23 March, 2008

on the pulse, in the flow...

my mom said "Oh I read something in the paper today about Agave."
love it when this happens!

Blowing the lid off Agave Nectar

Health foodies and diabetics beware! The short version: Agave Syrup/Nectar is NOT a health food item and is NOT good for people with impaired insulin & glucose metabolism.

Here's the longer version:
Agave syrup/nectar is 90% fructose and 10% glucose. (For some companies it's 97% fructose.) High fructose corn syrup contains anywhere from 55-90% fructose. Table sugar, or sucrose, is a dimeric molecule comprised of 1 glucose monomer plus 1 fructose monomer.

Fructose is the sugar molecule found mostly in fruit and a little in honey. When you eat fruit, you get vitamins and minerals, plus fiber which slows down the absorption of sugar. When you drink pasteurized fruit juice, you are drinking a pretty-colored fructose cocktail, perhaps with a few nutrients that survived the pasteurization process (Vitamin C is destroyed by heat). Sugars consumed without their associated minerals actually pull minerals from our bodily stores during their metabolism. Zoikes, scoob!

For thousands of years, human biochemistry evolved to process relatively low amounts of fructose. Fruit was consumed in season, when available, and as a whole food. Honey was a rare treat, not a pantry staple.

Onto the glycemic index. Agave syrup is often touted as healthy due to its coveted low-glycemic status. The glycemic index is a measurement of how a food affects blood glucose levels in comparison to glucose, as measured 2-3 hours after consumption. Glucose has a glycemic index measurement of 99 or 100, and is the sugar molecule our cells use most effectively as a direct energy source. Sucrose (table sugar) has a GI of 58-68. Fructose is anywhere from 11-25, and Agave Nectar about 10-11. So yes, Agave's fructose is considered low-glycemic when measured in this fashion. Because it cannot be processed by most of our body's cells, it doesn't immediately affect blood sugar metabolism.

Instead fructose must be catabolized by the liver, where it is turned into smaller molecules which bypass the body's glucose-regulating mechanisms. The fructose breakdown molecules readily enter the glycolysis (glucose metabolism) and lipogenesis (fat-producing) cycles. One result of this is an over-production of triglycerides (indeed this is the favored pathway--no other sugar converts to fat as readily as does fructose). Another result is the conversion of fructose into glucose. Interestingly, fructose also activates glucose uptake and metabolism.

Consuming regular, large amounts of isolated Fructose raises serum Triglycerides and Low Density Lipoproteins (and Very Low Density Lipoproteins). This also raises total cholesterol and adversely affects the HDL:LDL ratio. Not only does it alter blood lipids for the worse, fructose consumption also causes cells to be insulin-resistant, sending a message to the pancreas to pump out even more insulin! What happens as a result of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia? The body stores fat, primarily around the abdomen. And you crave more sweets--an addictive, vicious cycle. This condition is called the Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X, AKA Pre-Diabetes.

What other hidden effects does Fructose have?
-elevates uric acid. In one study, two servings of fruit juice per day increased a person's chances of developing Gout almost twofold over the placebo group. (Underwood BMJ 2008 336: 285-286) Elevated uric acid is also related to heart disease.
-especially contributes to insulin resistance in women who take oral contraceptives or HRT
-does not raise leptin levels comparatively to other sugars, so you don't feel satisfied after eating and may overeat.
-makes you lose minerals! Fructose consumption increases urinary output of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous and intestinal (fecal) output of magnesium, iron, and zinc.
-may cause gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea
-raises levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation
-raises levels of homocysteine, an amino acid associated with cardiovascular disease
-contributes to atherosclerosis
-long-term use contributes to cirrhosis of the liver
-inhibits copper metabolism. copper is essential to connective tissue health, including collagen, elastin, bone, and arterial strength. it also plays a role in blood sugar metabolism. hmmm...
-between 1/10,000 and 1/50,000 people have hereditary fructose intolerance. Fructose jams up their glucose pathways and severe hypoglycemia results.
-Fructose may be especially problematic for people with high blood pressure, insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, bowel disorders, and postmenopausal women.

Now my brain is spinning from processing more biochemistry than I've read in 15 years! I think I need a shot of fermented Agave...

22 March, 2008

Doula-ing & Birth Plans

Huge epiphany while vacuuming last night: I don't need to look at another birth plan. Even if I were to land in the midst of a couple's birth with no prior knowledge of them, their provider, or their fervent hopes & dreams, I could be a fabulous doula for them.

Birth plans are most useful for a mom and dad-to-be in honing their options and communicating their wishes BEFORE THE BIRTH. They can bring the plan to a prenatal visit with their midwife or doctor and hold a frank discussion about routine procedures, episiotomy statistics, etc. It can be a good way to assess if your care provider and you are seeing eye-to-eye, or if you're getting red flags about opening up and birthing with this person. As a dear friend and wise lady says "You can't order spaghetti at McDonalds." You have to order from what's on the menu. For example, if you envision a hands-off birth while your doctor believes that it is her role to provide perineal massage while your yoni is stretching around your baby's head, how are you going to achieve the birth you want?

I have a list of common events/interventions/ medications etc. that I review with parents prenatally to see if they have any questions or want more information. A birth plan helps me eyeball what their choices are or if they even know they have choices at all. But it's not necessary. We can have our discussion, they can convey their desires to me prenatally and at the birth without the magic paper. And their choices can change in an instant!

There is one OB/CNM practice here that offers its patients a pre-formed birth plan with checkboxes. It's the same mentality I use when offering my three-year-old "choices". Ultimately I am controlling the outcome while giving only the illusion of choice.

So how can I be a fabulous doula if dropped into a stranger's birth from a time machine? (Wow, can I wear a cape, too?) I can continuously reflect what I see happening back to the couple. "I see the doctor wants to place an internal fetal monitor." I can ask them if they have questions. "Do you have any questions about that?" I might even ask if they give consent if they have not indicated yes or no. "Are you okay with that?" Or ask them if they want time to mull things over. I can offer them comfort and love, mothering the mother (and father if need be!). And I can release my "stuff", my expectations, my shoulds, because it's not my birth.

I do realize that asking these questions means using lots of words, which engages the neocortex, taking a woman out of her instinctive primal birth zone. By not knowing a couple's wishes or vision I might need to use more language. However, if they are birthing in a place where I need to be talking so much, chances are there is already other chatter happening that has pulled mama away from her inner wildebeest.

21 March, 2008

B***y Bars

Local healthfood store (that term gets looser & looser all the time) now carries a certain nutrition bar designed for pregnant/ postpartum women. They claim to be "natural" and are even endorsed on the Today Show by a nutritionist and a celebrity "chef" (again applying the term loosely to a lovely woman who cooks with store-bought tomato sauce. So do I, 99% of the time, but I don't purport to be a chef. but I digress).

Let's take a look-see at the nutritional content:

Brown Rice Syrup SUGAR. The number one ingredient. Cleverly disguised as a whole food and touted as being "healthier than sugar" but once you isolate and purify it, it's maltose + glucose!

Toasted Oats, (Rolled Oats, Honey, Soybean Oil) Oats alone ain't so bad. Cooked honey (more SUGAR) creates toxic accumulations in our bodies, according to the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda. Soybean oil is high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, and is a new item in the long history of human food consumption. Like most vegetable oils, highly processed and not heart-healthy.

Soy Crisp (Soy Protein Isolate, Rice Flour, Calcium Carbonate) Calcium carbonate is chalk. It also neutralizes your stomach's hydrochloric acid, making protein digestion and mineral absorption damn near impossible. Ironic, yes? Soy protein has a whole host of issues: highly estrogenic, goitrogenic (affects thyroid activity), inhibits trypsin (protein-digesting enzyme), binds to minerals making them hard to absorb, and since it's not organic, the soy is probably genetically modified and doused with pesticides. Yum. We need all the nerve and endocrine-disrupting chemicals we can get when gestating our babies, gals! Visit The Weston A. Price Foundation for information about Soy that just might rock your world.

Crisp Rice (Rice Flour, Malt Extract, Rice Bran, Calcium Carbonate) rice elements have been separated, treated with high temperatures and pressures (destroying any nutrients), and then sprayed with malt extract to replace missing fiber and more chalk (calcium carbonate)

Almonds a whole food, yippee!

Soynuts (Soybeans, Sugar, Natural Flavors, Sunflower Oil, Salt, Caramel Color) more sugar. "natural" flavors are anything but. Soy: see above.

Graham Pieces (Wheat Flour, Sugar, Canola Oil, Salt, Sodium Bicarbonate) More sugar and inflammatory, highly processed omega-6 oils. Canola oil is NOT healthy, folks. Dump yours out and don't look back. Sodium bicarbonate is baking soda. Like calcium carbonate, it neutralizes hydrochloric acid. Now you can't digest whatever nutrients your body can find in this product.

Nonfat Milk Powder Note this is not organic milk. It likely contains antibiotic and pesticide residue, as well as recombinant bovine growth hormone. Milk that is dried and powdered via high temperature processing is also oxidized, creating rancid compounds that wreak havoc on our arteries. Nitrites created by high-temperature drying are potential carcinogens. Read your yogurt labels: if they contain "powdered milk", put the yogurt down and very slowly back away.

Palm Kernel Oil Plant-based saturated fats supply energy and are not stored as body fat. Plus they contain fat-soluble vitamins. Traditional peoples around the world feed their pregnant mamas delectable fatty treats such as fish eggs because they know this helps grow a healthy baby.

Milled Flaxseeds Fiber, a little omega-3's, all right.

Vitamins & Minerals: Calcium Carbonate, (Calcium), Magnesium Carbonate (Magnesium), D-Alpha-Tocopheryl, Acetate (Vitamin E), Elemental Iron (Iron), Sodium, Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Ascorbic Acid, (Vitamin C), Folic Acid (Folate), Beta Carotene 10% (Vitamin A), Zinc Oxide (Zinc), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, (Vitamin B6), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12).

The minerals calcium, magnesium, and zinc are bound to cheap compounds and are very hard to absorb in this form. Elemental iron isn't bound to anything--I am wondering how our bodies will know it is food? We don't have receptor sites in our intestines for rust. In general these vitamins and minerals are USP, isolated, synthetic, lab-created molecules. Not organic molecules which are found in living tissues, and which sustain life.

So what we have here is essentially sugar, sugar, and more sugar; highly processed hard-to-digest protein, highly processed fats, and synthetic isolated "nutrients" wrapped in plastic. And we are supposed to grow LIFE from this toxic amalgam? "Baby wants chocolate"? Please!