The Psychological Importance of Pets


Do you have an only child?  If so, you may be concerned that your child’s emotional development may be negatively affected by the lack of a sibling.   After all, friends are important, but there’s something comforting about having a brother or a sister, even if you don’t get along very well.  Their very existence makes you feel less alone in the world.

Enter the family dog.  A new study done last year at the University of Cambridge suggests that household pets have a significant effect on childhood development, positively influencing their social skills and emotional well-being.  For children who don’t have siblings, or who are shy or emotionally sensitive, having a family pet may even improve psychological health later in life.

In this most recent study, 77 pre-adolescent children in the UK reported having a better relationship with their pet than with their brother or sister.  They were more likely to confide in their pets, got greater satisfaction from their furry friends, and also had less conflict with them.  Dogs, in particular, were associated with higher incidence of companionship and satisfaction than cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, or fish, but it’s probable that any family pet can have a positive influence.

Given the emotionally fraught nature of most sibling relationships, having a pet may provide stress relief and added comfort when arguments inevitably erupt.  For those who don’t have a sibling, a pet can help to fill the void, and even create a more positive, supportive relationship than any sibling ever could.  Whatever the case, evidence continues to accumulate that inviting a pet into your home has both physical and psychological benefits, particularly for children.




A Very Simple Weight Loss Strategy


My previous blog was about the difficulty in maintaining weight loss when chemicals in our environment (PFAs) can cause pounds to return easily.  Continuing with that focus on weight loss, here’s a new idea for shedding extra pounds:  simply stand more.

A new study from the Mayo Clinic has found that when people stand for six hours per day, they burn an additional 54 calories.  That may not sound like much, but it accumulates over time, translating into a loss of 5.5 pounds of body fat over the course of one year, or 22 pounds over four years.   Interested now?

This new research follows other well-publicized studies about the health benefits of standing, including the one published in 2015 that found an increased risk of Type II diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and an early death from any cause, when you sit for prolonged periods of time – even if you also exercise regularly.  If the risk of premature death so far hasn’t caused you to take action, maybe increased calorie loss will.

Keep in mind that the extra 54 calories you burn when standing can also be extended by moving around rather than just standing still.  You can walk around while talking on the phone, or do a quick set of squats when you’re bored.  You can bring in a small set of weights and carry them around with you, or even throw balls of paper into your trash can.  All of this will add up to even more calories burned on that particular day.

Researchers caution that standing for long periods of time can have its own negative consequences, like back pain, leg soreness, and blood varicosity that causes circulating blood to pool at your ankles.  Those with low blood pressure will also have difficulty standing for long periods of time.  However, just getting up and walking around for a minute or two every hour can help, and is doable for people with other health problems that prevent them from exerting themselves too much.

What I like about this particular study is its flexibility.  It’s really encouraging to see how even a tiny increase in energy output can have such a positive, long-term effect.  I suppose it’s like anything in life.  Small steps add up to big changes.  So be inspired!  If you’re currently struggling with weight loss, try moving around just a little bit more.  It all counts.




Chemicals May Un-Do Weight Loss


They call it an obesity epidemic.  According to the CDC, 37.9% of American adults are now considered obese.  If you also include overweight people in this category, the number becomes a whopping 70.7%.  It’s not even just a North American problem.  According to a recent analysis published in journal The Lancet, 30% of the world’s population is now overweight or obese.  Many struggle each day to change their diet and exercise habits to encourage the loss of pounds.  Why is it so difficult to keep weight off nowadays?

We all know the typical culprits:  a more sedentary lifestyle that causes us to burn fewer calories each day, long work hours that don’t allow for the preparation of fresh and healthy meals, combined with a ubiquity of fast and convenient food choices which are high in fat, sugar, or both.  However, a recent study suggests there may be another, more insidious cause which we can do little to combat:  hormone-altering chemicals in our environment.

According to a study published recently in the journal PLOS, oil and water-repelling chemicals commonly used in fast-food wrappers, non-stick pans, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, clothing, and some cosmetics are now being associated with unexplained weight gain.

In this study, 621 overweight or obese men and women were followed for two years as they were put on energy restricted diets.  On average, the participants lost 14 lbs during the initial 6 months of the study, but many regained the weight during the rest of the study.  It’s not uncommon for people to regain the weight they initially lose while on a diet.  However, researchers found that those who gained back the most weight also had the highest amount of PFAs (perfluoroalkyl substances) in their bloodstream.  PFAs have already gained a reputation among scientists as “obesogens”, but this is the first time their fat-generating capabilities have been seen in a human study.

The weight gain was due to a lowered metabolic rate, and it’s not yet clear if the extra PFAs caused this lowered metabolic rate, or if the reduced metabolic rate allowed the PFAs to accumulate.  Whatever the case, the correlation is disturbing.  It means that we may have less control over our ability to lose weight than we thought.

Unfortunately, these PFAs are so prevalent in our environment that it’s virtually impossible to avoid them.  They also take a long time to break down, so once they’re there, it’s very hard to get rid of them.

Luckily, the liver is a filtration organ with an amazing ability to break down and remove chemicals and other toxins from our bodies.  Therefore, keeping your liver in the best health possible should help.  We have had many customers tell us of their sudden ability to lose weight once their liver was well cleansed, and it could be due to increased breakdown and removal of these PFAs from the body.  If you are interested in doing some liver and gallbladder cleansing, please contact us for more details.  In an increasingly chemical-laden world, it appears to be our best option for maintaining optimal metabolic health.




Some Not-So-Good News About Coffee


Recently, all the news about coffee has been great.  Not just great – fanstastic!   It has so many health benefits, that many now consider it to be one of the healthiest beverages on the planet.

Due to hits high antioxidant content, and the fact that most people drink more coffee than they eat fruits and vegetables, it is considered the richest source of antioxidants in the average North American diet.  It also contains other beneficial nutrients, like Vitamins B2, B3, B5, manganese, magnesium and potassium.

It boosts brain function, including memory, mood, reaction time, and general cognitive ability.  It boosts your metabolic rate and increases fat burning to help you lose weight.  Due to the release of epinephrine in the bloodstream with the intake of caffeine, it also increases your energy level, which can help with your daily workout.

In other studies, coffee has been shown to have marvelous preventative effects against a score of chronic health conditions, like type II diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver cirrhosis, liver and colorectal cancer, heart disease, stroke, and depression.  Considering all the conditions coffee drinking seems to prevent, I suppose it’s not surprising that coffee has also been shown to extend your life and reduce your risk of death overall.

Amidst all that good news, it was inevitable that something negative would come along soon enough.   But if you really like coffee, you can relax.  It’s not that bad.

It seems that excessive caffeine intake among pregnant women can cause childhood obesity.  The stimulating  effect of caffeine crosses through the placenta easily and can alter how the infant’s brain develops.  Previous studies have found that high caffeine intake increases the risk of miscarriage and can cause restricted fetal development.   This new study shows that excess caffeine intake (more than 200 mg daily) also causes rapid infant growth during the first year of life, and can increase the risk for obesity both as a child, and later as an adult.

In light of this new information, researchers are suggesting that pregnant women reduce their daily intake of caffeine from all sources, including soft drinks or energy drinks, so that they are consuming less than 200 mg of caffeine.  Ideally, they would avoid caffeine entirely.

There is other bad news for those who prefer their coffee black.   I’m sorry to have to say it, but….chances are higher that you’re a psychopath.   In a new study performed by Sagioglou and Greitemeyer at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, it was found that people who prefer black coffee often have psychopathic or sadistic tendencies, compared with people who prefer coffee with cream and sugar.

After asking study participants to report on their taste preferences, each was then subjected to several personality tests, checking for  Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, and everyday sadism.  It was found that those who prefer bitter flavours also showed an increased tendency towards antisocial personality traits, and a negative correlation towards agreeableness.   The more people liked bitter tasting foods, such as black coffee, the darker their personality was.

Previous studies have also shown that bitter-tasting foods or drinks cause people to have harsher moral judgements and express hostility towards others.    It seems that physical disgust (induced after eating or drinking something bitter) also elicits feelings of moral disgust.  So, be careful what you eat!  The more bitter foods you eat, the more bitter you will be too.

I think it’s important to note here that not everyone who likes bitter foods, or drinks black coffee, will be judgemental or sadistic.  But it’s interesting to know that a correlation is there.




E. Coli in Vegetables


Let’s talk about salads.   We love to eat them, particularly in the spring and summer months because they’re so cool and crunchy and fresh.  We also know that we need to eat more vegetables in general because of their high nutrient content.   What better way to “beef” up our vegetable intake than by eating a great big salad every day?

Well, there are a couple of problems with that.  Firstly, and most seriously, there is the increasing frequency of E coli outbreaks in fresh produce.  If you go back a couple of decades, most people were more worried about E coli outbreaks in their meat and poultry products.   Back then, improperly cooked hamburger or chicken were the most common culprits – so much so that a vegetarian diet began to seem, not only the healthier choice, but the safer one as well.

Jumping back to current times, however, and the situation has changed considerably.  According to a 2015 estimate from the CDC, produce is now the most common cause of food-borne illnesses, comprising 42% of all cases, while meat and poultry are the culprits only 22% of the time.   Vegetable row crops, such as lettuce, broccoli, celery, asparagus are most commonly implicated.  A fifth of all outbreaks are caused by lettuce alone.

Which brings us to the most recent E coli outbreak – one that some are calling the worst since 2006, at least when it comes to leafy greens.   It has sickened 98 people and hospitalized 46, including 10 who developed kidney failure.   You may have heard of it.  The suspected cause was a crop of romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona.  Ironically, our newfound preference for fresh, pre-made salads, made with every intention of improving our health, is instead increasing our risk of severe illness and death.

Pathogens in chopped and pre-packaged lettuce are thought to be rinsed off with the use of a special chlorine wash, but studies show that these rinses are only partly effective at removing bacterial contamination.  The reality is that vegetables are grown in dirt, irrigated with water that may be contaminated with cow manure, and then handled by many other people and machinery all along its way to your grocery store.  Bacterial contamination can occur anywhere along this path.  The only sure way to kill pathogens is to use heat, and we prefer to eat our lettuce raw.

This brings us to the second problem with eating salads on a regular basis:  much of the nutrient content of vegetables is lost when they are eaten raw.   Many nutritionists and natural health practitioners will insist that vegetables are best eaten raw because of their high enzyme content, which assists with their digestion and assimilation.   Since cooking will kill off these naturally occurring enzymes,  it is thought best to avoid the heat and eat them raw.

However, while cooking does remove some beneficial enzymes, it also breaks down the cellulose matrix (plant fibre) so that nutrients are more available to your body.  You can see this when vegetables are lightly steamed.  The colour of the vegetables becomes brighter, richer.  This is a sign that the vitamins and minerals in the vegetables have been released, and are now more available to your body.   In Chinese medicine, there is a saying:  “It’s not what you eat, it’s what you assimilate”.  If your body cannot easily extract the nutrients from raw vegetables, then there is no benefit in eating them.

According to Chinese medicine, raw vegetables are also thought to be very cooling, and weakening to your digestive system.  This makes sense.  If your digestive organs have to expend a lot of energy in order to extract the nutrients from raw vegetables, there is a high gross output for little net gain.  When vegetables are steamed or lightly cooked first, part of the digestive process has already been accomplished for them.  The nutrients in the vegetables are now more readily available to your body, resulting in a lower gross output and a higher net gain.

Bottom line:  your digestive organs are less stressed when eating cooked vegetables when compared with raw, and yet still receive a greater reward of nutrients for this reduced effort.   It all translates into stronger, sturdier organs that will retain their vitality well into your years.    And since raw vegetables are now more dangerous to consume because of potential bacterial contamination, this is all the more reason to steam your salad before you eat it.




How to Feed Your Brain


You walk into your bedroom with great purpose, intending to bring something back downstairs with you. Yet when you arrive there, you’ve completely forgotten what it was. You bump into someone in the street, and you -know- you’ve met them before, but at this very moment, you just can’t place them. You were supposed to pick something up for your spouse on the way home from work, but you completely forgot, and so when you arrive home empty-handed, you are greeted with considerable frustration and disappointment.

Naturally, you’re concerned. Is this normal, or are you having an early encounter with that perennial bogeyman of old age – dementia?

According to the World Health Organization, the number of people living with dementia is expected to triple over the next 30 years, growing from 50 million to 152 million by the year 2050. The numbers are staggering, the personal implications are frightening. We’d all prefer not to be counted among that group.

According to Lisa Mosconi, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience in Neurology at NYU, and Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, there’s plenty we can do to prevent that. The onset of dementia used to be considered largely genetic, and also a virtually unavoidable part of old age, but Mosconi says her research proves this isn’t true.

Less than 1% of the population will develop dementia as a result of genes. For the rest of us, the health and resilience of our brain depends on our lifestyle, and that is well within our control. In her new book, Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power, Mosconi provides a very helpful list of the most important diet and lifestyle changes we can make to ensure our brain stays as young and healthy as possible.

First and foremost, drink water, plenty of water! The brain is 80% water, so even a very mild dehydration can cause neurological issues, such as fatigue, brain fog, headaches, mood swings. If you use an MRI to look at the brains of people who don’t drink enough water, they are clearly aging faster, with thinner tissues, and reduced volume. Aloe water is better than plain water because it also contains over 200 active compounds that increase hydration.

Secondly, eat fish. Any kind of fish. According to Mosconi, people who eat a portion of fish twice a week have a 40-70% lowered risk of developing dementia as they age, compared with people who eat no fish at all. It’s likely the polyunsaturated fats in fish that are most helpful for brain functioning, as the brain really craves them. However, fish are also a good source of choline, which is required in the manufacture of important neurotransmitters. As soon as you eat polyunsaturated fats, such as fish, nuts, or seeds, they are sent directly to your brain to ensure it gets its share. Your body gets the leftovers.

Thirdly, berries. Berries are packed with anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory components, and other nutrients that help to keep your brain sharp as you age. Importantly, they are also an excellent source of fibre-rich glucose. And glucose your brain’s only source of energy. This doesn’t mean you should start loading up on cakes or cookies for their sugar content. Your brain specifically wants glucose, and the processed sugar in these kinds of pastries requires conversion to glucose within your own body, which causes it a lot of stress. Most of these sugars will just end up packed in your abdomen as fat. The best sources of natural, brain-ready glucose are beetroot, kiwi fruit, whole grains, sweet potatoes, onions and spring onions, and, of course, berries.

Fourthly, exercise regularly. Studies have shown that when you exercise, nutrients and oxygen can get into your brain better, providing it with the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Exercise also stimulates the release of chemicals that are mentally and emotionally beneficial, and help to keep you free from depression. The most beneficial emotion for your brain is love, so try to surround yourself with people who make you feel loved and appreciated.

Finally, sleep well. Just like the rest of your body, your brain gets rid of waste while you sleep. When you regularly have poor sleep, toxins can accumulate in your brain and creating neuron-damaging inflammation. This inflammation can also accumulate from a Western diet high in processed foods, fried foods, and fast foods, so these should be avoided too. As much as possible, try to eat fresh, minimally processed foods. Foods are particularly nutritious when they’re eaten whole, and contain more vastly more nutrients than you would get from a supplement. They’re also cheaper. So, please try to avoid relying on pills or powders to get the nutrients you need.

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The cells in our brain are particularly hungry, requiring more than 20% of our energy haul. Additionally, we keep them for life. Unlike cells in the rest of our body which are continually replaced, brain cells are built to last our entire lifespan. This means that our brain needs extra care and nourishment to protect it from the onslaught of living. Luckily, scientists like Lisa Mosconi are here to help. Through their continued research, they have provided us with the tools we need to keep our brains functioning as optimally as possible. Now, we just have to follow it.


Ditch the Protein Powder. Eat Whole Foods


We all seek purity in the food we eat and the water we drink, not just for ourselves, but also for our children.  Particularly for our children.  It’s sad that in the modern world this goal has become so hard to meet.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about micro-particles of plastic that have been found in most commercially sold bottles of  water.  Now, a new study has found “concerning” levels of heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium, mercury, as well as toxins like bisphenol A, in most top-selling protein powders.  Powders that we thought were helping us to become stronger and healthier.

The study was commissioned by a Denver, Colorado-based nonprofit company called Clean Label Project.  They took 134 of the most popular protein powders, as rated by Amazon and Nielsen, and then had them tested.  Virtually all contained detectable levels of at least one heavy metal. 70% of them had detectable levels of lead, while 74% had detectable levels of cadmium.  55% also tested positive for BPA.  One protein powder had 25 times more than the regulatory limit of BPA in just one serving.

If you think that organic, or plant-based protein powders would fare better, you’d be wrong.  Organic and plant-based protein powders made from soy and hemp were even more contaminated than animal-based powders and contained, on average, twice as much lead.  “Plants are especially prone to absorbing heavy metals from soil”, says Sean Callan, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and director of operations at Ellipse Analytics, the lab that tested the protein products.  Animals also have their own detoxification systems which filter out some contaminants, which is why animal-based protein powders, made from whey or egg, tend to be cleaner.

The study helpfully provided a list of the five cleanest protein powders, as well as the five who tested the worst.  The top five cleanest brands were:  Pure Protein, Performix Pro, BodyFortress, BioChem, and Puori.  The five most contaminated were:  Garden of Life, Nature’s Best, Quest 360Cut, and Vega.

With this newest report of rampant heavy metal contamination in a large and popular market niche (consumers spent $12.4 billion on protein powders and supplements in 2016), you might be inclined to shrug your shoulders and overlook it, thinking that everything is polluted now.  Maybe it’s just not possible to find “clean” foods or drinks anymore.  However, some protein powders tested quite clean when compared to others, which shows that it is possible for these companies to do better.  A lot of it is just complacency and lack of oversight.

We should also remember that heavy metals, although ubiquitous because of excessive fertilizer use and manufacturing run-off, are not benign.  High concentrations have been linked to cancer, brain damage and reproductive issues.  Cadmium, an active component of battery acid, is particularly toxic because it can accumulate in the kidneys and cause kidney damage, as can excessive protein consumption itself, particularly among those whose kidneys are already weak.

Which leads us to a possible solution:  why use protein powders and protein shakes in the first place?  Most of us can get plenty of protein through a regular, balanced diet.  A 5 oz. container of Greek yogurt has about 17 grams of protein, and 3.5 ounces of chicken has 31 grams.  Both easily match the 15-25 grams you would get from a serving of protein powder, but are more natural, and also less contaminated with heavy metals.   Since your body can only break down a certain amount of protein per hour, it doesn’t make sense to load up with a big serving all at once.

The bottom line:  protein powders and shakes may be tasty and convenient, but most people don’t need them.  Now that we’re aware of their contamination with heavy metals and BPA, we should try to avoid them and get protein from natural, whole food sources instead.






Kitsungi and the Art of Failure


“Kitsungi” is a form of Japanese art that I’ve always found fascinating.   Really, it’s more a method of repair than a formal art as it requires a broken ceramic object, such as a bowl or plate, that is then mended with a special laquer dusted with gold.   What makes this art form so special, is that there is absolutely no attempt made to camouflage the broken places.  In fact, they are deliberately emphasized.

This practice of accentuating damage and imperfection is related to the Japanese philosophy of “wabi-sabi”, which encourages us to see beauty in brokenness.   A similar sentiment is definitely operating at the newly opened Museum of Failure in Sweden, with a traveling exhibit currently in Los Angeles.   The idea behind this odd museum came from Dr. Samuel West, a Swedish psychologist  who noticed, and became sickened, by the modern habit of promoting success, while ignoring the importance of failure.

To his mind, it showed a lack of understanding of how crucial failure is for the creative process.  Successful innovators, like Steve Jobs, would never have achieved the wild success for which they eventually became known, if they hadn’t persevered through plenty of early failures.  Dr. West hopes that the Museum of Failure will make people comfortable with the idea of failure, and no longer fear it.   The fact is, if you want to create anything, you will fail, and fail often.  This doesn’t mean you can’t eventually succeed.

Within the Museum of Failure are nearly 100  items, many well-known, all of which went wrong in one way or another.   Select items include:  Google glasses, Sony’s Betamax VCR, New Coke, the “Bic for Her” pen,  and a Blockbuster video rental case.

Says Dr. West:  “It’s liberating to see these brand-name mega-corporations — who are perfect and never do anything wrong — and see them [expletive] up.  You think, when I try new things it’s okay for me to fail.  It’s okay, it’s inevitable. There’s something beautiful about that.”  The Museum of Failure even has a “confession wall” where you can write your own failure on a Post-It note and share it with the world.

This spring, as the trees start to bud, and the grass begins to grow once again, maybe it’s time to revisit an old dream – one that may have failed before, but with new knowledge and effort, may yet be brought to life.   Take inspiration from the art of kitsungi, or from the many items in the Museum of Failure, and see the beauty in any attempt, even if it’s botched or bungled.  As Leonard Cohen once sang, in a 1992 song  called Anthem:

“Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That’s how the light gets in”.

So, give it a shot.  Let us see your imperfections, unique and precious as they are.  We also won’t miss that special glow you have, that shines through all the broken places from within.




Plastic, Plastic Everywhere


By now, I think everyone has heard of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch“, a much-publicized area in the Pacific ocean where water currents, wind, and other ocean features have naturally converged, allowing various debris to accumulate.  While the name immediately conjures a vast swathe of garbage, mostly in the form of bobbing plastic bottles, that’s not exactly true.   Most of the plastic there has already been broken down into tiny particles closer in size to confetti than yogurt cups.  But this shouldn’t diminish our concern about the ubiquity of plastic in our environment, and what this means about the health of our oceans, and for the sea creatures that live there.

Now, it seems we have even more to worry about.  According to a new investigation performed by scientists at the State University of New York in Fredonia, and commissioned by Orb Media, tiny micro-particles of plastic have been found in our own water supply.   Our bottled water, to be exact.  In this investigation, 250 different different bottles of water were analyzed from nine different countries.  A whopping 93% had microscopic pieces of plastic floating within them, despite claiming to follow rigorous standards for purity.

On average, 325 particles were found in each litre of bottled water being sold, although some brands contained as many as 10,000 per litre.  For the most part, all the particles were larger than the width of a human hair.   Because all brands of bottled water were contaminated, the investigators didn’t feel able to recommend, or warn people away, from any particular company.

You may now be thinking it’s time to switch back to tap water, but a previous study found that it also contained these same micro particles of plastic, although in roughly half the number.  How about water in glass bottles?  Well, the investigators also tested one batch of water from glass bottles for comparison,  and guess what?  That water contained micro-plastics too.

This information is sobering, and appears to mean a couple of things:  1)  our water filtration systems are in bad need of modernization.  Somehow, we need to advance the science of purification so that microscopic pieces of plastic can be removed from our water before we consume it.  And more importantly, 2)  we really need to stop using so much plastic!   Scientists are now estimating that within three decades, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.

In response to this revelatory news, the World Health Organization has announced that it will review the potential health impacts of plastic in drinking water, but this is cold comfort.  We already know that some of the chemicals in plastics, namely BPAs and pthalates, have estrogenic activity, and may also increase the risk of asthma, ADHD, low IQ, autism, male infertility, obesity and cancer.  Particularly frightening is the knowledge that there are other chemicals in plastics whose health effects we do not yet know.

Some researchers have attempted to allay concerns by stating that most of these microscopic plastic particles probably pass right through our systems without having any negative effect.  But this is hardly reassuring considering that they also admit they don’t know enough to be sure.  Microparticles of plastic are so small it’s very possible that they are absorbed into our liver, kidneys, and bloodstream.

So, what do we do with this information?  Considering the ubiquity of plastic in our modern environment, it’s hard to make a recommendation that would make much difference for the safety of ourselves and the people we love.  Individually, you can stop buying bottled water, and use tap water in refillable water containers instead.  Tap water may still contain micro-particles of plastic, but at least it has a lower amount – and it’s free.  As for the rest of the food we eat, we don’t have much of a choice since the majority of products on grocery store shelves are wrapped in plastic of one form or another.

Right now, I’m trying to have faith in human ingenuity, and in science and technology, hoping that they’ll discover some way around this mess that we’ve gotten ourselves into.   We’ve found life-saving solutions to plenty of problems in the past, from the discovery of antibiotics, to the development of vaccines, and refrigeration.  Let’s hope we can find a solution to this problem too.





The Trouble With Rice


Rice has had it rough lately.  Long considered the most easily digested grain, it is often the first solid food given to infants.  It is free of gluten and rarely causes allergic reactions.  It’s a staple food for more than half the world’s population, particularly in Asian countries like China, Japan, and India.

But in recent years, rice has been getting a lot of bad press.  First, there was the revelation that rice can be contaminated with surprisingly high amounts of arsenic.  A category one carcinogen, arsenic is known to cause cancer in humans.  It occurs naturally in soil, but has become increasingly present in our environment because of industrial pollution and fertilizer runoff, which contaminates water supplies.  Unfortunately, rice accumulates more arsenic than most foods, and as a result, is the single, largest food source of arsenic.

But you can select varieties of rice that are less likely to contain arsenic, such as basmati rice, jasmine rice, or sushi rice.  Even more important, you can choose to purchase rice only from areas with less arsenic pollution, such as California, India and Pakistan.  White basmati rice from these areas has, on average, half the arsenic present in other types of rice.  According to Consumer Reports, the highest levels of arsenic were found in rice from Arkansas, Louisiana or Texas.

Unfortunately, the more nutritious brown rice, which still retains the hull of the bran and is high in B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and fibre, is even more likely to suffer from arsenic contamination (80% more arsenic, on average than white rice), but if you choose brown basmati rice from California, India or Pakistan, it has about a third less arsenic than other brown rices.   In the case of arsenic contamination, there is no point in choosing organically grown rice, as it accumulates arsenic just as easily as conventionally-grown rice.

You can also considerably reduce your exposure to arsenic by rinsing and then soaking your rice overnight before you cook it.  Also, instead of using just enough cooking water to be absorbed by the grains, you should use a higher ratio of water to rice.  For example, by using six cups of water for each cup of rice, you can remove an additional 30% of the rice’s arsenic content. Just drain the excess water before eating.  More of rice’s nutrients are lost when cooking this way, but you also lose more of the arsenic.

Aside from these arsenic concerns, a second blow against rice has come from Singapore, a country whose population typically eats 5-6 cups of rice daily.   In response to rising rates of diabetes in Singapore and throughout Asia, Singapore has begun a campaign to reduce white rice consumption among its people.   The heart of the campaign is based on a recent meta-analysis from the Harvard School Of Public Health, and published in the British Medical Journal, showing that for each bowl of rice eaten daily, the risk of diabetes rises by 11%.  Even more sobering is the news that one bowl of white rice contains twice the carbohydrate content of one can of soft drink, and raises blood sugar just as quickly.

Many Asians consider their diet to be better than that of the Western world, as it is mostly devoid of the soda pop and processed junk foods so readily consumed here.   However, as Asians are genetically more susceptible to diabetes, and as they are increasingly adopting a more Western, sedentary lifestyle, the rate of diabetes is beginning to rise there too.  Hence, the warnings about white rice.  Singaporeans are being advised to reduce their white rice intake, or substitute some brown rice for the white rice, to lower their glycemic load.  And to further spur his countrymen into action, Dr. Stanley Liew, a diabetes expert at Raffles Hospital in Singpore, has warned that in terms of sugar content, white rice is just as bad as sodas, pastries, and other junk foods.

Does that mean we, in the West, should also be avoiding white rice?  Not necessarily.  Westerners typically consume a fraction of the rice that Asians do, and most experts here are more concerned about our consumption of soft drinks, and our rising obesity rates when it comes to diabetes risk.   Even in Asia, experts note that rice consumption hasn’t been increasing, and so should not be considered the true culprit in this new diabetes epidemic.  If diabetes is becoming a health issue in Asian countries, it’s more due to a general decrease in physical activity and an overall increase in food intake that’s taking place as Asians become more affluent.

So, where does that leave us, when it comes to eating rice?  Well, in spite of the higher arsenic content of brown rice, it is still a better choice than white rice, health-wise.   If you choose long grain, jasmine or basmati brown rice from California, India or Pakistan, and then rinse and soak it before cooking in plenty of water, you can avoid most of the difficulties with arsenic exposure.   And since long grain brown rice has a lower glycemic index than white rice, it’s better for your blood sugar too.

Just be sure your diet is well diversified, and you eat plenty of different foods.  Rice should not be eaten with every single meal, and should be substituted with other, healthy, whole grains from time to time.  Most dietary issues result from eating one type of food over and over again.  To ensure you are getting a wide variety of nutrients, you should make sure you are eating a wide variety of foods.  After all, as its always been said, “variety is the spice of life”.