Parents have a responsibility to protect their children from aspects of our world that may harm them. This means equipping our kids with the tools they need to make sound decisions themselves as they grow and begin to take on the responsibility of protecting themselves from those potentially harmful aspects of life. The decision making process is not always a simple one as some of the harmful elements of life seem to be readily accepted by large segments of our population.

Mom and child smoking

Take cigarettes for example. Today we clearly understand that cigarette smoking is harmful to humans. But that has not always been the case. There was a time when science had proven clearly that cigarette smoking led to fatal diseases. And yet, it took three to four more decades to put a significant dent in the number of smokers in our country. The American Cancer Society reports that 42% of Americans smoked cigarettes in 1965.¹ In 2011 (the latest year for which data are available) 19% of Americans still smoke! That’s almost 1 in 5!

Q: Why are there still so many smokers?
A: Addiction.

Still, we can be thankful for the reduction – those lives saved. We can also keep striving for a further reduction. I suspect today’s parents are doing a better job of equipping their children with the decision making skills needed for the cigarette challenge. Government taxation is helping too. I am hopeful we will see those numbers continue to drop.

Q: In what way is our parenting environment like the one confronted by parents of 1965?
A: Food.

Today, researchers and doctors have clearly linked a nutritionally deficient diet and common processed food ingredients such as sugar and trans fats to fatal diseases. Like cigarettes, these harmful elements of life do not do harm in the short term; they do their damage over the long run. Also, like cigarettes, some of these food ingredients are proven to be addictive. Sugar and caffeine are the addictive ingredients most commonly used by processed food manufacturers today. But don’t forget that high glycemic carbohydrates such as wheat flour, rice flour, tapioca starch, corn meal, potato starch, and others are processed in the body as glucose (sugar) and can cause the same types of addictions and afflictions.

Like the marketers of cigarette companies in 1965, today’s processed food marketers are utilizing confusing messages and misinformation to slow the rate of decline in the use of their products. The cigarette industry came up with filters and low tar “light” cigarettes to dupe people into thinking they were being healthier. The processed food industry has, for some time now, used tactics such as “whole grains” to trick customers into thinking their products are healthier. Lately, the movement toward gluten free foods has been embraced by processed food peddlers with the introduction of gluten free cupcakes, gluten free brownies and gluten free cupcakes – all loaded with as much sugar as ever, or more. One popular brand of kefir (a fermented milk traditionally known for its health benefits when consumed in a traditional way) is pumped up with more sugar than America’s favorite soda in the red and white can. Another popular fruit juice “stripped of all its clothing” has as much sugar in one bottle as six donuts. These pseudo health foods are designed to play on our addictions and our misunderstandings about healthy eating.

The gluten free cookie is today’s light cigarette. (This is not to say gluten intolerance is not a real phenomenon, rather it is a comment on the way “gluten free” is misused as a marketing tool.)

Ah, but parents are more informed today than they were in 1965. Today’s moms and dads have the Internet. The truth about the toxic nature of sugar, the cancer causing properties of trans fats, and the addictive nature of caffeine (add sugar here too) are known to us. We are armed with the knowledge we need to raise our children to survive and thrive in today’s environment.

boy eating donutGiven what most parents currently understand about the nature of processed foods, allowing or encouraging one’s children to eat processed junk foods or go through the “Golden Arches” drive thru is the equivalent of 1965’s parents allowing/encouraging their children to smoke cigarettes. We look back with the sharp clarity of history and know beyond any doubt that those parents of 1965 were wrong to do so.

Of course, not all parents were promoting cigarette smoking to their children in 1965. There were many enlightened parents who were, as we say today, first movers or early adopters. These parents had sharp judgment for their times and helped us move from 42% to 19%.

History will judge today’s parents in the same way when it comes to unhealthy foods. Our nation is in the middle of a health crisis. We have more overweight children and children who suffer from more allergies, more asthma, more autism, more ADHD, more diabetes, and more digestive issues. Today’s early adopting, enlightened parents are paving the way to a healthier nation. They recognize the smoke and mirrors tactics of the food industry. They are teaching their children to steer around such nonsense.

Today, we parents of 2014 have solid science on our side. We know today’s processed foods are bad for our children and us, and we have the opportunity to let history judge us as the enlightened ones. We need only to take action.

Action comes daily with every shopping decision at the grocery store, every decision to pass by the drive thru in favor of going home to prepare a home cooked meal, and every decision to pack a healthy lunch for our kids as they head off to school.

History will be the judge, but our children will be the true beneficiaries.

Image courtesy of tiverylucky /

Why are we searching for a “cure” for everything? We race for the cure. We walk for the cure. We even crawl for the cure.  Isn’t this a backward approach to dealing with disease? To cure a disease we must first contract the disease. This way of thinking about disease puts the emphasis on post-contraction treatments. I believe this kind of thinking has led us to our overdependence on pharmaceutical solutions and overindulgent lifestyles. We live our lives and align our resources and efforts as if the goal is to get a disease first and then pull a rabbit out of hat to save the day.

Think about it. If we have hope for a cure, there is no need in the short term to avoid a disease. It is easier to convince busy people to think in this way compared to more difficult lifestyle changes. We can indulge in lifestyle choices that put us at risk (but satisfy our short term cravings) and cross our fingers that the cure is found before we need it. Well, those cures we tend to develop come with side effects most of the time. With our racing and walking and crawling, have we become a healthier nation? No. Our nation’s health crisis has gotten worse. We are sicker than we’ve ever been and for the first time, the current generation of children has a lower life expectancy than their parents. Where is the rabbit in the hat we’ve been conjuring up with all our racing, walking and crawling? Of course the financial resources we generate with all this activity do keep pharmaceutical companies and the conventional medical industry busy and well paid.

Perhaps we are going at this the wrong way. In our effort to cure cancer we put little pink ribbons on cups of yogurt that contain refined sugar in concentrations similar to Mountain Dew. We do this while many leading doctors and researchers are telling us that it “…is hard to avoid that sugar causes cancer.” Is this the correct approach to curing cancer?

Isn’t a better approach to PREVENT disease? Why don’t we have the “Race for Prevention?” We should be raising money to fund efforts to educate people about the dangers of processed foods, high levels of sugars, hormones and antibiotics in foods, and color and flavor additives. We should be spending money on an army of educated parents and nutritionists to go into schools and change the diet in our schools. And get rid of the vending machines! Let’s quit teaching “The Diet of Death and Disease” (AKA the Standard American Diet or S.A.D.) in our schools and on our dinner tables at home.

Eating healthy may cost a bit more at the grocery store, but I believe it is far less expensive than doctor visits, hospitalizations, medical treatments, and pharmaceuticals.

Let’s approach this from the right perspective – prevention.

Images courtesy of (

The following article has been reposted with the permission of its author, Thomas King. Thomas is founder and President of Steviva, a wonderful, natural sweetening alternative that will not feed yeast in the gut. Our family uses Steviva brand stevia.

Separating the wheat from the chaff.

If you are already avoiding gluten then you have something in common with NFL quarterback Drew Brees and Cyclist Tom Danielson, a record-breaking member of the Garmin-Transitions team. Both have been gluten free for the past two years.

Drew Brees

Going gluten free has become big business. Sales of gluten-free products grew about 30 percent a year from 2006 to 2010, and will hit $3.9 billion by next year, according to the market research company Packaged Facts. Supermarket shelves are filled with gluten-free breads, soups, and cake mixes—even gluten-free ketchup and soy sauce. According to market research firm Mintel, 10 percent of new foods launched in 2010 featured a “gluten-free” claim, up from only 2 percen t 5 years earlier.

So… all of this begs the question what the heck is gluten and how does it effect me? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, as well as in many common food additives. It’s what gives dough its elasticity and baked goods their satisfying chewiness. But for people with who are gluten intolerant or battling celiac disease—a type of autoimmune disorder—eating foods that contain gluten can lead to a cascade of nasty reactions, including damage to the small intestine, poor nutrient absorption, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, anemia, and fatigue.

Tom Danielson

Even if you don’t have celiac disease, gluten may still be bad for you, says Lara Field, M.S., R.D., a dietitian at the University of Chicago’s celiac disease center. A rising percentage of people in the United States consider themselves “gluten-sensitive.” “These people may have a food intolerance or experience many celiac-type symptoms after consuming foods that contain gluten,” says Field.

Cutting or reducing gluten from your diet may not be as much of a challenge as you think. It simply means that you will need to integrate new gluten free whole grains and flours such as buckwheat, quinoa, millet, teff, sorghum, and wild rice (which is not not really rice but similar to grass seed).

Two-time LPGA winner Michelle Wie is gluten free.

Cutting out gluten can also help you shed a few pounds as well. But, not for reasons you might think. By cutting the gluten out of your life you will find that you will be eating less foods that are high carbohydrate such as bread, muffins, bagels and donuts. And we all know eating too many refined carbohydrates can lead to increased belly fat.


We love the Get Real For Kids Revolution. This organization aims to help parents examine decisions we make daily and equip parents with the information and perspective they need to make healthy decisions for their kids. The video on their website paints the picture beautifully.

We received a link to this video roughly a week ago. We happened to be taking our children to a local zoo for a fun family activity the next day. Having recently watched the video (and having the perspective we do on healthy eating and parenting), our experience at the zoo was an enlightening one. Since our daughter’s autism diagnosis, since learning about the power of food to heal, since becoming involved in this movement, we see our world through a different set of eyes. We see Get Real For Kids helping parents develop a similar perspective – and we love it.

Food options at our zoo's concession stand? Cotton candy, sodas, candies, nacho cheese sauce, Dippin Dots, cookies, etc.

While our girls were enjoying the animal exhibits, I was noticing the food options the zoo had made available for guests (who appeared to me to be about 99.9% families with young children). Food options here resembled those found elsewhere in our society where kids are often present (i.e. fairs, ball parks, malls, and amusement parks) – junk, junk, junk. Junk is not an entirely accurate title for this class of foods – toxic is better.

Cups of nacho cheese sauce at our zoo's concession stand.

We won’t go into detail about the unhealthy ingredients of all these toxic food products, but will offer one example here – the nacho cheese sauce. A leading manufacturer of these sauces used to offer ingredient information on their website, but recently pulled it down from the site. We were, however, able to find the information on a blog linked to the site that had captured it before the information was removed. Nacho cheese sauce ingredients (click on a linked ingredient to learn more about it): CHEESE WHEY, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, CHEDDAR CHEESE (CULTURED MILK, SALT AND ENZYMES), JALAPENO PUREE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SALT, MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE, VINEGAR, SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE, NATURAL FLAVORS, ANNATTO COLOR, COLOR ADDED (INCLUDING FD&C YELLOW 5 AND FD&C YELLOW 6).

Nacho cheese sauce.

We respect the mission of the zoo, which is not only to provide a place for children and adults to interact with nature in ways they might not otherwise, but also to provide funding for animal preservation projects around the world. We support that mission when we purchase tickets to the zoo. But, like so many other fundraising efforts in our society, when it comes time to decide how to raise additional revenue, those decision makers turn to whatever sells best. In our society today, that unfortunately is junk foods.

We won’t go into our views on the addictive nature of these foods, since we have already covered that topic in other posts. However, why do decision makers promote trading our children’s health for dollars – even if those dollars will fund something most people would agree is a noble effort? Then again, who are the decision makers – the person who decides to make these junk foods available or the parents who decide to pull out their wallets and purchase these toxic foods to give to their children? We as parents have a great deal of power to control our children’s health. We were there enjoying the same animal exhibits with our kids, but we chose not to purchase those unhealthy foods. Our children still had a wonderful time and remember their visit very fondly.

Another interesting insight came out of this trip to the zoo. As our family sat down to have a lunch at the zoo’s food court, we noticed a mom with four very hyperactive boys at the table next to ours. She was noticeably annoyed with their behavior. Most things she said were delivered in a frustrated and cross tone of voice. Her children appeared to be eating spaghetti with sauce. As a frame of reference, pastas like spaghetti are high glycemic carbohydrates that are processed by the body as glucose – a form of sugar. A small bowl of pasta will spike a child’s blood sugar just like a can of soda will. Additionally, most processed pasta sauces (like the kind often found in a food court environment like this) have significant amounts of sugar or high fructose corn syrup added to them.

Tula and her sister having fun at the zoo.

In contrast, our girls were sitting quietly while we all ate salads with apple cider vinegar dressing we had prepared ourselves and brought with us. They were content – happy to be at the zoo. We discussed the animals we had seen up to that point and where we’d all like to go next. We were a happy clan.

Back at our neighbor table, mom was still yelling at her boys, but they were not settling down. As they finished their dinners, we overheard the mom ask her boys, “Who wants Oreo Fudge Cremes?” All of the boys said yes to the question except one, who said, “I’m full.” To this the mom said, “What? You don’t want fudge cremes? Well I’m going to have some fudge crèmes.” These boys had already had a meal that had obviously had an effect on their blood sugar as they were wilder than the animals in the zoo. When one of the children made an attempt to self-regulate his sugar intake (though he may not have been consciously aware of what he was attempting to do), his mother pressured him to eat more sugar. Perhaps she could have thought a little more about how her words and actions are perceived by her children.

This is what Get Real is about – taking a moment to think – think about the choices we make, think about the words we say, and to think about the behaviors we exhibit. We applaud Get Real for its efforts.

Photo credit:″>Image: by: arztsamui

There is a law of the universe that goes something like this…

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

This law is immutable, constant and true. It affects the physical universe, the biological universe, and, I would argue, the spiritual universe too.

In examining the impact of this law one can take two differing approaches – a reductionist approach or a holistic approach.

In physics, the reductionist approach often works well in explaining our universe. Complex systems can be broken down into a simpler systems and result in insightful tools like Work = Force X Distance.

In biology however, systems are complex. Proteins are gathered together with other molecules and communicate with each other via chemical messages. Individual cells react in stunningly complex ways with a nearly incomprehensible number of other cells who react in different ways. When systems get this complex, it is foolhardy to rely too heavily on a reductionist approach to explaining the system.

This is a problem with the way our modern society approaches medicine – we try to reduce everything down to simple terms. It seems to me the result of this approach over time has not been the development of healthcare system, but instead a “diseasecare” system. Each time a patient visits a doctor with a problem, the goal is to put that patient’s issue into a neat little box – defined as a disease or a set of symptoms. Modern medicine has put on a collective set of blinders that drive it to seek “bandage” approaches to healing. Is healing even the right word for this?

Let’s examine the concept of healing for a moment. Healing is defined as the act or process of regaining health. Yet, today so many of our medical protocols simply mask symptoms rather than reestablishing true health in a patient. For example, if a person sees a doctor for a persistent itching anus, he or she is likely to receive a topical lotion or medicated pad to alleviate symptoms at the site of the discomfort. This does not address the fact that the patient very likely has a yeast overgrowth issue in his or her digestive tract most likely caused by a poor diet that has resulted, over the course of months perhaps years, in a yeast overgrowth. This overgrowth causes the irritation.

Our diseasecare system is driven by dollars. Doctors don’t get paid unless they diagnose a disease or set of symptoms. These diagnoses are listed on the patients billing statement in the form of a diagnostic code. This code is necessary for the doctor to receive payment from the insurance company. No code – no compensation for services rendered. Additionally, this code (diagnosis) then dictates, more often than not, the approach the doctor must take to address it. The result is often a “bandage” on a symptom instead of addressing the root cause of the health issue.

Human biology is a very complex system. To reduce a situation like itching anus down to simply the site of the irritation is to look at a very narrow region of the issue.

Issue: Itching anus

Bandage approach: Topical ointment or medicated pad

Result of bandage approach: Continued problem (now covered up) that continues to cause other detrimental health effects over time.

Root cause approach: Change to a diet that promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and reduces the number of pathogenic yeasts in the gut, such as a low sugar, low carbohydrate diet that incorporates fermented foods and probiotics.

Results of root cause approach: Addresses true health issue and stops further degradation of overall health.

The root cause approach is more often than not a natural way to address health issues. In other situations the bandage approach may not only mask symptoms, but may also come with side effects of its own that cause other health issues over time. Example:

Issue: Shoulder injury

Bandage approach: High dose NSAID protocol (i.e. 600mg ibuprofen four times daily for two weeks)

Result of bandage approach: Swelling reduced at site of irritation and pain is relieved, but underlying injury may not be changed. Additionally, NSAID destroys beneficial microflora in the G.I. tract and causes a degradation in immune function as well as possible harm to intestinal tract lining.

Root cause approach: Avoid injury by encouraging strength maintenance (regular exercise). If injury still occurs, recommend anti inflammatory diet, supplementation, yoga with modifications or perhaps pilates.

Results of root cause approach: Addresses true health issue before it starts (are doctors honest enough with patients and do patients listen well enough?). In case of injury, a natural approach to healing takes more time, but ultimately results in a healthier stronger body.

The other facet of this situation needing close examination is the role of the patient. What role does he or she play? Who is ultimately responsible for his or her health? Many people don’t want to take on the responsibility of changing diet or exercising more – or both. They might argue that a quick visit to the doctor for a prescription topical ointment is cheaper than eating healthy nutritious foods. After all, nutritious foods are more expensive.

But if we simply put a bandage on the situation and allow a larger underlying health issue to fester, ultimately we will incur much higher costs when we develop further, more serious consequences. It takes a certain amount of financial resources to be healthy (another big issue our society needs to address). We pay it one way or another. Wouldn’t most of us choose to spend those dollars at a natural foods grocery than at a hospital? Today that is not the case. So who has the blinders on – the doctors or us? Who are the reductionists – the doctors? No, they are smarter than that. We are the reductionists here and the doctors work in a system that needs to satisfy our desires (or they don’t get paid).

We have to ask ourselves if we want true health and, if so, we need to commit to it and take responsibility for our health (and our children’s since their health is in our hands). If you haven’t already figured it out, the financial responsibility of our healthcare is being shifted back to us, the individual. It always belonged there anyway and, as I outlined in the previous paragraph, never really left us. We can pay it at the grocery store or we can pay it in the form of medical premiums, deductibles, and “patient responsibility” charges.

Given that every action has an inevitable reaction, which action will you take – the bandage action or the root cause action?

Image credits: by africa by Stuart Miles by David Castillo Dominici

The following is a letter my wife and I sent to the American Psychiatric Association today regarding proposed changes to the diagnostic criteria for autism. If these changes are implemented, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of children will not receive the kinds of care they desparately need. If you feel the same way, I hope you will also voice your opinion with the APA. Contact the American Psychiatric Association

February 17, 2012

American Psychiatric Association

1000 Wilson Boulevard
Suite 1825
Arlington, VA 22209

Regarding: Proposed Changes to the DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Autism

To Whom It May Concern:

We are writing you today to voice our concern over proposed changes to the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for autism. We do not believe they should be changed and we strongly encourage the American Psychiatric Association to reconsider this possible action.

One of our daughters showed signs of autism at an early age. She was socially detached, would not make eye contact, had sensory issues, would self-talk, had severe gastrointestinal distress, and was overly anxious. Near age three, she was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). This diagnosis allowed us to get her much needed multispecialty therapies, including biomedical therapies.

These therapies, with a focus on both her gastrointestinal health as well as behavioral therapies, resulted in a significant improvement in our daughter. At age 5, her PDD-NOS diagnosis was dropped. More importantly, today our daughter is a happy, healthy little girl who is socially connected and is academically on pace with her peers. Her future looks very hopeful.

We are concerned that changes to the diagnostic criteria would deny millions of other children the same hope. We know definitively that our daughter’s autism was treatable. We know a combination of different therapies, INCLUDING AND ESPECIALLY BIOMEDICAL THERAPIES, directly contributed to her improving.

We strongly encourage the American Psychiatric Association to halt further movement toward changes to the current diagnostic treatment.

Furthermore, we encourage the APA to investigate the role of gastrointestinal flora in autism and other psychiatric conditions. There is some very interesting research being published on the connection between gut microbiota and brain chemistry and behaviors. We also suggest the APA look more closely at the tangible results thousands of parents, doctors, and other medical practitioners are achieving with autistic children.

In the meantime, please do not deny critical help to millions of these children and their families; do not change the current diagnostic criteria until more is known about this treatable disorder that affects so many of America’s children.


Michael and Holly Larsen

(and our daughter…)

Additional resources:

A physician’s perspective.

If you walk into any tavern in America and stand at the bar for several minutes, there is a good chance you will hear one inebriated person having a conversation with another. You will hear statements like, “Oh come on Joe, have one more drink. You’ve worked hard all day – you deserve another one.”  Joe might reply, “I’ve got to get home to the family.” Which is followed by, “just one more – I’m buying.” Joe will give an approving smile and order another drink. Rarely will they discuss how many drinks Joe has had up to that point, how pressing his other obligations may be at the time, or how Joe’s long term historical rate of alcohol consumption may be weakening his health. Instead, there are only smiles, laughter and another round.

Or you may hear one bar patron joke with another, saying something fun like, “Sure drinking kills brains cells, but only the weak ones.” This is followed by more laughter and gayety.

To most people these situations appear to be, simply, people having fun. But to someone with an intimate knowledge of addiction and alcoholism, they instantly recognize this behavior as the “culture of alcoholism.” The focus is on the fun of the moment. Alcoholics will “rationalize” their drinking with statements like the ones above, while the assessment of the moment is not rational at all. It is a culture – one forged over time in bars and taverns. It’s easy to see how, over time, one’s participation in this culture can have detrimental effects on a person’s health, family life, friends, and work life. Most of us have seen this scenario play out in the life of someone we know or maybe even in our own lives and know the severity of the consequences of participation (true, long term participation) in the alcoholic culture.

Now let’s picture in our minds another scene – a dinner party among a few neighbors and friends. There aren’t any overly inebriated people at this table. There is laughter, sober discussion of topics both light and serious, and food. For this imaginative effort, let’s assume there are children at the table too – and like all children, these youngsters are being “socialized” into their parents’ culture with every observation they make – and they are watching.

At a scene like this, you can easily expect to hear one dinner guest say to another something like, “Mary, would you like another piece of my cheesecake?” Mary may put up a show and retort, “I really shouldn’t,” which is often followed by, “Oh come on, one more piece won’t kill you.” Then Mary takes another piece. As Mary takes another piece, other guests will take additional cake too, since they won’t stand out as the only one. No one stops to assess the situation. No one asks, “Ok before you take the cake Mary, did you have a doughnut at the gas station this morning or a soda with your lunch or a couple cookies at the office?” Too often, Mary may have had all of those things that day.

As the children then ask for more cake, parents do not deny them, since to do so after indulging in more cake themselves would create a double standard. If this dinner party is taking place in the U.S., statistics say 30% of the people at this table are likely to be obese.  This is very typical American food culture. See any similarities between the two examples?

Back to our alcoholics…Inevitably, an alcoholic has some event take place in his or her life that drives them to seek help and break out of the alcoholic culture. Once out, they find life very strange and uncomfortable at first. They don’t know what to do with themselves, they are used to behaving in a certain way – the alcoholic culture way. They idea of life outside that culture scares them. With support and effort, they eventually learn a new way of life and find it wonderful. Conversely, some alcoholics don’t seek help and don’t make an effort to break out when they reach that event. Eventually they do stop drinking because more events follow. One of those events kills them.

Our food culture permeates our lives everywhere.  There are sodas within arm’s reach at every turn. Coffee shops load up latte’s with sugars and unnecessary calories on every street corner. There is a plate of cookies near the printer in every corporate office in America, doughnuts at every gas station, a drive thru on every corner. My daughter and I were working on a project for her school’s science fair and picked up some supplies at JoAnn’s Fabrics recently. To check out, we were steered through an aisle of candy and toxic junk foods all placed at child’s-eye-level for God’s sake! Most of us are so entrenched in the culture, we don’t even see it. Many of us purchase these toxic foods without even thinking about it – without a rational assessment. Sound familiar? I get it – I did it.

But I and my family broke out. We left our food culture. At first life seemed strange. We didn’t know what to put on the dinner table. We didn’t plan dinner parties with neighbors and friends because we didn’t know what to serve. I got hungry at work because I didn’t know what to pack for myself and I don’t visit drive thrus anymore. But I learned. Now I have a wonderfully interesting diet, with many options to choose from. I am healthier than I’ve ever been. My waistline is the same as it was when I was 20 years old. What was my event? Answer: My daughter’s autism diagnosis. I often call it our “wakeup call.” That snapped me out of our food culture and caused me to make rational assessments, which then changed my behavior for the better.

What will your event be? What will our nation’s wakeup call be? Perhaps the uncovering of Paula Dean’s diabetes will be our national wake up call. Sadly, I think it will take more. More and more parents are walking out of a doctor’s office with a disturbing diagnosis for one or more of their children – autism, allergies, diabetes, asthma, ADHD, etc. Or, they are leaving with a diagnosis of their own. The United Nations, with the help of the World Health Organization, recently declared lifestyle diseases as the killer of more people worldwide than infectious diseases. Heart disease, cancer and diabetes are examples of lifestyle diseases.

I see some encouraging signs, however. Traffic at health foods stores is growing. The natural and organic foods industry is growing. People are discovering the importance of probiotics and fermented foods. Growth in the health club industry is up in spite of the economic downturn of the past few years. People are preparing more meals at home – taking control of their food supply. Parents who’ve sought their own solutions to their children’s health issues have spoken out about their successes. This has driven researchers to examine ideas that were once thought farfetched, yielding new understandings about the way our bodies function and the impact of diet on our physiology (such as the newly discovered connection between gastrointestinal bacteria and brain chemistry, anxiety, depression, and autism¹).

This is my favorite facet of the new emerging American food culture – the impact everyday people are having on the old systems. People are experiencing an awakening – an awakening to the importance of diet, an awakening to the shifting burden of responsibility for our health, and an awakening to the growing toxicity of our traditional food supply chain. Every day in our country, thousands more people decide to take control of their own health and break away from the old food culture. These are exciting times we live in.

What is your event going to be? Perhaps you’ve already had your event and have made changes in your life. Or perhaps you are one of those blessed people who make changes before health consequences occur. If you haven’t made these changes yet, I encourage you to consider them and join the latter group before you join the former. I’ve been living in our new food culture for over three years now and I’m loving it. I’ve never been healthier or happier. I wish that for everyone. You can do it, and remember, Good Health Begins in the Gut.


Image credits:


I am happy to repost this article written by hellaD. She has some wonderful insights regarding the role of microbiota in not only our gut health, but in systemic, whole body AND MIND health. She is a big proponent of raw fermented foods.  Read hellaD’s blog here. -Michael


Every day I see more information coming out about the amazing variety of ways in which beneficial microbes assist the human body in healing, absorbing nutrients, functioning, interacting, and much more. Our relationship with these tiny organisms is so intricately twined that we still have a long way to go in teasing it apart. In the meantime, we are better off approaching the whole system with honor and respect as suggested by Michael Schmidt and many others. The quality of the soil is what will effect the quality of the plants growing on it as well as the animals then raised on the plants. If the whole cycle is understood and worked with we have a world of wonders, but if we think we can kill and sanitize everything we will find we have killed and poisoned ourselves as well. We are just big bags of micro-organisms in the end.

Microbes may play crucial role in human health, researchers discovering

“Gut bacteria have figured out a way to network with our immune system so it doesn’t attack them,” said Sarkis K. Mazmanian of the California Institute of Technology.

The microbiota apparently sends signals that dampen the “inflammatory response,” a crucial defense also thought to play a role in a variety of diseases, including many forms of cancer, the “metabolic syndrome” caused by obesity, diabetes and heart disease.


The theory is that one reason some people may be prone to these diseases is that they are missing certain microbes. One anti-inflammatory compound produced by a bacterium appears to cure the equivalent of colitis and multiple sclerosis in mice, both of which are caused by misfiring immune systems, Mazmanian found.

Role in obesity?

Similarly, studies indicate that gut dwellers secrete messengers to cells lining the digestive tract to modulate key hormones, such as leptin and ghrelin, which are players in regulating metabolism, hunger and a sense of fullness.

Pregnant women often take antibiotics, and young children can get several rounds to fight ear and other infections, which can kill off these companions. Farmers commonly add antibiotics to animal feed to fatten their animals faster.

“We may have a generation of children growing up without the proper bacteria to regulate their leptin and ghrelin,” Blaser said.

Obese people appear to have a distinctive mix of digestive bacteria that make them prone to weight gain. Thin mice get fatter when their microbiota is replaced with the microbes of obese animals.

“Our ancient microbiome is losing the equilibrium it used to have with the host — us — and that has profound physiological consequences,” said Blaser, who published his concerns in a paper in the journal Nature in August.

Microbes and the mind

Clues also are emerging about how microbes may affect the brain. Manipulating gut microbiomes of mice influences their anxiety and activity, Swedish researchers reported in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This may have implications for new lines of thinking to address some of the psychiatric problems you see among humans,” said Sven Pettersson, a professor of host-microbial interaction at the Karolinska Institute. “Together with genetic susceptibility, this may influence what doctors classify as autism or ADHD.”

In another experiment involving mice, a Canadian-Irish team reported in August that bacteria in the gut appear to influence brain chemistry, and corresponding behaviors such as anxiety, stress and depression, via the vagus nerve.

“What we’ve shown is, you change behavior as well as make changes in the brain,” said John Bienenstock, director of the Brain-Body Institute at McMaster University. “Now we have direct proof how that happens. That’s why this is exciting.” Read More

Do you ever think about how your food gets to the grocery store? Who are the key players in that chain and how do their practices and policies affect the nutrition and healthiness of the foods we feed ourselves and our children? As our national health crisis grows, more people are taking their health into their own hands and looking for healthier food options at the grocery store. Who are their partners in this quest for health – food manufacturers, grocery distributors, grocery retailers? In regards to the food manufacturers and grocery retailers, our nation’s food supply chain is a mixed bag; many are good partners, many or not. Some manufacturers make it their mission to improve the health of their customers. Some are actively improving (i.e. Pepsico’s steady shift from a soda company to healthier foods company), some are not (i.e. Hostess® [maker of Twinkies® who recently filed for bankruptcy]).

The same goes for grocery retailers. Some retailers, such as cooperative (co-op) and natural foods grocers, strive to stock their shelves with healthier products and seek efficient direct relationships with healthy foods manufacturers. They are willing to take a smaller (yet still profitable) markup to offer their customers healthier choices at prices they can afford (healthy foods cost more to produce – nutritional content in foods is directly related to costs – nutrition costs money). Others, such as conventional grocers, big box stores, and pseudo-health foods mega chains choose to take larger markups and purchase all their products from one or two large distributors that make stocking their shelves easy. These stores avoid more cost effective direct relationships with healthy food manufacturers.

That leaves the distributors. What are they doing to improve or worsen the situation? I would argue, as a group, they’re practices and policies are worsening the healthiness our food supply chain. They are impeding innovation in healthy foods. Here is how…

For the purposes of this examination, let’s consider a healthy, raw, flax seed cracker. This cracker is a healthy choice because it is full of omega-3 fatty acids which are known to promote cardiovascular health and prevent cancer. Furthermore, it is a healthy choice because it is raw – meaning the natural enzymes contained in the flax seed are not destroyed by baking. These enzymes contribute to better digestion and nutrient absorption.

Here is a hypothetical breakdown of the flax seed cracker supply chain.

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows typical markups taken by manufacturers, distributors, and conventional retailers.

Manufacturer profit:      $0.20

Distributor profit:           $0.42

Retailer profit:                  $0.65

Figure 2

Figure 2 shows how a cooperative or natural foods retailer is willing to take a more modest markup to bring healthy foods to consumers. They do this because they are a less profit-driven and more concerned with serving their communities. Of course they need to make some money to pay staff and cover overhead expenses.

Manufacturer profit:      $0.20

Distributor profit:           $0.42

Retailer profit:                 $0.41

Now let’s suppose government subsidies for growing corn causes farmers to switch from growing flax to growing corn (a quite realistic scenario). The reduced supply of available flax will cause an increase in the price of flax. The flax seed cracker manufacturer will now have to pay more to produce the same crackers. The manufacturer will have to either pass on the increase or take a smaller mark up. The manufacturer knows the distributor and the retailer will not change their markups and, for this reason, the manufacturer will likely decide to pass on only a portion of the increase and absorb the rest – resulting in a lower profit for the manufacturer. So let’s suppose the manufacturer’s cost to produce the same cracker goes up $0.65. The manufacturer will pass on only $0.50 of that increase and take the remaining $0.15 as a loss in profit to help keep the final retail price down.

Figure 3

Sticking with the same cooperative/natural foods retailer, Figure 3 shows the impact this $0.50 price increase.

Manufacturer profit:      $0.15 ($0.30 markup minus the $0.15 he/she absorbed as loss)

Distributor profit:           $0.63

Retailer profit:                 $0.60

Notice how, despite the increases in the cost to produce the food further up the supply chain, the distributor now makes even more money? They have no skin the game, as they say. Their costs to warehouse and transport the food are the same. Of course the local retailer makes another 19 cents in this case too. The consumer pays an entire $1.00 more and the food manufacturer makes less.

What are the implications of this?

  1. Consumers are less motivated to purchase this healthy food because it costs too much. While they may want to eat healthier, they are likely to look for less costly foods (which will most often be less healthy since nutritional content in foods is directly related to costs).
  2.  Food manufacturers are motivated to make products with cheaper (less nutritious) ingredients. The foods offered into the marketplace become less healthy out of financial necessity.
  3. The higher retail price for these foods causes them to sell more slowly, so they sit on the shelf longer. Retailers end up throwing expired product away causing them to seek foods with longer shelf lives. This pressures manufacturers to adopt more unhealthy practices to increase the shelf lives of their products, such as pasteurization (which destroys nutrition in foods) or the inclusion of unhealthy chemical preservatives. The raw flax seed cracker in our example is healthy because it is raw. However, this manufacturer might be forced to bake the cracker to extend its shelf life, even though doing so makes it far less nutritious. Or even worse, they will eliminate the flax as an ingredient and replace it with refined flours from corn or wheat which are cheap (largely in part due to subsidies), but unhealthy.

What can we do to improve this situation?

First, we can accept that healthier foods cost more and be willing to make the necessary tradeoffs in our lives to commit to healthier eating. (I would argue the opposite approach costs us much more in medical expenses down the road. Have you looked at what you pay for medical insurance premiums lately? Do you think the price of those medical premiums is tied in any way to our nation’s eating habits – you bet it is.)

Second, we can choose to shop at retailers who are willing to have direct relationships with manufacturers. Let’s look at the impact this simple change has on our hypothetical flax seed scenario.

Figure 4

Manufacturer profit:      $0.41

Retailer profit:                  $0.62

Figure 4 shows how the manufacturer can pass on the flax seed price increase in full and take a slightly higher markup to cover his costs to transport the food to the retailer (since the distributor is no longer there to handle this task). The local retailer may even take a larger markup and still deliver a lower retail price to the consumer than is possible under the model with the distributor in the mix (Figure 3).

So I encourage you to do what my family has done. We stopped shopping for groceries at a conventional grocery store. This single change alone has had a profoundly positive impact on our overall health. Yes, we spend more on groceries now, but we are healthier and we fully expect to pay less in medical costs down the road. We joined our local cooperative grocery store and encourage them to purchase directly from manufacturers to help keep our costs as consumers down and afford them a greater profit (which they can use to pay more to their employees –  helping our local economy.)

I hope you will consider similar changes in your life (if you haven’t already made them). We are happy we did. Help eliminate the distributor in your personal food supply chain. They’ve historically proven to have little interest in promoting your health or helping your pocketbook.

As I write this, autism affects an officially estimated 1 in 80 children (1 in 50 boys) in our country. Recent studies suggest autism is more prevalent than those numbers indicate. It is truly epidemic. The incidence rates of ADHD in children have grown 22% from 2003 to 2007.

Obesity is rampant. Watch this enlightening and frightening map of obesity rates in the U.S. provided by the Center for Disease Control. When it completes, I suggest clicking “stop,” clicking “previous” to rewind to 1985 and hitting “play” to run it again. Keep in mind these are not the numbers of people considered overweight; these are the people considered OBESE! The numbers would be worse if it included overweight people.

The number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the U.S. has risen from roughly 1.6 million in 1960 to roughly 19.5 million in 2009. That’s an increase of over 1200% in only two generations! The diabetes growth rate is greatest in children.

Auto-immune disorders are on the rise. Allergies are increasing at epidemic rates. Asthma is on the rise with 9.6% of children diagnosed vs. 7.7% of adults (meaning children are afflicted more than adults).

Gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease and colitis are more prevalent in the U.S. and other developed countries than in other areas of the world.

The current generation of Americans is the first generation with a life expectancy shorter than their parents’.

Add to all this recent studies on the connection between gut microbiota (AKA “friendly bacteria” or “probiotics”) and brain chemistry, autistic behaviors, depression and anxiety.¹ Also, include recent Mayo Clinic research linking probiotics to improvements in a myriad of health conditions.² Finally, consider that 70-90% of the body’s immune cells reside in the gut. When I combine all this information with my experience in treating our daughter’s autism through diet, probiotics, and a focus on gastrointestinal health, and one thing becomes clear to me…

Our nation is sick – very sick – and it is addicted to sugars.

Where does this sugar addiction stem from? My experience suggests to me it is gut health –related. I theorize that yeasts, fed by a diet high in sugars and high-glycemic carbohydrates (which metabolize as glucose [sugar] in the body) are driving that addiction. These yeasts, in the amounts they are prevalent in our bodies today, are parasites. After considering conversations I’ve had with a microbiologist regarding yeasts’ ability to communicate via chemical messages and protect themselves against threats (for example building up and hiding in protective biofilms), and considering the aforementioned studies linking gut microbiota to brain chemistry and behaviors, I further theorize that these parasites communicate with the host and drive the host to eat the foods they need to survive. Yeasts live on sugars. I believe those sweet cravings we feel are really the yeasts driving us to consume more sugars – for them. We don’t want another cookie – the yeast do. We don’t want a plate of pasta that large – the yeast do. And like most parasites, over time, the infection takes a toll on the health of the host.

That is my theory, documented here. Time will tell if I’m right or wrong. In the meantime, I will continue to feed myself and my family foods that do not promote the growth of yeasts in our guts. I will continue to seek live, raw, fermented foods with healthy probiotics and enzymes that heal the gut and, through the mechanisms I’ve described above, promote overall health and vitality. I’ll avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary and, when I do need them, I’ll increase my intake of fermented foods and beverages with probiotics to counter the devastating effects the antibiotics have on my personal microbiome. I’ll avoid other environmental toxicity that chips away at my microbiome, such as antibiotics in water, meats and dairy. I’ll drink filtered water and buy grass fed, antibiotic free meats. I’ll continue to shy away from conventionally grown foods with herbicides and pesticides which destroy friendly flora in my gut and choose organic whenever possible. And most of all, I’ll avoid sugars and limit high-glycemic carbs.

Other posts in this blog highlight how I used to eat the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.). They document my past weight problem, bouts with depression and anxiety, and, when I changed my eating habits, the “brain fog” I felt disappear. Most of all, Tula’s story describes how a condition once thought to be purely psychological, can be positively affected by a gut-healthy diet, fermented foods, and probiotics.


All disease data and statistics pulled from Center for Disease Control web site.

¹ Emmanuel Denou, Wendy Jackson, Jun Lu, Patricia Blennerhassett, Kathy McCoy, Elena F. Verdu, Stephen M. Collins, Premysl Bercik. The Intestinal Microbiota Determines Mouse Behavior and Brain BDNF Levels. Gastroenterology, Vol. 140, Issue 5, Supplement 1, Page S-57 [link]