Summer 2009   

"Support for Your Healthy Lifestyle"

Susan Fekety, RN, MSN, CNM

In this issue:
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Warm and Soggy Greetings to You, Dear Friends!

As I write, we're finally experiencing a peep of brightness and heat. It was a spring of cold gray days and somber moods here in Maine, was it not? Ghastly -- many of us flirted with depression, wondered if we needed medicine or something -- when all we really needed was sunshine! Fingers crossed that there will be more and more of it over the ensuing days.

I've been really tickled to see how many of you there are on my email list who I don't know yet! My greetings to you, and I hope to make your acquaintance soon. A big THANK YOU to all my companions who've thought enough of this resource to turn their friends on to it -- that's such a nice compliment, and much appreciated!

To your best health --

P.S. Cool article recently in the Maine Switch, where I have a regular column, about sea vegetables available locally in some pretty innovative forms. They quoted me -- always a thrill to see my name in print! Even if you've never dared to try the seaweed salad at the sushi bar, check the article out at:


A new Functional Medicine test has become available -- so heads up, because I may suggest it for YOU! "Perspective" is a reasonably inexpensive ($199.00) "big picture overview" test offered through Genova Laboratories, a specialty laboratory with whom we've worked for years and in whom I have a lot of confidence. (We're working on a way to get the cost of the test reduced even more. By the time you read this, I'm hoping that will be in place, so ask for details.)

A "Perspective" test has two parts: blood we draw from you after an overnight fast, and saliva samples you collect yourself at home and bring in. Together, the panels tell us whether you're under oxidative stress or inflamed, whether your adrenal stress hormone levels are appropriate, and whether you're sensitive to any of 15 common foods. These are important things to know about for overall health, and not things usually included in, say, the stuff we'd check at a standard annual exam. (We might want to consider changing that -- there's so much more to life than your lipid profile and a mammogram!)

"Perspective" also includes a fasting blood sugar level. I think if we're really concerned about your risk for diabetes or pre-diabetes, we should check your fasting insulin level at the same time (costs an additional $75). Speaking of add-ons, we could check your lipid (cholesterol) profile, at the same time (usually around $50.00) if you're due for that.

I think this "Perspective" test provides a LOT of good information with which to support your health. Insurance might cover this test, but I think it's worth considering even if you'll be covering the cost yourself. Let me know if you are interested and we can come up with a testing strategy that's right for you this year.

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FirstLine Therapy® - New Option

I'll spare you this issue's rant on how effective and powerful the FirstLine Therapy® (FLT) Program has shown itself to be over the past four years. (FMI visit the True North site). I've found that there are quite a few folks for whom a 12-week lifestyle tune-up is a little more than they're ready to commit to, either for time or money reasons. But they're curious, and they want to see if it might work for them.

Ever responsive and attentive to your needs, I have an idea -- The "FLT Mini"!

I developed this version of the FLT program recently in collaboration with my friend and colleague Bethany Mateosian over at Springboard Pilates; it was so popular with her clients that I've decided to make it an official option for anyone.

To refresh your memory, the conventional FLT program is a prepaid 12-week program consisting of three office visits with me. I use BioImpedance Analysis (BIA, or Body Composition) testing results to develop and monitor a customized, scientifically sound, balanced personal food plan designed to stabilize your blood sugar, reduce inflammation, take pressure off your stress management system, and help you to raise your metabolism by building lean body mass (muscle.) Most people lose weight -- but that's not the primary goal.

In FLT we also explore your activity level and stress management habits and come up with a prescription for those if needed. That program, which includes supporting materials, recipes and the option of attending a weekly info/support group with me, is $600. FirstLine Therapy® is often reimbursed by insurance if you have it.

In the "FLT Mini," we do pretty much the same thing -- but instead of three visits you just do the first two. Same custom nutrition plan and lifestyle tune-up, same supporting materials and recipes, same option to attend the group -- for $375 prepaid.

If you've been thinking about FirstLine Therapy®, or just know you need to eat better and get moving, the "FLT Mini" might be useful for you. I'm happy to talk about this program with anyone; if you're considering it but have questions, just give True North a call (781-4488) and ask to schedule a no-cost 15-minute consult with me. I'll be delighted to help!

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Much of my spring was occupied with caring for my precious kitty "Buddy," who was diagnosed with lymphoma in the late winter. After a nice long remission, he had a gentle passing in June.

Buddy was a particularly memorable companion, and on our journey together, we were fortunate to have had the counsel of a variety of wonderful helpers, including True North's own Cynthia Atkinson who treated him with Energy Medicine (which he LOVED, and which I think really helped him) and Ruth Dalto DVM in Yarmouth, Maine, who gave him acupuncture and helped me with nutrition and supplements for him -- and provided essential moral support.

Having a sick kitty inspired me to think hard about what I was accustomed to feeding my pets. I mean, I know that eating whole foods makes a huge difference for ME and my patients -- why had I not fully translated those principles into feeding my companion animals? (DUH!) Maybe you have wondered the same thing -- or maybe you're like me and it's kind of off the radar screen.

Working with the Bud-Man, and doing some research, I learned some lessons I'd like to share. Surprise, surprise -- the guiding principles that seem to be right for animals would also be also good for you and me. (Cats I learned about. Dogs not so much, since I don't have one right now. So you're on your own with dogs . . . Buddy would have wanted it that way.)

Remember the melamine thing from a couple years ago, where a form of plastic was added to pet food because it kicked up the lab assay for protein content -- without the manufacturers having to incur the cost of actual protein? And it killed thousands of animals before somebody figured it out? (For a great read about this whole tragic story -- including the agonizingly slow industrial and governmental responses -- check out Marion Nestle's 2008 book Pet Food Politics.) And later we started finding this stuff in food for people?

Folks, there's no reason to think that disasters like this will not continue to occur. Learning more about the melamine mess impressed me with Buddy's Lifestyle Principle #1 -- The best food is minimally processed. This may mean, yes friends, cooking for your pet at home, or not getting what just happens to be on special at Costco.

If you do decide to home-cook, be VERY sure you find a reliable resource for the "how" part, because you can make your animal sick if you do it wrong. Animals do not have the same food requirements that you do, so table scraps are not the way to go (as if your cat would eat table scraps anyway!) I am working to wean my other cat off commercial canned food -- I have been told that cats will indeed starve themselves if they do not like the available options, so we will be doing this gradually. I think it would have been easier if I started both cats earlier on More Appropriate Choices -- better late than never, though. But at one point when Buddy had a big liver problem, Dr. Dalto gave me a recipe for a special food made of white fish and sweet potatoes and parsley and vitamin powder. It was surprisingly easy to make and Buddy gobbled it up.

Speaking of food requirements, when you're thinking about the best way to feed your furry friends, keep in mind how they were designed to survive in the wild. Buddy's Lifestyle Principle #2 -- The best food is that which is appropriate for one's genetics. People are omnivores, whose genetics developed prior to the advent of agriculture or dairying -- certainly before the year-round availability of large quantities of sugar. One can make a provocative argument that humans ought not consume those foods at all -- or at least, should consume less of them. (For more on this, check out my article on the Paleolithic Diet.)

Cats are carnivores -- designed to eat little animals who sometimes have half-digested grass and vegetables in their tummies. They are not supposed to have grains -- ever -- so um, why are we feeding them grain based kibbles? Indeed, they are not supposed to have cooked foods either (you can't strike a flint without prehensile thumbs), so even if you switch to canned grain-free foods for your cat, keep in mind that while you're closer to a natural diet than you might be with kibble, you're not all the way.

Speaking of cooked food, you may have heard about the BARF diet -- Bones And Raw Food. Many vets are troubled by the idea of moving pets to raw food, because there can be nasty organisms in it. Still, I think it is legitimate to ask how many animals become chronically ill from eating poor-quality processed grain-based food, versus how many might pick up a parasite or something from raw meat and get acutely ill? (One could ask a similar question about how we feed humans, no? (FMI on that line of thought, check out my article on the Raw Food Diet.)

Around here, you can get pre-mixed frozen raw pet food at the fancier pet stores. Buddy was only willing to eat it when he was really sick (isn't that interesting?) -- but my other cat won't touch it at all, forget it.

And here's the last thing, that makes me sort of sad still. Buddy's Lifestyle Principle #3 -- You don't want to wait for illness to start thinking about optimal nutrition. I wonder if Buddy would have lived longer and healthier if I'd gotten the message to clean up his food program years ago. I know that with people, it always makes more sense to eat preventively -- but often folks don't head into my office to talk about food until they're motivated by some sort of problem -- high cholesterol, fatigue, blood sugar problems, hormones out of whack, jeans that won't zip. In any case -- once your pet is sick, it's much more complicated to fix him. Same thing holds true for people -- it's generally easier to stay out of trouble than it is to GET out of it. Something to think about, huh?

Buddy and friend Cynthia enjoy a moment together.

Thanks, Bud. You were a dear one.

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Seems like in the past few months I'm getting inundated with information about (and coupons for) food and beverages made with forms of the non-caloric botanical sweetener "stevia." There's stevia-sweetened SoBe Lifewater, stevia-sweetened Sprite, and a whole bunch of new sorts of boxes of stevia-based products in the sweetener aisle.

Perhaps you're noticing this too and wondering about it, or maybe you've not heard of it yet. I have many clients who've told me they don't know what the heck stevia is anyway. I want you on the cutting edge, so here's the skinny and you can impress your friends.

Stevia is a pretty plant indigenous to South America, where it is used as a botanical medicine and food flavoring because the leaves have a super-sweet taste when you eat them. If you ever come across a plant of it (I've seen it in local nurseries, sold as an annual) just pick a little piece off and stick it in your mouth and WOW you get this big sweet hit. Kind of fun! Stevia is commonly added to foods around the world and is the non-caloric sweetener of choice in Japan.

Stevia is the only sweetener permitted on the FirstLine Therapy® food plan, because a large part of its power comes from getting people off the sugar roller coaster. Still, I encourage people to avoid even stevia, if they can. Sure you know sugar isn't good for you, but you might ask what's the problem with a natural non-caloric sweetener? Isn't that way better than, say, saccharin or aspartame or sucralose?

Well yes, but here's the thing. Besides the fact that many of the stevia-sweetened foods that are commercially available are highly processed things I wouldn't recommend to you anyway, you need to keep in mind that you can't fool Mother Nature -- this time, either.

Our bodies are hard-wired so that when we taste "sweet," our helpful little pancreases (pancreii?) start making insulin, which goes into full production when blood sugar starts to rise. But it's the sweet TASTE that's the first switch "on" for insulin production. Since the vast majority of us want to minimize insulin production as much as possible, even non-caloric sweeteners can be a problem, because they can make insulin go up even when there's no sugar around.

Now, I'd been told somewhere that stevia was the only non-nutritive sweetener that doesn't make you produce insulin, so it's okay. I was never able to find a reference for that claim, and it didn't make sense to me. Why would both real and chemical sweeteners affect insulin, but not stevia? Well, in 2000 Danish researchers found that stevia does too trigger insulin secretion in animals. Dang. (Follow this link to read an abstract of their article.) Don't' know why I didn't find this one ages ago.

So why's it showing up now? In the US, stevia has historically been blocked by the FDA -- either to protect the sugar industry, or the people who make aspartame/sucralose etc., or both. (Well, um, actually, it's been blocked in the food aisle but permitted in the supplement section -- how much sense does that make?) Apparently the FDA has opined that stevia was OK to use as a food supplement, but not as a food ingredient -- so you couldn't put it in your grocery store next to the sugar, but it could appear in the health food store with the vitamins. Truth is stranger than fiction, is it not?

I suspect that once food manufacturers got hip to the fact that WE were hip to the problems with both high fructose corn syrup and chemical artificial sweeteners (FMI, read my article on this topic), they figured out how to make stevia-based extracts that they could patent instead. And then they worked their industrial light and magic to get it made legal. In December 2008, the FDA said that they would not block the use of two purified extract forms of stevia as food ingredients. (As I understand it, this is different from formally approving it -- it's a world gone mad.) Miracle of miracles, a whole bunch of new variant non-caloric sweet liquids appear -- and they can get a green label and be called "natural"! It's a 21st century marketer's dream!

But here's the thing -- well, another one of the things. Liquid stevia products that have been sold in health food stores for years are usually just stevia made into a water extract, sort of like tea -- in fact, you can make this yourself at home if you care to take the time to grow the plants yourself. Truvia and Purevia (made by Coke and Pepsi, respectively) and an increasing number of powdered products that come in boxes or little packets, tend to be mixed with other things (like erythritol, the next sweetener I'll be investigating) or are highly processed products made from refined single components of the stevia plant. Why? Because plain extracted stevia has a sort of licorice-y, mildly bitter aftertaste. And because a simple water extract of plant material can't be patented.

I sampled a variety of stevia-based products and compared them in the privacy of my own kitchen. I bought samples of Sweet Leaf, PureVia, Truvia (since I had a coupon), and "Stevia Extract in the Raw," and I already had an opened box of "Stevia Plus" in the cupboard (because I'm not using it.) I drank a stevia-sweetened citrus flavored soda -- ewww. And when I saw some very pretty, healthy looking stevia plants at the nursery, I bought them, too, and they're flourishing out back. (Sometimes it's hard to remember that this whole thing starts with a plant.)

Bottom line -- I suppose I'll take stevia over other non-caloric sweeteners, but only because it's better than the proverbial sharp stick in the eye. The goal really, is to wean yourself away from the sweet taste addiction entirely, so that a piece of fruit is all you need to be satisfied. For many of us, this takes some time, healing, and practice -- but it's worth it, health-wise. 

If you want to experiment with stevia, my taste tests (and my preference for less-refined stuff in general) would lead me to recommend "Stevia Extract in the Raw," made by "Sugar in the Raw," a powdered stevia extract mixed with a negligible amount of dextrose. This was the only sweetener I tried in iced tea that didn't have a yick aftertaste. Still, it's only better than that sharp stick . . . by a little bit.

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Instead of "Great Books" this issue, I want to turn you on to a few "Great Magazines." There's a lot of junk out there on the shiny, smiling racks of periodicals. There are a few resources, though, that are worth seeking out, either in your local bookstore, library, grocery, or online. I'm a big fan of all three of these, and routinely recommend them to folks coming to me for nutrition therapy. Next time you want to whine that you're bored with food or there's nothing to eat, check out one of these!

EATING WELL: This one always has the most beautiful food photos on the cover. (I don't know where they find them, but these always draw me in and even make me want to eat foods I don't usually like, like eggplant.) Locally-based (Vermont), this is the resource I turn to first for good recipes based on principles of fresh, whole, local, in-season, sensible use of healthy fats, minimal amounts of refined carbohydrates, and always easy-to-prepare. Haven't found a loser recipe there yet.

Eating Well has an online recipe archive and a newsletter. The print version of the magazine is surprisingly inexpensive -- right now they are offering a year's subscription for 10 bucks! They also periodically issue nice cookbooks; the latest one is called EatingWell in Season: The Farmers' Market Cookbook and it has me drooly.

CLEAN EATING: This is an impressive young publication my sister turned me on to. Same good values: whole food based, minimal to no refined or processed sugars, healthy fat, seasonal. A little more focused on weight management than Eating Well is, but not in an icky way (like some of the other "health" magazines out there, particularly those aimed at diet-crazed women!) I have found their writers to be very cutting edge and sensible in the nutritional science department, which means a lot to me. They also have a newsletter. I find the online recipe archive to be a bit cumbersome when I'm looking for something specific, though.

LIVING WITHOUT: If you've just been told you have a food sensitivity, or need to consider going gluten- or dairy-free, this is the magazine for you! It's a treasure trove of reliable information and recipes, strategies, resources, and probably most important, some community support for when you're maybe feeling put upon, deprived, petulant, and crabby. (After you've been off the food that's toxic for you for a while your mood will improve mightily, I promise!) Not only do their writers address allergy-free kitchen logistics and palatable ingredient substitutions, the articles also encompass some of the emotional stuff that comes along with allergy-free eating -- like how to navigate Thanksgiving dinner at Mom's when you're not eating wheat. They have a "recipe of the week" mailing you can sign up for. 

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Sauteed Baby Squash with Basil and Feta

This recipe looks like I cut it out of Cooking Light magazine (which didn't make the Great Magazines list because I think they rely too much on sugar and refined carbohydrates in their low-fat recipes.) Still, as my Dad would say, even a blind pig finds an acorn every once in a while -- I put two big stars on this the first time I made it, and I'm a tough grader.

The flavors sound a little odd together, but seriously -- this is great, easy side dish. You could certainly add some extra feta and have it as a light entree for a meatless summer supper. Though it calls for those adorable little pattypan squash, it will work with any small summer squashes that might call out to you in their wild abundance at the farmer's market this month. YUM!

1 Tablespoon olive oil
4 cups baby pattypan squash, halved
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sliced leek (about 2 medium leeks)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons crumbled feta cheese, reduced fat if you prefer
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan, swirling to coat; heat 20 seconds. Add squash and leek to pan; saute 5 minutes or till tender, stirring frequently. Stir in salt and pepper. Transfer squash to a serving platter. Sprinkle with cheese and basil. Makes 6 servings, 2/3 cups each.

Download and print this recipe.

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Friends, I'm off to the garden (where the mint has grown to be taller than I am!), and to finalize preparations for my Mom's 80th birthday party next week (congratulations, Nancy!) Be well and happy -- and stay in touch!

To your best health --

This Issue's Affirmation:   

"My body is made of stardust and sunshine."

(Download and print an 8-1/2" x 11" PDF of this affirmation)
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© Copyright 2009 by Susan Fekety. All rights reserved.
202 US Route 1, Falmouth, Maine 04105 | (207) 781-4488 |