and over and over again.  I got to go to one of my happy places two days before the event-- I sat in for the singer of a band I play with sometimes.  I was, at least, in a better frame of mind.  Two days later, I flew to San Francisco, drove to Concord (where the meet was taking place), ate a healthy dinner of beans, rice, veggies, and raw chocolate, and went to bed early.  

I woke up, unfortunately, to some really bad abdominal cramps (lady-part related stuff-- sorry for the too much information moment, but there you have it) that ended up hitting me on and off the whole day.  Definitely did not work in my favor.

At 7AM, I weighed in at 103lbs, which put me squarely in the 48kg Submasters category.  I then proceeded to make friends with the cutest freakin' Staffordshire Terrier puppy EVER while I waited for the event to begin.  I tried to stay warm-- it was absolutely freezing in there.  I was shaking and my muscles were stiff.  I sat in the rental car for a while to warm up, and got some coffee, too.

My new buddy!  Almost put her in my pocket and took her home.  :)

 I honestly had no idea what to expect when I went to the event.   I have never done anything like this before, and outside of the occasional workshop, I have no coaching, or even a spotter.  I've been doing this more or less on my own, and training almost exclusively in a place that is not designed for powerlifting.  That is definitely a disadvantage.  Thing One that I've learned since starting training for this sport:  A good powerlifting coach and the right environment can make all the difference in the world.  It is important enough to me now that if I cannot make something work around Los Angeles, I will consider flying out maybe twice a month to work with the right person. 

I was incredibly inspired by all the strength around me.  There were some amazing people there.  In particular, there was one woman competing in bench press who was a double lung transplant survivor.  In the audience sat a happy-looking woman in her 70's.  I was later informed that she had been in a convalescent home, unable to walk.  She now owns international powerlifting titles for her age group, and deadlifts 270lbs.  You heard me.  270lbs.  As a matter of fact, some of the strongest people there were in their late 40's and above.  It just continues to prove a point I make often-- age is never an excuse.

I decided not to squat in this meet because I have never really had my squat looked at by a powerlifting coach, and I really want to make sure it looks good before I compete with it.   My two events were bench press and deadlift. 

Bench press came first.  I have honestly not trained bench press much except for the last two months.  I've always been a pushups kind of girl, and never felt much need to bench.  But if I am going to compete, I am going to have to bench.   The problem is, in the studio I train out of, I have no spotter, so I never really bench much more than 95lbs on my own.  I once decided to go for a big number and ended up having to roll the bar off of my stomach.  I really don't want to have to repeat that experience.  If you want to train for big numbers, especially in bench or squat, having a training partner or spotter really helps a lot.   

I had the honor of doing a little training with powerlifting champ Dru Patrick at the beginning of January.  He gave the following advice for picking your weights for your three attempts (I may be paraphrasing a bit, but I'm pretty sure it went like this):  "Your first weight should be something you could lift in your sleep while fighting your way through a bag of wet, angry kittens in the dark in a snowstorm."  Or something like that.  In any case, it shouldn't be a weight you have to think about much.  So I picked 85lbs.  I usually press between 95 and 105, and have gone as high as 115, so I figured that would be a safe bet.  I remembered another piece of advice a lot of people have given me-- LISTEN TO EVERY COMMAND.  My muscles were freezing cold despite my warmup attempts, my hands were shaking, my abdomen ached.  I tried to block it all out.  I hopped on the bench when they said the platform was ready.  I lowered the bar when they told me to lower it.  I pressed it back up.  No biggie.  And I missed the rep.  Know why?  I forgot to wait for the "press" command.  So, once again,  LISTEN TO EVERY COMMAND.  Shall I say that one again?  OK, I will.  LISTEN.  TO.  EVERY.  COMMAND.

My next attempt was 93lbs.  It went up easy.  I listened to every command.  I got the lift.

I decided to go for 110lbs for my last attempt, since I had done 115 once before.  I could not get the weight off my chest, so it was a no-go.  Bummer.  Final score for my bench press:  93lbs. 

Deadlift was next.  Keeping what I learned in the bench press event in mind, I double checked what all of the deadlift commands were going to be (fortunately, it was just two commands:  "platform ready," to get on the platform, and "down" to put the barbell back down).  I knew that I can lift 225lbs on a pretty regular basis now, 235 is doable most of the time, and 255 is my current max, but I've only pulled it once.  So I decided my three lifts would be:  175lbs, 225lbs, 244lbs.  My first lift was easy, as was my second.  My final lift did not come off the floor, which was disappointing but not shocking.  Final score for my deadlift:  225lbs.

All in all, I felt great about the event.  I met a lot of very inspiring, strong, good people, I followed through with something I had really been wanting to do despite considerable odds against me.  And I walked away with a medal for both bench and deadlift (OK, so I was the only person in my category for each.  But a medal is a medal, dammit!).  It was hard to not call my mom after the competition like I normally would for something like this.  But I know that she was out there cheering me on, and I think I made her proud. 

I am really excited for my next competition.  I know I will just get better from here.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Today's Shopping Receipt

As a followup to yesterday's post, here are the results of today's supermarketing adventure:

I am having some friends over for dinner tonight.  I'm going to do some kind of roasted vegetable quinoa risotto concoction (I'll figure it out later).  What I got for that was:
-butternut squash (cut)
-2 boxes of cut shiitake mushrooms
-1 2lb bag of baby carrots
-1 bulb of fennel
-1 container of chopped red onions
-1 carton of "No Chicken" broth (to cook the quinoa in)
-1 bag of quinoa

I also got lots of apples and pears of all kinds to dip in some version of this that I plan to play with today (hence the dates on my receipt), and some kind of raw caramel concoction I'm going to base off the caramel in this (hence the coconut manna on my receipt). 

So that's it for today.  What's on your shopping receipt?

Want to submit your receipt?   Scan it and email it to me at and I will get it up on the blog ASAP!  (You might get a bounce message-- it almost definitely did not bounce.  If you do not hear from me within a day or two, I did not receive it). 
Looking forward to seeing your shopping trips!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Market Receipt Challenge (or, "Should I buy that family-sized box of Oreos?")

I have a lot of clients who ask me about what food to buy at the store (and about what to do with said items once they're bought).  A lot of people have asked to join me when I go shopping, or if they can see what I buy when I go. 

My client, Geneva, suggested that I put up a "Post Your Receipts" blog, and make suggestions about what people are buying at the store.  I thought that was a brilliant idea, so Geneva, please find a way to rephrase it so it sounds like I thought of it.   :)

In any case,  I'll start by posting my receipt from today's excursion to my own personal mecca, Whole Foods (which really should have its own Melody Wing, based on the amount of time and resources I spend there).  My favorite places to shop are the farmers' market (first and foremost!!) and Whole Foods.  I am very lucky to live in Los Angeles, where there is a farmer's market somewhere, every day of the week, 365 days a year.  They are the cheapest and freshest places to buy organic (or near-organic) produce.  Whole Foods is my second choice for buying produce and dry goods.  They have tons of extremely healthy, non-GMO, organic, and local items, and although they mark things up quite a lot, I simply cannot put a price on my health.  The quality of my food is of utmost importance to me, so I suck it up, squeeze my eyes shut, and hand my money to them.  It's really a shame that quality food needs to cost an arm and a leg, but that is another rant for another day.  Here's hoping that'll change some time in the near future.

Where was I?

Oh, right.  The shopping receipt.  I have discovered through trial and error that what works best for me is to buy a little bit every day as opposed to shop for the week one day a week.  In my experience, I end up with a lot of rotten produce that way.  So I just buy what I need for the day each day and go from there.  Here is today's receipt:

It contains:

-Organic raw pecans (I'm making raw brownies again tonight because they last about 5 minutes in my house)
-2 cartons of unsweetened flax milk (my current nondairy milk of choice)
-2 boxes of organic broccoli sprouts (I like to make wraps and salads with them)
-One box of organic garden greens (basically a carton of collards and chard that have already been prepped; I'm adding them to chili tonight)
-2 bags of organic kale salad (because it's yummy and requires no work on my part to prepare)
-One box of organic micro mustard greens (like sprouts; I use them in wraps and salads)
-An organic pink lady apple (for a snack after lunch).

So that's what I have going on today.  I can post more tomorrow or later this week if you like.

Want to submit your receipt?   Scan it and email it to me at and I will get it up on the blog ASAP!  (You might get a bounce message-- it almost definitely did not bounce.  If you do not hear from me within a day or two, I did not receive it). 

Looking forward to seeing your shopping trips!

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Little Bit of Shameless Self-Promotion

I promise to get back to actual blog content ASAP.  In the mean time, if you enjoy this blog and deem it worthy, please do nominate it for the Top 10 Fitness Blog honor!  Just post a quick comment as to what you like about the blog, plus a link to it (, and you're done.  :)  Here is the link:
 Thank you so much for your support!!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Melody's World-Famous, Ridiculously Easy, Pretty Darn Healthy, Vegan Chili

It being Superbowl Sunday, people keep asking me for my chili recipe.  Seriously, it's easy.  Here's what you do:

Dump into a pot:

-a can of your favorite beans (I cook for crowds, so I usually use 3 or so cans of different kinds like black, kidney, and pinto)
-a can (or more, depending on how much you're making) of stewed tomatoes with chili (or just stewed tomatoes if you can't find that kind)
-a can of tomato paste
-a jar of salsa
-a tablespoon or so of cocoa powder
-your favorite chili spices (I am partial to the Brown Bag Chili Mix)

Cook on flame until hot. 

Stir in a whole bunch of your favorite greens (they disappear right into it).



Saturday, February 2, 2013

Food as Medicine, Part 2: The Heart

As you may or may not know, my father had his first heart attack at age 33, and had recurrent heart problems (including subsequent heart attacks, quintuple bypass surgery, heart failure, and so on) throughout his life.  Several friends of mine have died of heart-related illnesses around the age of 40, and others have had very near misses.  It is not a big surprise to me that heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, as well as one of the more common causes of disability. 

While heart disease is often, in part, inherited, there is much that can be done in your every day life to help prevent it.

In Chinese medicine, the heart houses the shen (spirit), which (although it is much more complicated than this) you can think of as your body's vitality, and what you can see when you look in to that person's eyes.  It governs the blood vessels, circulating qi and blood throughout the body so that all the other organs can function.  Traditional Chinese medicine say that you can see the reflection of the heart in the face-- if you have a healthy complexion, the heart is working well.  If your face is discolored or pale, it indicates a problem with the heart.  The heart is also said to lead into the tongue, so a very red tongue often indicates a toxic heat-type condition of the heart, while a very pale tongue can indicate a condition of "blood deficiency."

In Western medicine, the heart is the major pump of blood through the body.  On the left, it takes blood from the lungs and pushes this oxygen-rich blood through the body, and on the right, it brings blood back to the lungs for re-oxygenation.

In any event, you can see that however you look at it, the heart is extremely important to surviving and thriving, so caring for it is of utmost importance.

First and foremost, in order to keep your heart healthy, it is extremely important to keep stress levels down and emotions positive.  Quite a few studies demonstrate a link between anger and hostility and heart disease risk.  There are also studies that show that anxiety increases risk of heart disease, and depression is also a significant risk factor for cardiovascular incidents.  For resolving issues of anger, depression, stress, and anxiety, therapy may be extremely useful.  Breathing exercises (such as those outlined in the blog I wrote about lung health) can help considerably in the relaxation process.

Both strength training and cardiovascular training are not only great for the heart and significantly lower levels of inflammation (a major cause of disease in the body) they are also stress-busting, mood-elevating therapies (2).  Suffice it to say that a sedentary lifestyle is a very heart-unhealthy lifestyle.

Dietary fat is not necessarily a culprit in heart disease risk--  however, the type of fat in one's diet is.  Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats seems to lower the risk of heart disease.  However, other factors must also be considered.

Despite their being lambasted by many of the "health experts" out there, a large and growing body of evidence suggests that a minimum of 5-10% of Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in one's diet is a good defense against heart disease risk.  (1) (2) (3) (4)

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are extremely important in heart health, and most people on a typical Western diet do not get enough of them.  There is an excellent chart showing some of the best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids here.  Other sources include chia seeds, hemp seeds, and microalgae (which is where fish actually get their omegas from).  You can supplement EPA/DHA as well (I use an algae-derived brand by a company called Deva). 

Virgin coconut oil seems to have a beneficial effect on lipid levels in the body because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  It is important to note that this should not be the only fat in your diet, and that it should still be used in moderation, but there is evidence that it can be beneficial.  (1)  (2)  (3)  (4) 

Edible mushrooms, in addition to being chemoprotective (anti-cancer), seem to be good for your heart as well.  This includes many different kinds of mushrooms, including the common white button mushroom!   (1) (2) (3) (4)

Broccoli sprouts have been observed to have a positive effect on cholesterol levels.  Consuming cruciferous vegetables of all kinds (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc) also produce better lipid profiles

It has been found that people with early arteriosclerosis tend to have lower lutein and zeaxanthin levels in their blood.  Lutein and zeaxanthin are types of caroteinoids-- pigments that are responsible for the color of red, orange, and yellow foods.  They're also in most dark green foods.  They protect the body from cancer, strengthen your immune system, and protect your reproductive system.  Lutein and zeaxanthin are particularly known for their ability to help prevent eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration.  Some sources of these nutrients include:

                     dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens, chard, spinach, turnip greens, romaine lettuce (tend to be high in lutein but not as high in zeaxanthin, so be sure to add different color veggies in there, too!)
                     yellow corn
                     yellow and orange peppers
                     various kinds of winter and summer squash
                     orange sweet potatoes
Cooking detrimentally affects levels of these antioxidants in food, so be sure to eat them raw or lightly steamed.  If you boil them, you need to consume the cooking water, as many of the nutrients will leach out into it.

Celery, because it is high in potassium, another interesting nutrient called phthalide, as well as several other chemical components, seems to have an especially good effect on lowering blood pressure.  (1)  (2) 

Cacao/Cocoa/Chocolate is rich in flavanols and has many anti-inflammatory properties.  It has been shown in many studies to be very beneficial to the heart.  The key is to find high-quality chocolate of a minimum of 70% total content, with very little (or no) sugar added.  Check out the brownie recipe I posted for one really healthy use of cacao, as well as other very heart-healthy ingredients!  (1)  (2)  (3)  (4) 

Nitric oxide.  Nitric oxide taken naturally through food is extremely beneficial to the heart.  Some good sources of nitric oxide-promoting foods are beets (beet juice is excellent for endurance athletes!), hawthorne berry, beans, nuts and seeds, tuna, salmon, prawns, watermelon.

Don't smoke.  Smoking has been proven over and over to be a major cause not only of cancer, but of hardening of the arteries.  In women taking birth control pills, smoking is especially dangerous to the heart.

Take care of your teeth.  There is a direct link to gum disease and heart disease.  (1)  (2)  (3)

What about alcohol?  My take on alcohol and heart health is this:  First of all, beneficial heart effects of alcohol are for NO MORE THAN 1 to maybe 2 drinks per day.  However, there is a link to increased breast cancer risk in women who drink 2 drinks or more per day, and in my opinion, the side effects of alcohol far outweigh the benefits.  You can achieve all of the heart-healthy effects of alcohol through diet and exercise.  So if you don't already drink, there is no reason to start.  And if you do already drink, make sure you keep it to one drink or less per day.


It is important to note that any time you supplement, you need to make sure that you are getting what you are paying for.  The USA does little to regulate supplements, so it is up to you to do your research and make sure the company and product you're purchasing are reputable and delivering what they promise.  That having been said, here are some supplements you can try for heart health:

 Resveratrol, the suspected heart-healthy ingredient in red wine, is available as a supplement (so you can bypass the side-effects from alcohol consumption) and seems to have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system.   (1)  (2)  (3) (4)
CoQ10 is sort of like a vitamin.  It is in all of the cells in your body and helps to regulate many of your body's processes.  It has antioxidant properties, as well, so can protect your body from cancer and other diseases that come from oxidative stress.  Supplementation may help reduce the risk of heart disease.  (1)  (2)

Astaxanthin is one of my favorite supplements; you've probably heard me extoll its benefits in the past.  One of those benefits seems to be lowering risk of heart disease.  (1)  (2)  (3)  (4)

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here...