Monday, March 26, 2012

Healthy is not a woman eating cereal in yoga pants...

adj \ˈhel-thē also ˈhelt-\
: enjoying health and vigor of body, mind, or spirit : well 
Why do so many people let marketing and advertising ploys tell them what healthy is? Guess what, that 30 something white woman with perfect skin and a veneer smile sitting in yoga clothes on her living room floor enjoying diet smart cereal probably more than she enjoys sex has likely never actually eaten a bowl of whatever cereal she's promoting. She's a paid actress and doing a damn fine job convincing the American public that she in fact got that amazing body, skin, teeth and hair simply by over enjoying that bowl of obnoxiously crunchy cereal. That commercial in combination with some fancy lettering on the cover of the box and a prescription style checklist of 'ingredients' like high fiber and whole grains leads you to believe that you are making the best choice of your life by purchasing this cereal and eating it every morning.  If a company has to spend millions to convince you the product is healthy, there is a really good chance it is not a good choice at all.

Taking the step to decide for yourself what is healthy is very empowering. If you really care about your health and the health of your children or loved ones then read the ingredients list and know how to read nutrition labels. Education is the most effective weapon anyone can have to fight obesity.

The grocery aisle is a scary and confusing place. It has taken me years to learn the technical language of the ingredients list and I am still confused from time to time. Thankfully there are many resources that can help you navigate your way through the artificial jungle and help you make healthy choices.

There are 4 things to consider when buying food at the grocery store: 
  1. If it doesn't have a label it is good for you. Keep the dirty dozen and clean 15 in mind when choosing produce, but for the most part fresh fruits and vegetables are always a good choice and you do not need a label to prove it.
  2. Daily nutritional requirements. Yes there are all natural, organic choices that just exceed your daily nutritional requirements. Read the nutrition information and take note of the suggested serving size. I tend to scan first to the calorie count, then to sugars and finally to sodium. Some fats are good so don't shy away from a product just because it isn't fat free, it should all contribute to your overall daily nutritional requirements as part of a well balanced diet.
  3. Actual ingredients list. If you stop at the nutrition information you're still missing a lot of key factors when deciding if a product is healthy or not. A diet coke may check out ok as far as nutrition labels go, but is a terrible choice for your overall health. It is crucial to familiarize yourself with potentially dangerous sweeteners, preservatives and artificial colors and flavors and avoid these at all costs.
  4. Everything in moderation and balance. Too much of anything is never a good idea. A wide variety of nutritious foods will give you the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy and strong.
An app to help you along the aisle

Fooducate iPhone App
I know there are several apps now available to help you understand nutrition labels and translate ingredients and I will be honest I have not tried all of them, but I am very fond of this one. Fooducate goes beyond just reading labels and helps you decode the advertising on the front of the box with warnings such as "'Natural' is an unregulated term!" or "Look out! Not 100% whole grain." You can also view comments that other people have submitted about the product and add products to your own grocery list. Fooducate gives me resources and information on controversial ingredients like BHT which is an additive used as a preservative. This app will also recommend products that are similar to your choice but may have received a higher overall grade. Best of all it was free.

Eating is all about choices and does not have to make your life miserable. There is always a 'clean' alternative to the junk food you love the most. Educate yourself.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Juice Cleanse

Papaya, spinach, lemon and orange juice.
Juice Cleanse Recipe.
Everyone has heard of a liquid diet or juice cleanse by now, with exception of those having permanent residence under a large rock. With most buzz words or fads there are misinterpretations and misuse of the intended benefit.

Juice cleanses are for overall health, not a weight loss plan or quick fix of any sort. The crappy news about life is achieving what you want takes work, time and commitment. A juice cleanse is just a part of the overall healthy lifestyle.

This was supposed to be a happy motivational piece so I'll stop being Debbie Downer and get on with it already...

Yeah Juice! A spring juice cleanse is as necessary as spring cleaning your house.  During the cold months you tend to eat more bread, starch and meat in an instinctive hibernating behavior to 'survive.' So just like your house builds up dirt, dust and an unidentifiable funky smell during all of these months being cooped up indoors, your body also has been fighting to rid itself of stored fats laced with all sorts of toxins we take in on a regular basis. Most of us are used to eating fresh greens and veggies that are in season during the warm months and even into fall, supermarket produce mid-February just doesn't have the same appeal or nutritional value. As soon as the spring weather hits I'm ready for a cleanse.

The cleanse itself is meant to give your digestive track a break and for your body to take in a significant amount of plant nutrients over just a few days, this in turn helps clear your digestive track of anything that may have built up and to flush toxins that have been stored in your fat cells. Everything in life needs a resting period and your digestive track is no different. During this time it is very important to take in the daily recommended amount of water; at least 8 glasses.

To clear up a common misunderstanding about a cleanse; it is in no way related to anorexia or anorexic behavior. It is to be done during a short period of time and never taken to excess. Since you're taking in a lot of nutrients your body never thinks it's 'starving' like what can happen when you go without eating. Your body will actually begin to use its fat reserves, instead of store more fat like what happens when you go without eating, and with the fats that are flushed out many toxins that are stored within them will be stirred up in your body as well. The importance of water is crucial; as toxins are stirred up you need to flush them out or there is the possibility of becoming sick. 

How to start a juice cleanse:

Mentally prepare.
Haters gonna hate, but I like to start by mentally preparing myself for the cleanse at least a week in advance. Going without solid food is not easy. I have no line of bullshit that I can give you to tell you that it is. So prepare yourselves people.

Do oranges get any more beautiful?
Heirloom navel oranges from
Whole Foods
Find the best produce.
This is the one time that I will insist you go as organic as possible. If it is not organic, wash it well and peel it. We're trying to get toxic buildup out, so putting in a glossy coating of wax and pesticide is obviously counter productive. There is still no fresh produce available where I am at in the world, but I trust Whole Foods and spent the big bucks to make sure I'm getting quality ingredients.

Think outside the box.
The box holds us in fear of things like adding celery and kale to an apple pear juice. Raw foods in juice form taste significantly different from the cooked mush versions we grew to hate at an early age. Adding a few stalks of kale to a juice consisting of apple, pear and lime will change your world. It is important to not just drink fruit juices during your cleanse, you want a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure you're taking in a variety of vitamins and minerals. Think things like raw beets, carrots (surprisingly sweet), cucumbers, kale, spinach, papaya, zucchini, lemon, ginger. The possibilities are endless and the results are usually nothing like you imagined. You're friggin juice cleansing, no reason to hold back now, step over fully into the hippie world.

I'm not going to list a bunch of recipes here because they are all over the internet - just search for something like juicer recipe or juice cleanse recipe. Today I will tell you  I had a papaya, spinach, lemon and orange juice for lunch.
Green juice but it tastes so good!

Drink a lot of water.
Before, after and in between your glasses of juice you should be drinking water. If you feel overwhelming hungry or light headed drink a large glass of water and you will be surprised how much better you will feel. Again, 8 glasses people. Very important.

Smooth move.
Literally. You want to make sure you're regularly 'going #2' to make that as clear as I possibly can. Even though you are not eating solid food, you will continue to go to the bathroom fairly regularly, if not more at first. Smooth move senna tea every night before bed will help to keep things moving. 

3-5 days.
I have found the most benefit when I do the juice cleanse for a minimum of 3 days up to 5 days and then ease off of it and gradually move back to solid foods. I usually plan out a breakfast, lunch, dinner and one or two 'snacks' in between. Yes were still talking about juice and have not moved onto exciting things like steak and potatoes. I juice enough for a tall 12 oz glass for each 'meal' and maybe around an 8oz glass for an in between snack. Your body will actually tell you if you need more or less as long as you're drinking enough water in between.

Easing off of a cleanse.
Trust me, if you rush back into Funions (wtf are those anyway?) and fried fish you will feel like someone punched you in the gut for no damn good reason. It hurts. You're going to want to start with things like non juiced fruit and vegetables, rice, oatmeal, maybe work into some toast. By day three after your cleanse you will be eating more regular again. See how your body handles what you put into it as a sign of how to proceed. This is the time you want to analyze what you eat and make changes to your diet. Think of it as starting with a clean slate and you now have a choice of how you want to eat and the lifestyle you want to live.

Here's the witchcraft part that you can only relate to after you have done a cleanse. Think of it like the Seinfeld episode were Elaine and George both give up sex. All of a sudden George can think clearly, he's smart, he's moving ahead in life. All the time he usually spent thinking of sex he suddenly has free to use for bettering his life. Elaine didn't fair so well, but I think we are all 'Georges' mid cleanse; you suddenly have all this free time and energy because your body is not using as much energy to process solid food and you already know that dinner is just going to be a big glass of juice that takes 5-10 minutes to make and drink instead of up to an hour. I find myself more appreciative of life, of what I have and what I am capable of. Instead of thinking about how much it sucks when all your friends are eating fried chicken, burritos, Big Macs or someone happened to bring donuts to the office that day and everyone seems to be enjoying them a little too much, think of how much power you have. Juice cleansing is not for the weak minded.

The Do's and Dont's.
This is intended for someone who is in a state of general good health. You should never cleanse when you are pregnant or nursing, with a heart condition, diabetes or any serious illness. Everyone is different and everyone's body will react differently. During your cleanse try to take life easy, set aside some time for meditation or if you are not comfortable with that try to at least engage in a few quiet moments during the day since your mind will be clear and you will be relaxed.

Also, my chickens loved the leftover pulp and scraps. Toss them in your garden or outside your window for the birds and wildlife to enjoy.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Why your dollar is so powerful

Complaining makes us feel better about our actions. By saying, "Yeh, sure, I really hate that most restaurants or grocery stores don't care more about where their meat comes from," we are letting those around us know we're aware of it. After all we're not neanderthals. By verbalizing our complaint we are left feeling as though those around us have more respect for us because we would buy better meat if they offered better meat, but in the meantime we will continue to eat what they offer if we have to.

Photo property of WayTru
So lets think of the scenario where everyone stops buying meat from companies that don't care about the quality of the animals life that they are offering. This includes restaurants, fast food and grocery stores. All of a sudden there is panic amongst shareholders and CEO's. The message is sent loud and clear that the customers are demanding a change. The message was not even a word spoken, it was simply the absence of that $10 bill you usually spend on lunch or dinner. Fact: Without paying customers the business will die.

Lets think of the scenario where everyone continues to buy meat and either complains under their breathe or doesn't take notice at all, much like what many of us are doing now. The company receives the message that the customer is ok with how the business is being run since they are steadily selling their product. You obviously would not support purchasing a laptop that has never and will never work correctly or meet your needs, so why are you buying meat that does not meet your moral standards in life and would otherwise be an unacceptable product?

It is not just fast food that is selling cheap meat. It's your local grocery store that is offering chicken on sale for .99 cents a pound and you think this is such a great deal that you stock up your freezer and brag to your mom. It's your favorite restaurant chain offering rib bites as their featured appetizer and slow cooked ribs for some quirky 2/$20 date night special. The point is if you do not ask where the meat came from that you're happily guzzling down with your favorite 16oz Bud Light on tap, then you're likely eating something that was once living in unsanitary and unacceptable conditions, fed a steady diet of antibiotics and GMO corn and never once saw the light of day. Swallow that little bit of info down with your watered beer choice.

You can start by asking. And then place your vote with your dollar. You will be amazed how much power you actually have to change this.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Egg yolk peritonitis: Diagnosing a sick chicken

My pretty hen before she got sick
It seemed ironic to tend to one chicken with so much care considering so many of her brothers and sisters went by the way of my husbands knife. But this hen was not on the time line, she was not supposed to die. This hen was a beautiful Red/Colored Dorking with an excellent temperament and a nice short, stout body type; I had big plans of hatching her eggs this spring to start my own little backyard breeding project.

Around three weeks ago when I went out to collect the eggs, within the pile was a mess of yolk. I did not think much about it, assumed an egg broke, cleaned the mess and carried on.

Two weeks ago I noticed my favorite little red hen looking quite plump and waddling. At the time I was happy to see this, to me it meant she was really filling out and her chicks in spring would also grow to be short plump birds.

Five days ago my husband called me at work to let me know my favorite hen was just sitting in the backyard and not moving much. She had walked from the coop to under the porch like all the hens do when they're let out, but she later walked back toward the coop and then just sat there. She let my husband pick her up which was quite unusual; shes a friendly hen, but not so much as to let us pick her up.
I did a quick Google search and my initial conclusion was that she was egg bound meaning she had an egg that was stuck and for some reason she was unable to pass it. I asked my husband to bring her in and make her a steam house to loosen the egg. He set her up in a dog crate with blankets covering most of it, a humidifier under the blankets and a heater on high in the entrance way. It reminded me of the steam room at the gym, but smelled much more like sweaty feet, well I guess that steam room smells like sweaty feet too.

A 'steam house' in an attempt to help what I thought was an egg bound hen:
Dog cage covered in blankets with a red heat light and humidifier

When I got home I went right to inspect her. She was standing up in the cage, head moving around and still curious. Her tail feathers were pointed down and upon further inspection her vent (nice word for butt) was messy and her pelvic area was swollen and felt mushy, not at all hard. Having no previous experience what so ever and relying only on Google searches, I still was not certain what was wrong with her so I continued to treat her for being egg bound.

Tail feathers pointed down, head hanging, all signs of sickness
Symptoms of a hen that is egg bound are:
  • lethargic
  • solitary
  • stopped laying eggs
  • pelvic area may be swollen
  • pelvic area will feel like a hard mass, or you can actually feel the egg that is bound
  • may have lost interest in eating and drinking
  • ruffled feathers
An egg bound hen will die if the problem is not addressed quickly. I knew this and gave her a 20 minute warm bath since the steam room wasn't helping. Putting the hen in a warm bath of water up to her vent is supposed to relax her and help her pass the egg. Other than clean her bottom, this seemed to do nothing. My daughter thought it was hilarious to give a chicken a bath.

A warm bath may help and egg bound hen
I ran back to Google to search for what else could be wrong with her. What was so frustrating is that so many chicken illnesses and diseases have the same symptoms or the information about the illness says that symptoms vary from chicken to chicken. It seemed impossible to find any answers.

I started to worry about Coccidiosis, a common parasitic disease of poultry which affects the digestive tract.

Symptoms of Coccidiosis are:
  • ruffled feathers
  • lethargic
  • head drawn back into shoulders.
  • a chilled appearance.
  • diarrhea 
I really was hoping this wasn't the case because that means the rest of my birds could possibly have been infected. She fit the symptoms, but that didn't explain her swollen abdomen. has a list of common chicken illnesses and treatments which is very helpful when starting from the beginning and diagnosing a chicken, it is part of a series called The Essentials of Tending a Sick or Injured Chicken. I referenced this material several times as I was looking into things that could possibly go wrong with a chicken. I actually googled that phrase, but it pretty much just brought up chicken recipes.

When I really started to put all the pieces together and put a lot of thought into anything that seemed strange over the past few weeks, egg yolk peritonitis started making the most sense.

Egg yolk peritonitis is the presence of yolk material in the coelomic cavity, meaning that the egg is not taken up by the oviduct but is instead deposited into the abdomen. This causes a mild inflammatory reaction because the yolk material spreads through the air sacs and over the abdominal organs. If no bacterium is present then this condition is not always fatal and all yolk material will be eventually be reabsorbed. The more common form is septic egg yolk peritonitis. The yolk material is contaminated with bacteria and causes a severe inflammatory reaction throughout the abdomen and is almost always fatal.

Symptoms of egg yolk peritonitis include:
  • loss of appetite/anorexia
  • weakness
  • depression
  • respiratory distress
  • lethargy
  • fluffed feathers
  • yolk-colored droppings
  • swollen vent and/or abdomen (the swelling feels spongy to the touch)
Symptoms can come on suddenly or over the span of a few weeks. A hen that lays soft shelled, no shelled or strange irregular looking eggs are susceptible to egg yolk peritonitis. Now that I have this information I know I saw the warning signs when I found the egg yolk while collecting the eggs: It didn't occur to me that there was no broken shell and I didn't even think a shell-less egg was possible. The signs were also there when she started waddling and looking 'plump.' When I actually inspected her she was very thin and mostly bones; the look of fullness came from her fluffed feathers and swollen abdomen.

Trying to make my hen comfortable during her last days
There is no commercial treatment for this disorder. If you have the money and the bird is very valuable you could try treating with antibiotics if the disease is diagnosed in time, but results are mixed and the outcome is generally not good. Surgery to remove the yolk is possible if it is caught in time, but again may not help in the end.

Since I could not justify paying a vet for a procedure that likely would not work, all I could do was make my little hen as comfortable as possible. I kept her in the entrance way in a bin of shavings. I offered her plain yogurt and cooked eggs which she ate most of the first day, but lost interest the second and third day. I put some apple cider vinegar in her water hoping for a miracle, but she wasn't drinking anymore after the first day.

Her breathing became more labored and she moved less and less. Once it became painfully obvious she would not recover my husband took her out of her misery while I was out and gave her a proper burial.

I was glad I was able to make her more comfortable in her final days and to relieve her of her suffering before she was too far gone. I cannot stress the importance of knowing signs of illness in your flock and taking all of the clues into account when making a diagnosis. It is important to watch your flock on a daily basis to make sure nothing is out of the ordinary and the overall health of your birds looks good.  Because I was not aware of signs of danger (shell-less egg laid, fluffed feathers of a hen, waddling) I caught her illness when it was too far gone, had I caught it sooner a vet may have been able to intervene and save her life. I have to keep reminding myself it was just a chicken.