Category Archives: Nutrition and Health

Nine surprising reasons U.S. healthcare costs the most, yet delivers the least overall (part two)

Part one discusses three reasons for our costly, yet ineffective healthcare system that have little to do with legislation: our malpractice system, our culture of unhealth, and poor nutrition that creates chronic inflammation within our cells, which, in turn, manifests chronic diseases. Part two discusses the consequence for treatment that is doled out, the lack of functional medicine, and that it is nearly impossible to comparison shop for medical procedures.

Keep them coming back for treatment
Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal, author of An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back lists 10 “economic rules of the dysfunctional medical market” in her book. Her rule number two is, “A lifetime of treatment is preferable to a cure.”

During an interview on NPR, Rosenthal, while referring to rule number two, said, “One expert in the book joked to me … that if we relied on the current medical market to deal with polio, we would never have a polio vaccine. Instead we would have iron lungs in seven colors with iPhone apps.” (How U.S. Healthcare Became Big Business, NPR, Fresh Air, Terry Gross, April 10, 2017).

Functional medicine
Functional medicine assesses everything a patient does in order to get the patient and doctor working together to address the root causes of illness and needed lifestyle modifications.

This functional, integrative, approach worked for me. I have a chronic health condition that was made much, much worse courtesy of ineffective treatment — I was hospitalized eight times between the ages of 18 and 26. I have since reached middle age without a trip back to the hospital save for two trips to the maternity ward.

What changed? I learned how to take care of myself. This took lots of research, including identifying triggers and a number of lifestyle accommodations, such as keeping my blood sugar steady, letting go of crash diets, and exercising nearly every day.

Change is tough. Most people don’t significantly change their routines without a lot of support. Health coaches can help patients trade their unhealthy habits for healthy ones.

Nearly impossible to compare prices
Story after story abounds of patients futilely attempting to research prices for necessary surgery or medical equipment in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal reports that it is getting a tad better (How to Research Health Care Prices, guides.wsj.com ). However, the trickier the research at hand, the longer it takes, and most consumers are becoming more and more time challenged by workplace, commuting, educational, fund raising, and other demands.

(end of part two of three parts)

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Nine surprising reasons U.S. healthcare costs the most, yet delivers the least (part one)

What’s lost in all this discussion about repealing the Affordable Care Act is that U.S. healthcare costs more than every other industrialized nation, yet delivers some of the worst returns. United States Comes in Last Again on Health, Compared to Other Countries (Maggie Fox, nbcnews.com, Nov. 16, 2016), “Americans still pay far more for medical care than people in other rich Western nations but have little to show for all that spending.”

Other countries handle their healthcare differently — they create less expense, but produce healthier, more productive citizens. The way our malpractice insurance system is structured, a culture that promotes unhealthy practices, processed food leading to chronic inflammation, which triggers chronic illnesses, overuse of pharmaceuticals, ignorance as to the role addiction plays, lack of functional medicine, and that it is nearly impossible to compare prices for medical treatment are some of the surprising reasons the entire U.S. economy is held hostage to its healthcare system.

Malpractice not the same in Europe
In single-payer systems such as Germany’s, doctors are not independent operators, they are employees of hospitals, and the hospitals are held accountable and the ones sued. Malpractice therefore is less onerous and less costly. “In the other countries, where doctors working in a hospital are employees, there is internal quality control,” Professor Uwe Reinhardt, Health Economist Princeton University (Frontline, Sick Around the World, How Does it Work for Doctors in These Five Countries?, pbs.org).

The Library of Congress explains further, “The causes of liability for medical malpractice under German law are similar to those encountered under the laws in the United States. German damage awards, however, are still much lower than those awarded in the United States, even though the German awards have increased in recent years.

“The German health care system provides universal access and coverage for the entire population. It is, however, a decentralized and diversified system that consists of more than 200 insurers that compete with each other to some extent,” (Library of Congress: Medical Malpractice Liability: Germany, loc.gov).

Culture of unhealth
Much of our culture subtly promotes and rewards illness and injury, which, in turn enriches pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and law firms. Some examples:

  • Apartment buildings inches from freeways – asthma anyone?
  • Sleep treated as optional – Alzheimer’s, obesity, auto accidents… (The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington showcases the research regarding the consequences of sleep deprivation.)
  • Sugar on every corner – eating too much sugar and processed food leads to chronic inflammation of the arteries
  • Sitting nearly all waking hours — Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death (Julie Corliss, Harvard Health Blog, January 22, 2015, health.harvard.edu)
  • Nutrition treated as a nice to have as opposed to disease prevention
  • Financial stress — post-2008 Sharing Economy…
  • Lack of exercise

And then there’s the job juggle. The more jobs, the more hours, the more commuting the average citizen has to endure, the more the health risk factors pile up.

Poor nutrition creates markets for high-priced pharmaceuticals
Recurrent miscarriages and the ticking of my biological clock prompted me to improve my nutrition. I have, at times, struggled with extreme eating habits since childhood. I found the help I needed to change in a support group that practiced a spiritual discipline. I knew I was an emotional eater, but I discovered that I was sugar sensitive and had an addictive response to sugar and white flour. I learned tools such as planning meals, meditation, outreach calls, and journaling that provided alternatives to overeating and helped me to change my habits.

Hundreds of individuals passed through those meetings. Some had lost 100 pounds or more and had kept the weight off for years. Many had lost 30 to 50 pounds. I used to think that the only consequence from eating too much processed food was gaining weight, but I repeatedly witnessed members sharing significant health improvements with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and more. Many no longer needed pharmaceuticals to treat their chronic conditions. Not only had they changed their nutrition, but they had changed their attitudes and their lifestyles to make the changes stick.

Preventing heart disease with nutrition
Several cardiologists explain why magnesium and healthy eating are generally the answer to heart disease, not statin drugs.

“We know that inflammation in the artery wall is the real cause of heart disease. Simply stated, without inflammation being present in the body, there is no way that cholesterol can accumulate in the wall of the blood vessel and cause heart disease and strokes. Without sufficient magnesium in the body inflammation results and it is the inflammation that causes cholesterol to become trapped. Quote?” (“Inflammation and Pain Management with Magnesium,” last modified on Feb. 9, 2017, drsircus.com).

“There is no escaping the fact that the more we consume prepared and processed foods, the more we cause inflammation in the body. The human body cannot process, nor was it designed to consume, foods packed with sugars and soaked in omega-6 oils. Treat the inflammation and not the cholesterol (“Treat the inflammation and not the cholesterol,” July 16, 2015, drsircus.com)

I only touched on the link between how eating an abundance of processed food year after year helps to manifest chronic illnesses.

(end of part one of three parts)

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Is losing weight all about breakfast?

I hate being hungry, and I am not good at it. I get grumpy. I get rude. The only benefit is that, while in the throes of hunger, I manage to teach my two children self-sufficiency. “Dinner! Did you forget how the stove works?”

When I am hungry, I eat. The only way I ever stabilized my weight was by ridding myself of my incessant hunger. But that was before having a job that has me tethered to a desktop computer all day on top of a serious commute on top of spending my weekends driving two kids to playing fields in three different counties. I still work out five times a week, but for less time and with less variety. Over the past two years I have gained 14 pounds.

I grew up slender, but my weight skyrocketed after I flunked out of college for the first time and quit dancing regularly. Blood sugar was not yet in my vocabulary, and I had no idea that I was sensitive to sugar. I spent nearly 20 years on a succession of diets gaining and losing 40 pounds. It wasn’t until I was in a race against my biological clock to conceive my second child that I began researching nutrition and did something I never imagined I could do — I gave up sugar and white flour. Without dieting, but with the help of a support group, those 40 pounds disappeared for nine years.

Sugar Sensitivity
A teaspoon of sugar in my tea I can handle, a scoop of ice cream I cannot. I end up with my head in and out of the freezer all night until the half-gallon of Jamoca Almond Fudge has disappeared. Visit Radiant Recovery for everything you wanted to know about sugar sensitivity, but were afraid to ask.

Less movement means you get to eat less, but that only works for me if I can become less hungry, which requires mastering the art of maintaining stable blood sugar. Researching how to calculate glycemic index and glycemic load gave me flashbacks of flunking organic chemistry; basically, different foods affect your blood sugar to dramatically different degrees. And the equation for each food changes in conjunction with what else you eat that food and its portion size. For example, the glycemic load of eating an apple changes if you eat that same apple with almond butter. For an explanation regarding everything glycemic that won’t give you a migraine, read Jonny Bowden’s blog, The Blood Sugar Factor Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load.

What I settled on was experimenting with different foods and tracking the calories consumed. I forgot to pack my protein bars for Christmas vacation, and during those 10 days I noticed that I was not as hungry. Post-protein bar, I tend to average 1,800 – 2,000 calories a day as opposed to 2,000 to 2,800 calories a day. I also noticed that what I ate for breakfast influenced how hungry I became the entire day.

Yummy Healthy Breakfasts
Protein is a must for stabilizing blood sugar. These breakfasts provide me protein and comfort:

  • Small sweet potato with two fried eggs – For two eggs, the average glycemic load is zero, which balances the glycemic load of the sweet potato.
  • Scrambled eggs with chopped vegetables – Trader Joe’s reasonably priced Healthy Six contains five servings of six raw, chopped vegetables.
  • Steel cut or regular oatmeal with nuts and fruit
  • Non-fat Greek yogurt with almonds or walnuts and cut-up frozen or fresh fruit sweetened with Stevia
  • Non-fat milk and chocolate flavored protein powder – This is the only breakfast I can eat while driving.

The first three I make the night before; I use the office microwave to heat them up.

Eggs and Breakfast
Research galore indicates that eggs for breakfast stabilize blood sugar and promote weight loss. Shape.com’s The Best Breakfast for You offers several breakfast options for those seeking a more slender shape including several that feature eggs.

So far, I have not lost any weight, but I stopped gaining and suspect that given the amount of time I sit, I might need to go back to a Paleo regime.

In case you like TMI… I had gained that same 14 pounds within two years of working at my current job and then lost those unwanted pounds in four months by loosely following the Paleo diet (Paleo Diet Month Two). It took almost exactly another two years of Desk Lady diet to reclaim those same 14 pounds.

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Budget for Lunch

This is a spec humor column I wrote … Not enough pain though to make it funny enough for Funny Times…

Budget for Lunch

“Is that all you’re having for lunch?” my friend Sylvie said as I sat down with my latte at the Grove’s outdoor picnic-style table.

“Of course not,” I responded as I extracted from my purse a peach, a packet of almonds, and a protein bar–some marketing genius’ name for a candy bar with protein powder and brown rice syrup that lets you convince yourself you’re eating healthy.

She still looked skeptical so I took a deep breath and said, “I’m on a budget.” I immediately wished I would have lied and said what is more than socially acceptable and always elicits sympathy, “I’m on a diet.”

“I would have bought you lunch,” she and our other day-tripper said in stereo.

“I know, but I’m enjoying some of my favorite things. This latte is a huge treat for me. For five bucks, I even got to tip the barista.”

Sylvie had already provided the transportation from Long Beach and the free entertainment—tickets to watch Bill Maher run through his monologue and other comedy bits before taping his show.

Maher’s conviction and delivery made me laugh so hard that I forgot all about my budget for the rest of the day. And although I am really good at it, it is hard to feel sorry for yourself when the government shutdown had closed the doors on Head Start, stranded soldiers killed in the line of duty overseas, and unemployed hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens.

Trying to shed expense is like trying to shed pounds. Unlike the government, you have to examine all of your consumption and all of your habits and be willing to change.

Two days later I met up with my friend Emily at my office, which others insist on calling McDonald’s. Emily the dynamo, a former sales manager for a national company that formerly had budget for provocative prime-time commercials, has run the Marina Pacifica Job Club for the last four years while juggling several part-time jobs.

Participating in her job club helped me land my current job. Twice a month her job club hosts speakers, conducts workshops, facilitates networking, offers mock interviewing, and provides plenty of protein bars.

Emily scrutinized her tray and said, “How did I get to seven dollars? I thought I was buying a snack.“ She lifted her burrito as if to weigh it and added, “My eyes must have wandered from the Extra Value menu.”

I sipped my one-dollar iced tea as she continued, “Leslie and I are bringing our own coffee to Starbuck’s and sneaking onto the patio to job hunt online. Isn’t there something wrong with that?

“And forget service. I don’t dare step foot into a restaurant with service. I haven’t had a professional job in five years. I can’t afford service anymore.”

“Neither can I. The only way I get service is when I bribe my kids with extra media time.”

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Aspartame Doomed my Love Affair with Diet Coke

Diet Coke, that perfect combination of carbonation, sugar, caffeine and cola flavor has been in my life longer than any relationship.  Sweetened by Aspartame, it does not cost me any calories, but does Aspartame:

  • Make me hungrier and eat more
  • Tax my liver thereby making my metabolism less efficient and burn fewer calories
  • Provide hits to my neurological system and threaten my health

I don’t doubt that Aspartame and other food additives could wreak havoc with a certain percentage of the population’s health, but how big a percentage? I can easily conclude that Aspartame does nothing beneficial for me, but is it really toxic?

Decide for yourself – these websites provide opposing viewpoints:

“Excitotoxins are substances believed to cause brain damage and damage to the central nervous system. 
Excitotoxins tend to affect the hypothalamus portion of the brain, which controls important bodily functions such as growth, sleep patterns, puberty and even appetite.”

So I go back and forth with my aluminum knight in silver and red, Diet Coke.  I can go several months without one, but start craving it when my projects collide at work.

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Paleo Diet Month Two

The more I study nutrition, the less I know…  In six weeks I lost approximately five pounds (five to ten to go), but more significantly my taste buds are changing, I am eating more fruits and vegetables, and I am less hungry.

Paleo Diet in a Nutshell

Dr. Cordain, a PhD in health, spills all his secrets on his website thepaleodiet.com.  His What to Eat on the Paleo Diet page tells you which food groups to eat and which ones to avoid.  In summary (85% of the time), everything except grains, dairy (eggs are the only allowed dairy), refined sugar, salt, processed foods, potatoes, and refined vegetable oils.

Lisa Rudy from Huntington Beach, California has been on the Paleo Diet 14 months and says, “I wasn’t expecting a sense of improved mental clarity.  I would say it was quite dramatic.  It was an unexpected welcome benefit.”

Rudy admits, “At first you feel like it’s a lot of work.  After a while it just becomes second nature.”

Cordain’s research is convincing, but I know too many healthy, productive, good-natured individuals who eat grains to believe that this restrictive diet is for everyone.  For those of us with sugar sensitivity, this could be a reasonable plan.

Cordain does make convincing arguments about the detrimental effect of a typical American diet in regards to:

  • Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • High content of Omega 6, which wipes out the benefits of Omega 3 such as reducing symptoms of mental disorders including depression and schizophrenia
  • Acid-base balance and how it affects calcium retention and osteoporosis
  • Insulin levels that bounce around and affect mood and energy levels

Benefits of Protein

Quoting Cordain (The Paleo Diet, revised edition 2011), “Remember, protein is your ally in weight loss and good health.  It lowers your cholesterol, improves your insulin sensitivity, speeds up your metabolism, satisfies your appetite, and helps you lose weight.”

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Eating Breakfast While Driving

To save time, I eat breakfast on the way to work.  Ideally, something quickly prepared that packs nutrition, balances my blood sugar, and keeps me driving safely.  I am not hungry in the morning, but if I eat something within an hour of waking up, I am more alert, less hungry, and less rude all day.

Open-Faced Sandwiches

Eating an open-faced sandwich is like getting two sandwiches instead of one.  I usually use Ezekiel bread (80 calories, 4 g protein, and 3 g fiber per slice) and eat half my sandwich on the way to work and top it with:

  • Grilled cheese, bread and cheese toasted together in the toaster oven (Ezekiel bread is dense, so it can toast well done.)
  • Scrambled eggs with a little cheese and garlic powder (from a batch scrambled the night before that will keep for a few days)
  • Peanut butter and apple, strawberry, or banana slices
  • Cold cuts (often Foster Farms 3 lb variety turkey pack from Smart and Final)

Lettuce, Bell Pepper, or Nori Instead of Bread

Or you could wrap your cold cuts, scrambled eggs, garden burger, or leftover turkey burger in lettuce, flattened-out bell pepper, or seaweed wrap.

Protein Pancakes

Sarah the Body Builder often prepares these the night before for her morning commute.

  • ½ cup oatmeal
  • ½ cup blueberries (frozen no sugar added)
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder

Blend. Slap on griddle. Enjoy!

 Nuts

  • In a pinch, a bag of mini almonds
  • Walnuts, almonds, pecans or cashews mixed with berries or other fruit

 

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