Strengthening immunity through diet

Okay, readers, I posted on the basics of the immune system. If you missed that post, click here to read it. Bare bones version: we have an innate immune system that immediately goes to work against pathogens, and a slower adaptive immune system that kills pathogens, remembers them, and confers immunity by producing antibodies to those specific pathogens.

Since SARS-CoV-2 is a novel (new) virus, our adaptive immune systems have nothing to remember, which explains why it is so contagious and why it is taking so many people down. We don’t know yet if this virus will mutate and evade adaptive memory. Can people get it twice? We don’t know.

In this post, I want to explore how what we eat and drink affects our immune systems.

In general, eating lots of fruits and vegetables is recommended for the fiber and nutrient density, as is moderate to no alcohol consumption. Maintaining a healthy weight is also recommended.

There’s a lot that we don’t know yet about the highly complex immune system, but we do know that malnourished people are more vulnerable to infectious diseases, as are the elderly. You of course are aware that you do not have to be living in poverty in a third world country to be malnourished. Diets high in processed foods (a first world problem) can result in malnourishment.

Micronutrients that affect immune responses

The micronutrient deficiencies that have been shown to alter immune responses in animals include the following:

  • zinc
  • selenium
  • copper
  • iron
  • folate
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin E

Foods high in these nutrients are recommended, and if these foods are unavailable, supplements should be helpful. High quality multivitamin and multimineral supplements can help.

I found this cool website where you can select a micronutrient and see what foods are high in it. Did you know that hemp seeds are high in zinc? I didn’t.

Stomach acid declines with age, which impacts nutrient absorption

Older people are more likely to be deficient in micronutrients. One possible factor is that stomach acid production declines with age. Zinc deficiency, high sugar intake, and eating too quickly also contribute. Stomach acid helps break down food for digestion and absorption of nutrients.

A way to remedy this is to take HCl, hydrochloric acid, with meals. Chewing food thoroughly, limiting processed foods, eating fermented foods, drinking apple cider vinegar in water, and eating ginger are recommended ways to boost stomach acid production without taking an HCl supplement.

The gut microbiome influences the immune system, and vice versa

Seventy to eighty percent of immune cells are found in the gut. The gut microbiome provides antigens and influences immune system cells. Food is a foreign substance introduced into the body, and the immune system decides if it’s beneficial or a threat. These two systems regulate and support each other.

When all is well, the immune system helps maintain stability of beneficial gut microbes, and microbes support the development of immune cells, as well as fine-tuning immune responses.

Keeping the gut microbiome healthy includes:

  • Not taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary,
  • Consuming prebiotics — nondigestible fiber feeds the health-producing gut bacteria. Eat lots of veggies and fruits for fiber.
  • Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and beet kvass increases beneficial micro-organisms in the gut.

Improving gut health and reducing gut inflammation (leaky gut)

One concern about the modern diet is that it may produce systemic inflammation through gaps in the cells that line the small intestines. This is called leaky gut, or intestinal permeability. These gut lining cells produce the anti-microbial chemicals that are part of the innate immune system.

Here are some recommendations to reduce gut inflammation:

  • Avoid processed, high fat, and high sugar foods.
  • Avoid common allergens, such as wheat and dairy.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Investigate a low-FODMAP diet.
  • Add foods with probiotics (kefir, yogurt, kimchi, etc.) and take probiotic supplements.
  • Add foods with prebiotics (bananas, berries, etc.). Prebiotic supplements are available.
  • Reduce your use of NSAIDs.
  • Reduce your stress level.
  • If you smoke, quit.

Working with a nutritionist can be very helpful.

This is Day 7 of sheltering in place in Austin, Texas. Here’s our case count as of last night. We’ve had another death. We’ve been getting roughly 20 more known cases per day.

Expect the case count to go up quite a bit tonight. There’s a report that a group of 70 people (mostly UT students) in their 20s went to Cabo in Mexico for spring break a week and a half ago, and after returning to Austin, 28 of them have tested positive, so far. About half the cases in Austin are still those ages 20-40.

Here’s a poignant video showing the empty streets of normally bustling Austin. The sentiment at the end says it all.

Beet kvass: an easy fermented drink you can make at home to build vitality and resilience

Once upon a time, people didn’t know about viruses, bacteria, or hand-washing. They tended to live shorter lives than we do now. They got sick more often, and a whole lot more infants and children died than do nowadays. It was rare for people to live past 60.

But they were observant, and they developed practices like yoga and Qi gong to strengthen and balance their bodies, to keep their energies vital and strong. They created medicines from herbs that we now know have anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal properties, without knowing about these things. They walked everywhere and grew their own food and got plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.

Think about it: all their food was organic because there was no alternative! They enriched the soil with manure and dead plants. The soil produced healthy food. The water was clean for the most part, the air unpolluted. They saved seeds from the best plants. They stored what food they could, and they fermented foods to strengthen and lengthen the nourishment.

In Russian and Eastern Europe, they made a fermented drink called kvass, from bread and other things. In Ukraine, they made kvass from beets, which are easy to grow, produce leafy greens you can also eat, and keep well. Kvass was common in every kitchen during those long cold winters and kept people healthier than they would otherwise have been.

Kvass may have even kept viruses at bay, or at least minimized the severity. We’re all very interested in that now!

You can make your own beet kvass at home, and here’s what you’ll need:

  • A jar — quart size or larger.
  • Filtered water (tap water has chlorine in it, which will slow fermentation).
  • Good non-iodized salt.
  • A medium to large beet.
  • A little bit of sauerkraut juice or whey from the top of plain yogurt (not whey powder).

This recipe below makes half a gallon. Put equal amounts of each ingredient into two quart jars if that’s what you have. If you want just one quart, halve the recipe. If you want to make a gallon, double the recipe.

I like to use an organic red beet, medium to large in size. Rinse any dirt off and cut it into half-inch cubes. Do not peel or scrub. You want 1 to 2 cups of cubed beets. Place them in the half gallon jar.

Fill the jar to an inch below the top with filtered water.

Add 1/2 teaspoon good salt.

Add 1 tablespoon of sauerkraut juice or whey.

Stir and put the lid on.

Every day, open the lid to let any fermentation gases off so pressure doesn’t build. If any scum forms on top, scoop off as much as you can.

Knowing when it’s done: The water will have turned a beautiful deep red color that is opaque — you can’t see through it any more. The water has thickened a bit to have more viscosity.

Beet kvass, day 1.
Day 4. Notice the brine has gotten more opaque. Could be ready on Day 5 or 6.

You can start tasting it on day 3. Beet kvass tastes earthy, salty, and tangy. This is hard to imagine because there’s nothing else quite like it. The flavor strengthens each day.

When I tasted my first batch, I didn’t know if I’d like it, and I just tasted a tablespoon of it. Wow! It’s a unique flavor, and my body wanted more so I drank more. I’ve been making it ever since.

Taste it every day for 7-10 days, and when you feel it’s done, put it in the refrigerator to stop the fermentation. Then drink some with every meal.

You can strain and refrigerate it, keeping 1/2 to 1 cup of the kvass and the beets and starting over to make another batch. Add filtered water and salt as above. Remnants from the first batch serve as a starter for the second batch. What’s not to like about that??

I recommend making this plain version the first time. You could add slices of ginger root or whole cloves to the next batch.

In my experience, it’s not worth it to try making a third batch. Too much of the goodness has left the beets by then. Start over with fresh beets and compost the old ones or add them to broth or soup. (They still have some flavor and all the fiber.)

And while you are making it or drinking it, you can imagine old Ukrainian ladies in their babushkas making this for their children and grandchildren to increase their vitality and resilience.

And you can imagine this kvass delivering all kinds of health-giving properties to your digestive system and immune system. (Seventy percent of your immune system is in your gut.) The probiotics from fermenting, plus the nutrients from beets (Vitamin C, folate, magnesium, potassium, iron, and more) make this a nutrient-dense food.

Easy roasted banana dessert

My friend Kris made this and shared, and wow, it was so delicious, I had to try it at home. It’s so easy, I’m sure I’ll be making it often to satisfy my desire to have something sweet without any kind of added sugar or sweetener.

Roasting fruits and veggies brings out the sweetness.

You’ll need a few ripe bananas. The skin should have some brown spots but not be solid brown. A few is 3-6 bananas. I saved them in my refrigerator until I had enough.

Image courtesy of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Preheat your oven to 350. Peel the bananas and place on a sheet pan. For easy cleaning, use parchment paper under the bananas. Roast for 20 minutes. Remove from oven.

Place the roasted bananas into a blender. Add one can of full-fat coconut milk. (I prefer organic with no guar gum, which Trader Joe’s carries.)

Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Blend to a consistent creamy texture. Pour into a jar or glass container and refrigerate for a few hours to help it firm up before eating.

You could sprinkle it with ground Ceylon cinnamon and/or cardamom for a little added spice if desired. It makes a delicious dessert, and it’s simple.

Hot green nourishing soup

I don’t know about you, but after the excesses of holiday eating, I’m so ready for something simple and nourishing.

I was inspired by a recent segment on The Splendid Table podcast about basic green soup.

I also am a big fan of The Soup Peddler‘s (colorful Austin vendor of soups, juices, smoothies, and more) green detox broth.

Here’s my mashup, made in an Instant Pot using an immersion blender. I now have some good simple eating for the week and some to put in the freezer.

You can easily make this vegan or Paleo using your own adaptations. Recipes are for inspiration!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons of ghee, bacon grease, coconut oil, or olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • black pepper to taste (optional)
  • 3 cups water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup Arborio rice (improves texture after blending)
  • 16 cups of leafy greens, herbs, broccoli, and zucchini (whatever is green and in season), coarsely chopped
  • 4 cups water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth
  • a pinch of cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • any other seasonings desired
  • olive oil to garnish

Steps:

  1. Set Instant Pot to saute and add fat, onions, salt, and pepper.
  2. Stir occasionally while cooking for 5 minutes, lid off.
  3. Stir, put the lid on, seal, and pressure cook for 20 minutes. Release pressure and remove lid. Onions should have a nice caramel color.
  4. Stir in 3 cups water or broth and 1/4 cup Arborio rice. Put the lid on, seal, and pressure cook for 1 minute. Release pressure manually and remove lid.
  5. Stir in the green veggies and add 4 more cups water or broth to Instant Pot. Pressure cook for 4 minutes. Release pressure and remove lid.
  6. Use an immersion blender in the pot, blending until contents are liquified.
  7. Add cayenne and lemon juice to taste. Adjust seasonings as desired. Garnish with olive oil.

Nutrients for the aging brain

I subscribe to Science Daily, and at a minimum, I check out the headlines for the results of studies in the almost-daily emails they send me. I follow up on a few, reading the plain-language synopses of scientific studies that may be over my head in terms of using “science-use”.

This one caught my eye: Nutrients in blood linked to better brain connectivity, cognition in older adults.

Many of my friends and integrative bodywork clients are 60+. I myself take supplements and try to eat a healthy balanced diet. I was curious: Am I getting the right nutrients to nourish my brain?

The article cites a study that shows that higher levels of specific nutrients is robustly linked with higher brain connectivity and performance on cognitive tests in older adults. They looked at 32 nutrients in 116 healthy adults age 65-75. They also invited 40 participants back after two years and got the same results.

Rather than surveying participants on their diets, they looked at biomarkers in the blood. This would show what’s actually being absorbed.

They also used fMRI technology to look at how local and global brain networks performed, to see how many steps it took to complete a task on several cognitive tests.

This appears to be a very robust study.

What they found is that indeed, several nutrients are linked with higher brain performance. The nutrients are:

  • omega 3 fatty acids (found in salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed, hempseed, avocados and more — amount should be higher than omega 6)
  • omega 6 fatty acids (found in flaxseed, hempseed, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and nuts)
  • carotenoids (found in red, orange, and yellow vegetables and fruit)
  • lycopene (a carotenoid found in red tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and papayas)
  • riboflavin (Vitamin B2, found in eggs, organ meats, lean meats, mushrooms, spinach)
  • folate (Vitamin B9, found in dark green vegetables, dried legumes, eggs, beets, citrus)
  • Vitamin B12 (found in organ meats, clams, sardines, fortified nutritional yeast, other fortified foods)
  • Vitamin D (found in sunlight on the skin and supplements — no foods contain enough to prevent deficiency)

The researchers found that higher levels of omega 3s in particular boosted the functioning of the frontoparietal network, which supports the ability to focus attention and engage in goal-directed behavior.

My take is to eat nutrient-dense foods every day for every meal. I eat wild salmon (it can be canned) or sardines several times a week, keep nuts on hand for snacking, eat the healthiest eggs I can get at least once a week, buy large bags of baby spinach and broccoli at Costco, enjoy fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and watermelon in season, make a delicious chicken-liver paté, and eat dried beans almost daily. I cook with olive, avocado, ghee, and coconut oil.

Also, take note of what foods are not listed. What are some shifts you could make to improve your brain health?

I also supplement with Vitamin D and a methylated B complex. If you have had genetic testing that shows you have an MTHFR mutation (which I do), when you buy Vitamin B supplements, be sure the label says folate instead of folic acid and methylcobalamin (B12) instead of cyanocobalamin. If you don’t know if you have an MTHFR mutation, get these methylated versions of these nutrients because it’s estimated that 60 percent of Americans do have a mutation.

If you’re interested in using my online dispensary and saving 30% on good quality supplements, you can sign up for a Wellevate account here.

Making and using umami powder


The Splendid Table podcast had a guest caller who shared her recipe for umami powder, in October 2017. She’d grown up in Japan, and after returning to the U.S. as an adult, experimented and came up with this flavor-enhancing powder that you can add to American favorites as well as East Asian ones.

Here’s the episode (the umami power segment starts at 41:30 and ends at 46:30), and here’s the recipe. I thought I’d share my experience making it, as well as ways to use it.

Ingredients:

  • 1-oz. package of bonito flakes (makes 6 tablespoons)
  • 1 oz. bulk dried shiitake mushrooms (or if not available in bulk, a small package — use the rest in soups)
  • small package of kombu (with what you don’t use for umami powder, add half a sheet when cooking dried legumes — it takes the gas out, and you can fish it out before serving )

Tools:

  • coffee/spice grinder
  • medium-size bowl
  • kitchen scale
  • scissors
  • small whisk

Instructions:

  1. Fill the coffee/spice grinder with bonito flakes and pulverize into a fine powder. Empty the grinder into the bowl. Repeat until all the bonito flakes are ground up.
  2. Do the same with the shiitakes. You may need to manually break large ones up to fit into the grinder. Repeat as needed. Add the shiitake powder to the bonito flake powder.
  3. Place sheets of kombu on the scale and add/subtract to get one ounce. Use scissors to cut 1/4″ strips of kombu lengthwise, and then cut across the strips to make 1/4″ squares. 
  4. Put these into the grinder and grind to a fine powder. Add to the bonito and shiitake powder.
  5. Whisk the three powders gently to mix well. 
  6. Makes 1 cup of light, fluffy powder. I stored it in a jar, and you could also put some in a spice container for sprinkling on food.

The originator of this recipe, Erica from Seattle, recommends adding the powder to burgers, meatloaf, and “a savory oatmeal that was phenomenal”.

She also mentions adding it to seafood soups to make them taste like they’ve simmered for hours.

Other ideas:

  • Sprinkle it on food as a seasoning.
  • Use it to add flavor to sauces and broths.
  • Add it to savory porridges like congee.
  • Sprinkle it on a piece of fish before cooking. 
  • Sprinkle on chicken before baking.
  • Add to ricotta with herbs to make spread for toast or crackers.

Have you made umami powder? How have you used it?

Jazzy InstantPot Wild Rice Pilaf

I got myself an InstantPot (deeply discounted during Amazon Prime days in August), and I’ve been experimenting with it. I’ve added wild rice and legumes back into my diet after eating Paleo (grain- and legume-free) for years, because my body functions better with the extra fiber. My doctor says they act as prebiotics, feeding healthy gut microbes. I feel good!

I’m loving wild rice! It’s got a nutty taste, a pleasing chewy texture, and is a native American food full of fiber.

I’m also loving InstantPot cooking. Even people who “can’t cook” can just follow the many recipes now available and come out with good food in not much time.

I’m a jazzy cook — I like to improvise from a master recipe, which this is. A pilaf is perfect for that: it’s a traditional Middle Eastern/Indian rice dish cooked in a broth, to which you add whatever you’ve got on hand that “goes with”.

fullsizeoutput_480I use the InstantPot’s Sauté function to soften a chopped onion (and/or shallots) and a couple of stalks of celery in olive oil or butter or ghee. You can add chopped garlic if you like, right before adding a cup of wild rice — garlic scorches easily. Mix well, sauté for another minute, and add 3 cups of mushroom, vegetable, or chicken broth.

I switch to Pressure Cook (high) and set the timer for 15 minutes, with the vent closed. When the timer goes off, I let it sit for 10 minutes and open the vent.

Then I stir the additions in while it’s hot! I like to add 1 cup of cubed cooked chicken, 1/2 cup pecan pieces, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1-2 cups roughly chopped baby spinach, 1 cup thinly sliced baby Portobella mushrooms, and 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley.

Mix well. The mushrooms and spinach should wilt from the hot wild rice. If not, put the lid back on the InstantPot and set it to Keep Warm.

Here’s the creative part:

  • Instead of chicken, add turkey or duck.
  • Instead of pecans, try walnuts or almond slivers or pistachios.
  • Instead of cranberries, add raisins — or sprinkle fresh pomegranate seeds just before serving for their gorgeous color, texture, and flavor.
  • Substitute chopped kale or chard (minus thick stems) or another mild green for the spinach.
  • Add any herbs you like. Sage, thyme, and rosemary would definitely work, in my opinion.
  • Adding green onions at the end adds flavor and color and texture.
  • To balance the sweet savoriness of the pilaf with cranberries, add a bit of a good tasty vinegar, lemon juice, or dry wine (not cooking wine, usually too salty). Add by the teaspoon and taste often to avoid adding too much.

Mix well. The mushrooms and spinach should wilt from the hot wild rice. If not, put the lid back on the InstantPot and set it to Keep Warm.

If there’s extra liquid, you can pour it off, add a tablespoon of chia seeds to thicken, or leave it soupy. To make it creamy, add cream cheese or sour cream to taste and stir well to melt and blend.

Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

I invite you to see what you have on hand, sense if it would fit well with the other ingredients, and experiment! Share in the comments what worked for you!

Updated products I recommend

I’ve updated this page with some new recommendations! New for 2018: the book How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, a new online dispensary for supplements, stainless steel drinking straws, a hand/face/body lotion, and more.

Happy shopping!

 

Treating TMJ issues: a series of posts

I’ve been writing about TMJ pain and dysfunction on my Facebook business page and on my Austin, Texas, USA, private-practice website’s blog. Now I’m sharing an index of these posts here on my “big blog”.

If you have TMJ disorder and want to read any of those posts, here are the links.

I view TMJ issues as not just biomechanics, although it plays a role. This issue has social, emotional, historical, biological, cognitive, and spiritual aspects. I am very aware that some people, especially in the mainstream medical and dental fields, may believe it’s unnecessary or even laughable to provide information on so-called “woo-woo” or “fluffy” topics like essential oils, yoga, and the throat chakra for people who are suffering from jaw pain and dysfunction.

So let me share how I came to write this series of posts. Instead of just going to experts (and I have done that), I also asked women who suffer from this problem what helps, and they told me. And I believe them!

Since nine times more women than men experience severe, chronic TMJ issues, this is super valuable information to share.

I want the world to know that TMJ treatment is available beyond night guards, pain meds, and surgery, and there are so many options for self-care: massage, exercises, training yourself in new habits, reducing stress, improving posture, acupressure, nutrition, stretching, journaling, meditating, and more. I’m working on designing programs to evaluate and treat specific TMJ-related issues. More later!

If you bump into this limited and limiting attitude, please share this post, and please share in the comments your experiences and any other resources you have found helpful.

Sensible eating for healthy weight loss: my best practices and desired habits

I have put on some extra weight and I want to take it off. I already eat a fairly healthy, mostly Paleo diet. I was thinking about the mindset and habits I want to cultivate. I’m looking at what’s worked for me in the past and some new best practices.

Twice since 2000, I’ve lost weight: the first time, I lost 35 pounds, of which 20 pounds crept back on for a few years, and then I lost the 20 pounds and kept it off for a few years. Those 20 pounds have crept back on over the past 7 years.

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 12.06.00 PM

Courtesy: Diethunters.com

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