Saturday, May 1, 2010

Busting the "Onion Story", let's tackle the onion story.

This is what is currently circulating on the internet:

In 1919 when the flu killed 40 million people, there was a Doctor who
visited many farmers to see if he could help them combat the flu. Many of
the farmers and their family had contracted it, and many died.

The doctor came upon one farmer, and to his surprise, everyone in the
household was very healthy. When the doctor asked what the farmer was
doing that was different, the wife replied that she had placed an unpeeled
onion in a dish in the rooms of the home (probably only two rooms back
then). The doctor couldn't believe it and asked if he could have one of
the onions and place it under the microscope. She gave him one, and when
he did this, he did find the flu virus in the onion. It obviously
absorbed the bacteria, therefore, keeping the family healthy.

First let's take apart the story. According to this story, a doctor took an onion that had been sitting in a dish and looked at it under the microscope. He apparently found the flu virus in the onion. What I do know is that in 1919, the only type of microscope available would be an ordinary light microscope. These types of microscopes do not have a resolution anywhere near enough to see a virus! To see a virus, you would need an electron microscope and the earliest version of these wasn't invented until the 1930's. So no, the doctor did not see the virus in the onion.

Second, this story refers to the flu virus as a bacteria. In reality, bacteria and viruses are very different organisms. A virus must find a host and invade its cells in order to reproduce. Bacteria, on the other hand, merely need some type of 'food' in order to replicate...and many natural food source we have will suffice for any number of different strains of bacteria.

Third, I cannot find ANY scientific papers that provide evidence of onions attracting/absorbing the flu virus or helping heal people who have the flu.

So, with these three lines of reasoning, I have to say the story is a hoax.

HOWEVER...there is a evidence that onions can fight off some bacteria (but not a virus).

There are three lines of evidence regarding onion's influence on bacteria.

First, placing cut onions around the house is a very old remedy that goes back at least 1000 years and throughout history to the present day. Usually when something lasts this long, there is some kernel of truth in it somewhere that warrants scientific investigation.

Second, there are scientific papers that show the juice of an onion contains thiosulphinate, which has been proven to kill some common types of bacteria.

Third, rubbing a cut onion (and thus exposing the juice) on cuts and wounds has been shown to reduce infection and speed up healing.

So, the bottom line is that onions do have an effect on some bacteria. But the way the story is currently being told is false.

Here is an INTERESTING TWIST that I think merits attention. Many people who become seriously ill with the flu, end up with a compromised immune system that leaves them open to 'opportunistic' bacterial infections. Their body's defense system is just not up to the task of warding off bacteria that they normally would be able to defend against. Indeed, many people who die after having been seriously ill with the flu actually die from one of these other infections, such as pneumonia. It might be possible that leaving a cut onion near a person when they are seriously ill will help keep these bacteria away (there is a reason you can smell an onion from a distance).

If nothing else, the person who cut up the onions will have probably spilled some of the juice on their hands and therefore cleaned their own hands of bacteria before they touched the patient.

However, washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20-30 seconds before and after tending to the sick patient and wearing a mask would do a better job of this.

super healthy eating on a low budget and weight loss!

What an interesting week! Thursday was one week since I started learning how to eat healthy on a low budget. Yes, there have been some challenges...such as learning to plan ahead and remembering to eat all three meals plus three snacks. But, I am very pleased with the first week's attempt. I still have lots of food left from last week's shopping and just topped it up this week with $12 worth of goat's milk yogurt, a couple cans of sardines, a can of salmon (on sale), more goat's milk cheese, and some fresh apples.

A side effect to healthy eating...I somehow lost 6 pounds this week...and I wasn't even focusing on this aspect! I really haven't change any other part of my lifestyle...I have been a sedentary as usual!

Well...except for today...a friend and I had free passes to the CN Tower and we climbed stairs, walked miles and miles, and saw the city (and probably most of the province) from the upper observation deck. It was an absolute blast...but I did have to stop once in a while to rest...and I am sure my legs are going to be screaming at me tomorrow. I do not understand the mindset of whoever planned the tower. They would have an elevator for most of the journey up to the observation decks...and then make you climb a set of two of stairs to get there. Why couldn't it have been designed to be more accessible? We also took in that really incredibly fun "motion sensitive" ride that is there. It was an absolute blast and well worth the trip even if you don't take in the tower itself.

So today was not a typical day. I could become really discouraged about the fact that I did have to stop once in a while, but then I realize that a month a go I wouldn't even have attempted such an adventure because I knew I wouldn't be able to walk that far or last that long.

The changes are not going to occur overnight...but they are occurring. I just have to stick with the program and trust. I had a long hot shower when I got home and thought I would climb into bed early, but as usual, I got working on the computer (constructing some of the lectures for the courses I am teaching this summer) and forgot the time. Here it is almost 3 am and I am still not in bed. THAT part hasn't changed!

At least I know that with this new lifestyle I will sleep more soundly and wake up more refreshed than I used to.

I think the key has been to include many more servings of green vegetables, reducing wheat/empty/refined carbs, and drinking lots of water. I also cut down on quite a bit of red meat by substituting with healthy choices of protein such as the quinoa, salba, and sardines. I just have to wrap my head around the idea that plants can also contain protein, since I was raised on the idea that only meat can do this!

I did make a fantastic casserole of minced turkey, quinoa, onions, garlic, carrots, and spinach the other night and it was marvelous but will eventually attempt a "no meat" meal...eventually.

I have been craving diet coke but don't want to give into I took an old 2 liter bottle, rinsed it out really well, filled it 3/4 full with nice fresh water, and then topped it off with good quality pomegranate juice. It looks something like coke and it is in a coke bottle, and it actually tastes really I am using this when I really want coke. I think the cravings will eventually go is just habit (especially late at night). I do find that if I do not take in a little caffeine each day, I get a huge headache, so I do have my one cup of coffee in the morning (black, because I can't seem to handle cow's milk very well and haven't been daring enough to try goat's milk...and it tends to be expensive).

I think the hardest thing to do over this past week is to fit in all the times I am supposed to be eating...especially the snacks. It seems as if I am eating all the time...and yet I still managed to lose 6 pounds. Now, I'm sure part of this is just water from finally not bloating up from empty, highly processed carbs but my joints do feel better and my aches and pains from arthritis throughout my body are much less pronounced.

It is as if this healthy, low cost eating has been a magic arthritis cure! Just the addition of veggies and water seems to make a huge difference. I have been researching this quite a bit lately...go figure...I am a scientist after all...and I think I am piecing together an amazing body of literature that astounds me. All this information is available, but I have never put the pieces together before.

Related to this, recently, friends have been asking my scientific opinion on some of the food/water stories that have been circulating through the internet. I think I will dedicate a blog now and then to one of these topics. Lately, I have answered questions in regards to the "cut onions cure the flu" story, and the alkalized water rage that is currently sweeping North America. Being a physiologist does have its advantages!

I think I will address these two in my next blog...stay tuned!

Another aspect I would like to address in future blogs is the psychological aspect of trying to live on a low budget...the real & perceived lack of choice has a tremendous effect on the psyche.

Monday, April 26, 2010

healthy eating on a low budget: insights

Its Sunday night. Three full days of experience with "healthy eating on a low budget". I've learned some very interesting quirks about myself.

First, I am really bad at planning ahead. Friday worked really well. Three meals but only two snacks. Found out I really like celery with Almond Butter. I had a very nice salad for lunch with spinach and lettuce, mushrooms, green beans, sunflower seeds, and a sprinkling of goats milk cheese. Supper was the left overs from Thursday night with new broccoli added in and some carrots. Combined pickled herring with canned beets for a wonderful protein snack. But, I was home most of the day and could easily plan my food. There was a bit of stress dealing with financial issues, but I didn't use food to compensate. All in all, I was quite proud of myself. And my body was beginning to feel better. Less pain in the joints, less swelling in the ankles, more energy, and a clearer head.

I thought I had Saturday under control but it went really wrong. I woke up feeling refreshed and could move around with little pain. I started the day with my glass of water with a dash of apple cider vinegar and flax oil capsules. Then had a healthy breakfast (the meal I always skip "to save money"). Had 1/2 cup of goat's milk yogurt with some organic blueberry jam in it topped with sunflower seeds (found out I don't like the crunch of seeds in my yogurt). Then I had two scrambled eggs (from free range chickens). Topped off with my watered down pomegranate juice and a cup of black coffee. I had a full morning planned with a stop off at the office to print off some material and then my Toastmasters meeting from 10 am until noon. I planned on being home by 12:45 at the latest to have another great lunch. But then things went a little off track. I ended up going out for coffee with a couple of friends after the meeting and it was well after 3:30 by the time I got home. No lunch. No snacks. I really didn't feel like cooking when I got home. I was very hungry and frantic to eat. So I grabbed some left over salad, woofed down the rest of the pickled herring/beet combo, ate the rest of the goat cheese and ate a tin of sardines right out of the can. When I finally calmed down, it was time to go out to a function that I had only to find they were serving pizza at the function. The smell of the pizza wafted throughout the meeting until we finally had a chance to eat at 7 pm. Usually I am not fond of pizza, but again, I was hungry and hadn't brought a snack, so I grabbed two pieces and gulped them down. I didn't want to drink diet coke, so I washed down the pizza first with bottled water, but that really didn't taste good so I then grabbed a regular coke.

While drinking the can of coke, I realized something rather strange about diet coke. The coke actually filled me up and tasted like it had some substance to it. I realized that all the time I drank diet coke I never felt full or that it was anything like a real food at all. I could easily drink 2 liters of diet coke in an evening and never really feel any sustenance at all. But half a can of coke felt full in my stomach. Interesting discovery. When I think about it from a physiological viewpoint (which is what my PhD is in after all), the sugar in the coke will give the impression of receiving energy from the coke whereas the artificial sweetener in the diet coke will not have this effect. I wonder if this holds true for other diet foods?

Anyway...the point is, I ate pizza and regular coke. Not healthy eating at all. Between the wheat and the mounds of cow's cheese on the pizza and the acid that we call coke, my body was not at all happy.

I woke up Sunday feeling bloated, puffy, and in pain. My back ached; my ankles ached, and my knees were very stiff. I got right back on the plan. I decided to plan my snacks ahead of time. I cut up a nice apple into chunks and put it into a plastic bag for later in the day. I cut up some english cucumber and put it into a bag. I put a handful of almonds into a bag. There! My snacks were ready. I didn't feel much like eating breakfast but I had my yogurt anyway (approximately $1.50 worth). Lunch was easy with a nice salad (about $3). I spent the afternoon with my mother to lift her spirits and brought along my afternoon snack with me. While we were having a coffee, I pulled out my cucumber slices and we shared them. The problem happened at dinner time. I was still with my mom trying to keep her calm and brighten her up from the rough day she was having (she has severe dementia and had a bad encounter with another resident in the nursing home) so I couldn't leave her until she was smiling again. I ended up skipping dinner since I always spend a couple of hours on Sunday nights with Nan, a sweet 88 year old angel. Karen Berger is Nan's daughter and I am proud to say she is a friend of mine. She is also a Kinesiologist and does incredible work with people helping them to see what is required to help balance their body with their energy. I had a session with her earlier tonight and feel absolutely wonderful AND I have some great insights into what my body needs.

When I finally arrived home tonight I was really hungry but I pulled out the apple pieces and munched on them until the hunger subsided. Then I cooked up some minced turkey (on sale; use about $2 worth), and cooked some quinoa (another $0.50) in with garlic and onions (together about $0.30 worth), dropped some asparagus (from the Chinese market...$1) into a boiling pot, and had an absolutely scrumptious late dinner. Again, a dinner for less than $4.

The total cost for the day was easily under $10.

So what have I learned? First, only one slip back into old habits makes a huge difference in my body (the pizza and coke the night before). Second, I have to plan ahead and make up snacks in case plans change. Third, I don't like to cook when I am hungry.

Interesting experience so far. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Friday, April 23, 2010

eating healthy on a low budget

So here's the deal. I haven't had a paycheck since January and have reverted back to what I call a "graduate student diet"...which means eating instant noodles with the cheapest meat I can find and forgoing fruits and vegetables. Yes, I was back in that old mindset...the one that spirals down. I felt like a failure for working so hard but not seeing any financial I cut my budget to the core and ended up eating crappy food that temporarily filled me up but left me craving all the foods that were really not good for me...and feeling worse when I gave angry with myself and cut back to one meal a day...only to grab the worse food when I did have a couple of dollars...and gaining weight...and feeling crappy about gaining would really give up and just go for the highest carb alternative. My health has deteriorated. I have heartburn all the time; no energy; all my joints ache; I have difficulty walking even one block; I am not sleeping well; and my mind has been foggy.

I ended up fighting a severe depression.

But then a couple of friends dropped into town. They don't know each other but each of them helped in different ways. One friend has been battling depression for years and actually understood how difficult it was for me to do anything. Just having someone who understood helped. He insisted we go out for coffee and just chat. The other friend is a kinesiologist, Karen, who always has a bright attitude and eats very healthy (and is also a vegetarian).

I complained to this friend that I had to eat poorly because of my low budget.

Her response surprised me. Instead of agreeing with me, or chastising me, all she did was invite me along on a shopping trip. She temporarily lent me some money for food shopping and guided me through an amazing experience (yes, I can pay her back next month...I just signed contracts to teach 4 university courses over the summer).

We visited two health food stores, an Italian supermarket, a Chinese supermarket, and the Bulk Barn. I know what you are food stores are expensive! Well, some items are...others aren't.

I have a very hard time digesting cow's milk but she showed me goat milk yogurt and goat milk cheese. I want to cut back on meat (since good quality meat is expensive) so she has shown me some protein alternatives. I had become so used to the "North American diet" that I couldn't see my way out of it and really don't know how to cook with these different foods. So she talked about how to use the foods...really simple ideas since the last thing I want to do is spend all my time cooking. I also learned that a dozen eggs from free range chickens are healthier and really not any more expensive than other eggs...and are also a good source of protein while being very versatile.

She helped me discover ancient whole grain that has a mild nutty flavor instead of using instant noodles. Very high in protein and easy to digest. A small bag of it cost me $7.99 at a health food store. I was didn't look like much for that kind of money. But I cooked some up tonight and it really expands in volume! I cooked one cup of quinoa in two cups of water...and have enough to last two huge meals. At this rate, I will get at least 10 meals out of it if not more.

I learned that sardines are one of the healthiest meats...if you don't get them smothered in tomato sauce or oil (but you can just drain and rinse them if need be). I love sardines...and they are cheap ($1.39 per tin)! I also learned that canned mackerel is very good for you and it is also cheap ($1.99 for a large can). That is a relief...I don't have to become completely vegetarian!

I bought tons of vegetables...root vegetables such as beets, carrots, and white radishes; lots of green vegetables such as broccoli, lettuce, celery, cucumber, green beans; and other vegetables such as portabelo mushrooms, onions, asparagus. I also bought some nice apples and black grapes...these were on sale for $0.99/lb. I learned how I can put almond butter or sunflower seed butter on the celery instead of peanut butter or that dreaded artificial cheese spread.

I bought dry roasted almonds at the Bulk Barn as well as unsalted, hulled sunflower seeds. Karen explained how I can sprinkle these on top of salads and almost any food, including the yogurt. I bought healthy pomegranate juice instead of "orange drink".

I used to eat lots of puffed rice cakes when they were on sale..but now I bought spelt puffed cakes and they actual have a taste to them (they don't taste like Styrofoam). fridge is bursting with all this food. I have opened the fridge four or five times tonight just to reassure myself that I do have food. So for under $100 I have enough food to very comfortably eat three proper meals plus three snacks a day that should last me for about 2 weeks...and hopefully feel healthier and happier than I have felt in a long time.

And guess what I made for dinner tonight?

It was the strangest combination of foods...but it actually worked! I had made up the quinoa already so I also steamed a huge bunch of broccoli. I opened, rinsed, and drained a tin of sardines (these ones were in lemon sauce), and tossed in some sage (yes, sage...of all things). When I mixed it all together, the sardines broke up into very small bits and it looked a lot like a casserole (and didn't taste like sardines anymore). So I put a bit of goat's milk cheese on the top (not too much...have to make it last), and let the cheese melt. I wasn't sure if I would feel at all full from it so I had a large serving. It was amazing! I only ate 3/4 of it before I was actually full.

This may not sound like much to you, but usually when I am eating empty calories, I don't ever feel full...just end up running out of food and/or feeling really dopey; and unsatisfied. But after this meal, I felt great...and it actually tasted great. I had two glasses of watered down pomegranate juice (1/2 cup juice in a tall glass) to go with my food and it was wonderful.

So, my first experiment with the new foods worked well. For the meal tonight, this is what I estimate I spent: quinoa, $0.50; broccoli, $1.29; sardines, $1.39; 4 slices of goat's milk mozzarella cheese, $0.70; pomegranate juice, $0.10. For a total of $3.98. Under $4 for an entire meal...and I have enough quinoa cooked up for tomorrow. It took me 20 minutes to make and I feel full and satisfied. No heartburn and no grogginess.

Wow. I wonder what I will have for breakfast tomorrow? This is one meal I have been skipping 'to save money'. Now I can eat again.

One concern...I didn't buy any diet coke. I have known for quite some time that it is extremely unhealthy...but haven't had the nerve to not drink the point of almost feeling addicted to it. I thought it was a cheap alternative to other beverages...but I have now found out it is actually more expensive than healthy juices. Let's see how long I last without it.

Do you have any experience with cheap, healthy meals?

Monday, May 4, 2009

May 04

Okay...been working really hard at staying positive and using my knowledge to focus and turn things around. Total weight loss so far...28.6 pounds. I'm in the 'writing mode' and have focused on putting my first e-book together. I have a wonderful opportunity to give a workshop to faculty members at the upcoming Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education on my birthday in June and I want the e-book published by then so the participants can purchase it. I am blessed with some awesome past students who have continued to remain in touch with me and one of them, Sakshi, has agreed to be a research assistant to help me find the papers I need to write the e-book.

It is an awesome process. The book will be called "From Dull to Dynamic: 3 easy steps to increasing your effectiveness in the classroom". It is great fun...and a lot of work. I am focusing on finding interactive means to quickly add value to the teaching and help them make the shift from teaching-centered to learning-centered activities.

Also last weekend, I attended a full day of "Strategies for Success" geared toward higher education faculty. It is amazing and a pure blessing to be surrounded by other faculty members from North America who really want to learn strategies for increasing active learning in their classrooms. I learned many new things and reaffirmed some I already knew but just as importantly, I had an awesome opportunity to connect and network with some amazing presenters and keynote speakers. I will be sending them a copy of my e-book and asking them to review it for me. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could entice these 'seasoned' experts to collaborate on a book with me?

Okay...on to other aspects of my process. It is taking a huge amount of work to stay positive regardng my career when I truly miss being in the classroom but seem to be shutout from UTSC (where I was and officially still am a sessional instructor). I really need to find a place where I can teach a class but also be involved in educational development while leaving time to conduct my workshops, seminars, speaking, publishing, coaching and mentoring. This will mean that I need to position myself as an expert 'everyday scientist'. I found an incredible workshop that would launch me in this direction but unfortunately the cost is very prohibitive. So I will need to allow the universe to manifest the funds for this. This may sound trivial but it is an important key. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions together create our reality. So far, I have somehow blocked financial wealth in my reality. When would now be a good time to change this? How about now? I deserve wealth in all aspects of my life including financial and it is time for it to occur. Much of this philosphy comes from workshops I have taken with James Arthur Ray (the Harmonic Wealth guy). It is time to put these teachings in practice. I deserve does each of us.

Okay...on to another topic...I am totally blown away with the [Usana] products. It is incredible to have such macro and micronutrients that are of such a high quality and still taste so good. They are so easy to impliment into my daily life and a great strategy for when I have to go out to eat but don't want to fall into the old traps.

I am recommitting here and now to create new entries in this blog on a more regular basis. The next one will focus on cellular nutrition and get into some cell biology stuff (for those of you who have been in my cell bio classroom, follow along and see if you agree). It is so important to understand nutrition from a cellular level. From there, I think I will go through the neural pathways involved in satiety and hunger. I then want to talk more about the effects of MSG and other 'common' additives to our North American diet.

Okay..stay tuned. By the way...if you would like more information about [Usana] and would like to take a very quick health assessment, go to

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April 22nd

As it really been this long since my last entry? My how time flies when you are scrambling to make ends meet. I have undergone a huge disappointment in the last week and unfortunately I have been rather depressed about it. I had applied to teach 4 courses on the campus where I have taught these courses before and was really excited about being in the classroom again. Unfortunately, I wasn't chosen to teach any of these classes. This was a huge shock since the union rules state that I should have received the contract for these courses. I have got to find a place to work that welcomes innovating teaching techniques! Sometimes it is really hard to stay focused on a vision and goal when people you have respected let you down. It has taken a lot of processing on my part to stay focused. As a scientist, I tend to look at 'failures' as just opportunities to see what went wrong and correct the procedure so that the experiment will work the next time. Thus, I am trying to figure out what went wrong with my teaching at the campus and figure out how to approach a similar situation in the future. I really miss teaching.

It is interesting how my eating behavior can reflect how I am feeling. I found myself going back to old habits of not wanting to eat in the morning and then wanting to eat all evening...but I caught myself as I started to do this and was able to stop the behavior. I realized it was just a reaction to the events in my life and this realization helped me separate the behavior from the feelings.

So I am still on course. But depression is not something that is easily overcome.

I did manage to have a lot of fun (and hard work) last weekend at the toastmaster's conference at which I was the audio/visual chairperson. I had so much fun making sure the microphones were working, the powerpoint slides were ready, the theme songs were ready and the videos were set. There were so many people! It was a blast! But, being an introvert by nature, I really needed Monday and Tuesday to be on my own and regain some energy.

Now I am working on a couple of new workshops that I think will really rock! One focuses on how to think 'outside the box' while still in the box. It will really help people to think differently than 'normal' so they can adjust and adapt to the economic to become resourceful and have fun with it at the same time. The other workshop is focused on university/high school students and asks the question "why am I here"? It is focused on helping these incredible people to find their passion in life; how to get the most out of their 'education' and tells them the real reason they are in school.

The other workshop I am just starting to put together is one about this whole issue of a 'food guide' that actually makes sense from a scientific basis instead of what we have as the Canada Food Guide. It just makes me so angry to know that scientists have been proving for quite some time that our 'typical' diet is extremely unhealthy and that a healthy diet is really not all that difficult to manage. Especially when you think about what we are feeding very young children that will set them up for future health problems.

Anyway...I should get back to work...trying to scrape enough money together this month to pay the rent...being unemployed really sucks...although I am grateful for EI (without which I would be living on the streets...and I really don't want to go back there!).

Oh...and the grand total of weight loss in the first month was 16.8 pounds...thanks USANA!!!!!!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 8th

I can't believe it is April 8th already! Life is getting better and better. My body seems to be shifting and changing. I don't know if any of you can understand what I am about to tell you but for someone who has been as overweight and out of shape as I have been, this is rather significant. I had a very busy, physical day today...faciliating a networking workshop all morning, walking a lot this afternoon...and then walking from the subway to the BlueJays baseball game and back again...and the really weird part is that my legs felt great. They were tired but I didn't experience the horrible pain in my knees that would usually make me limp and even more strange is the fact that I could feel my entire leg moving. Usually I shuffle along and take small strides (because that is all I can do) but this time I could feel my entire leg swing in motion. It actually felt as if I was taller! I could stand up better and walk better. Usually my feet hurt a lot even without the physical exercise...but although they are tired, they do not ache.

Oh...and I met my friend (who has the tickets) at Harvey's (where we usually meet) and instead of having a burger and fries and a diet coke....I had a hot grilled chicken salad with a cup of tea. I was actually looking forward to the salad!

So just for fun I weighed myself tonight...and since I started on the USANA products on March 15th, I have officially lost 15.4 pounds...and feel fantastic!