Hair-Raising Stats on this “White Plague” and How to Reduce Your Need for Sweets
Sugar is caustic, plain and simple, especially the white, refined versions, which demolish health with staggering ease. Most foods consumed today, processed and homemade alike, contain added sugar. While the more natural sweeteners such as raw honey, maple syrup, and dehydrated cane sugar juice are gentler on our body chemistry, they still contain a high concentration of these simple carbohydrates. When over-consumed, sugar provokes a whirlwind of regulatory functions in the body that race to rebalance the system after sugar’s body-blow, especially for pint-sized kiddos. Replacing unhealthful sweeteners with more wholesome choices is a good first step to a more nourished body. The second and often more challenging step is reducing cravings and breaking the habit of daily sugary desserts. Although it may take a bit of work, I assure you, it can be done!
IS SUGAR REALLY THAT BAD?
A comment I often hear is, “A little won’t hurt!” Sure, a little sugar is a minor challenge for healthy individuals. Unfortunately, dysfunctional blood sugar balance, immune issues, and adrenal fatigue are common, and even a small amount of sugar can send someone with these disturbances into sugar shock. Moreover, most of us already get a little here, a little there, and then a little more over here, and bam! That sugar really adds up. What do I mean by “a lot”? Our ancestors likely indulged in around one tablespoon (60 calories) of honey per day (when available), which is stunningly low compared to today’s average sugar intake of one cup (774 calories) per day!1 YOWZERS!
About twenty years ago, Nancy Appleton, PhD, began an eye-opening, research-supported list of the ways sugar can ruin your health. As research on the subject has continued, so has Appleton’s list, growing to one hundred forty-three points long. The latest version is included in her most recent book, Suicide by Sugar. It is also available on her health blog found at www. nancyappleton.com. Here is a small, yet powerful sampling of reasons to avoid sugar:
• Sugar feeds cancer cells and has been connected with the development of cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate, rectum, pancreas, lung, gallbladder and stomach.2-6
• Sugar can increase fasting levels of glucose and can cause reactive hypoglycemia.7
• Sugar can cause many problems with the gastrointestinal tract, including an acidic digestive tract, indigestion, malabsorption in patients with functional bowel disease, increased risk of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.8-12
• Sugar can interfere with your absorption of protein.13
• Sugar can cause food allergies.14
• Sugar contributes to obesity.15
As a mother, I regard sugar’s impact on my children as a top priority; for the kiddos themselves of course, but also for more selfish reasons—my sanity. The more well-mannered and happy my children are, the more smooth is the daily flow. Sugar’s impact on children is more dramatic than it is on adults due to their smaller size and still-developing systems. The connection between sugar consumption and rowdy behavior and weakened immunity is strong.
Clinical research has proven that destructive, aggressive and restless behavior is significantly correlated with the amount of sugar that is consumed. 16 The main reason for this is the fact that refined carbohydrates, which include sugar and its cousin white flour, cause hypoglycemia,17 or low blood sugar. Because glucose (blood sugar) is the primary fuel for the brain, when blood levels are too low, the brain is affected first.18 The chain of events goes something like this: a soda drink or other sugary food is consumed and blood sugar rapidly goes up, the body releases insulin in response, and the sudden increase in insulin causes a drop in blood glucose. This yo-yo scenario stresses the body, causing a fight-or-flight response, which involves a rapid increase in adrenaline. Both the low blood sugar and surge of adrenaline exacerbate aggressive behavior and contribute to hyperactivity, anxiety and attention difficulties.19
I frequently hear testimonials from other moms who see improvements in their children’s behavior after reducing sugar in their family’s diet. Envision the impact the reduction of sugar consumption could have on an entire school! One such success story is set in a Georgia elementary school, where the principal, Dr. Yvonne Sanders-Butler, recognized the need for dietary changes with her students suffering many modern illnesses— obesity, diabetes and hypertension. In 2005, Browns Mill School became the first sugar-free school in the country, and the results speak for themselves with a 30 percent decrease in nurse visits, a 28 percent drop in teacher referrals for bad behavior, and improved test scores.20 Dr. Sanders-Butler continues to see the difference in the children’s health through weight loss and fewer absences, as well as more frequent everyday positive interactions with happier children.
At Browns Mill, every parent and child is asked to sign an “Achieving Academic Excellence through Nutrition” commitment contract, outlining the parameters and expectations of the program. Sugary foods are prohibited (even for birthdays) and confiscated if brought to school. School lunch menus were revamped and exercise, breakfast, and good sleep are expected. It goes to show, bold action can lead to sweet rewards!
Minerals work synergistically with one another and have a vast number of functions within the body, including maintaining pH balance, aiding in digestion, and transmitting nerve impulses. Suffice it to say that the consequences of mineral imbalance can lead to many problems, including anxiety, asthma, tooth decay, brittle bones, and poor sleep quality. Here is the kicker: if one mineral is out of balance, so go the others. This is particularly true of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous.
Years ago the dentist Melvin E. Page uncovered the significance of calcium’s ratio to phosphorous in regards to bone absorption and tooth decay. Sugar was found to be the driving force behind calcium-phosphorous imbalance; the elimination of this refined food allowed the ratio to recover and glucose levels in the blood to normalize. It was then that factors leading to bone loss and tooth decay (along with a number of other symptoms) vanished.
Sugar causes the body to excrete calcium and magnesium, which results in an improper calcium-phosphorous ratio. To help restore this balance, stored calcium is pulled from storage sources throughout the body—namely teeth and bones. 21,22 Unfortunately, much of this previously stored calcium isn’t utilized well because it is not perfectly paired with phosphorus or magnesium. The calcium is either removed in the urine or finds a new, unnatural home, as in kidney stones or gallstones.23
In his seminal work Sugar Blues, William Dufty explains the body’s strain with sugar intake this way: “So essential is balance to our bodies that we have many ways to provide against the sudden shock of a heavy intake of sugar. Minerals, such as sodium (from salt), potassium and magnesium (from vegetables) and calcium (from the bones) are mobilized and used in chemical transmutation; neutral acids are produced, which attempt to return the acid-alkaline balance factor of the blood to a more normal state. Sugar taken every day produces a continuously over-acid condition, and more and more minerals are required from deep in the body in the attempt to rectify the imbalance. Finally, in order to protect the blood, so much calcium is taken from the bones and teeth that decay and general weakening begin.”24
A simple way to get a general idea of your body’s acidity is to use pH test strips or litmus paper. Sugar and grain excess, stress, and other unhealthy habits lower the body’s pH levels. For optimal health, our body’s pH should be neutral to slightly alkaline; when it is too acidic the body buffers this acidity by releasing calcium and magnesium from bones and breaking down muscle to produce ammonia (strongly alkaline).
|SIDEBARAlternatives to Candy as Rewards for Children
When it comes to food, I am quite the negotiator. Brainstorm on what your child enjoys most. Maybe you limit your child’s time with the TV. A piece of candy received at school can be traded for an extra half-hour show, staying up fifteen minutes past normal bedtime, or an extra trip to the pool over the weekend. A ticket system could be devised to work up to something bigger, such as a doll or a pair of in-line skates. Use your imagination to make active family fun more tempting than sugar.
Also, you can offer your child’s teacher or Girl Scout group leader ideas for rewards or gifts instead of candy. Depending on the age, consider nickels or dimes, balloons, pencils, bookmarks, crayons, ribbons, glow bracelets, stickers, and other little trinkets from the dollar store. It may even be worth purchasing these alternatives to make the switch happen.
Saliva (upon rising) and urine (second voiding of the morning) are best for testing pH levels, although some believe urine to be more accurate. Compare the color of the urine or saliva-covered strip to the pH color chart accompanying the package. Collect numbers over several days for an average, which will give you an idea how well your body is dealing with your sugar and carbohydrate load as well as managing your mineral coffers.25 If your pH tests show high acidity (below 6.8), cut down on your sugars and grains (especially all processed products), increase your consumption of good fats and recheck in a couple of weeks.
MORE SICK DAYS
White blood cells, called neutrophils, are a primary player in the immune system, fending off infection from foreign bacteria and viruses, anything from colds and strep throat to ear and sinus infections. Research shows these “germ-destroyers” become much less effective at their job when sugar is consumed (table sugar, fructose and even orange juice), and this immune malfunction can last up to six hours after consumption. 26 Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint, suggests the reason for this six-hour despondency is that the neutrophils are too busy dealing with the inflammatory mess created by the influx of sugar.27 Whatever the mechanics, removing excess sugar is a must if you want to reduce the number of illnesses your family suffers.
THE ADDICTIVE POWER OF SUGAR
Although socially acceptable, sugar addiction is real. As with any addictive substance, more and more sugar is consumed over time, withdrawal symptoms are experienced when it is removed (headaches, low energy, mood swings), and finally strong cravings often lead to relapse. Regardless of the fact that it has been referred to as the “white plague” and rivals cocaine in its addictive strength,28 sugar remains a socially sanctioned commodity to sell, eat, or use to celebrate and lavish on children.
Sugar’s addictive power is three-fold. First, we have a natural affinity to sugar. It tastes yummy and gives our body fuel. While stumbling upon a beehive or bush of ripe wild berries was quite useful to our foraging ancestors in their endeavors to obtain enough calories, our situation is quite different today. In our developed world of easy access, this added fuel has become over-available, over-processed and over-consumed, all of which lead to trouble with a capital T.
|SIDEBARTHE SIX TASTES
In the Ayurvedic philosophy, foods are categorized by six major tastes, or rasas. Foods usually contain many tastes, but they are identified by their main flavor.
Sweet : honey, rice, milk, butter/ghee, coconut, dates, fig, grapes, squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, fruit, walnut, chicken, eggs, and most grains.
Sour : citrus fruits (lemons, limes, grapefruit), cheese, yogurt, tomatoes, apple, olive, peach, pineapple, plum, raspberry, adzuki beans, strawberry, vinegar and fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickles, miso).
Salty: salt, sea vegetables (kelp, dulse).
Bitter : leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, green cabbage, Romaine), zucchini, eggplant, olives, turmeric, vinegar.
Pungent : ginger, onions, radish, black and white pepper, mustard, chives, cinnamon, clove, dill, garlic, green onion, red pepper, rosemary, basil, salsa.
Astringent : legumes (beans and lentils), apples, cranberries, pomegranates, pears, dried fruit, potatoes, walnuts, broccoli, cauliflower, artichoke, asparagus, turnip, rye, buckwheat, and quinoa, turmeric, and marjoram.
Second, sugar has the ability to increase pleasure-yielding opioids in the brain, similar to morphine and heroin, making one’s sugar cravings often too strong to ignore.29 Julia Ross tells us in The Diet Cure, “For some of us, certain foods, particularly ones that are sweet and starchy, can have a drug-like effect, altering our brains’ mood chemistry and fooling us into a false calm, or a temporary energy surge. We can eventually become dependent on these drug-like foods for continued mood lifts.”30
Third, sugar begets more sugar. Eating sugar clearly throws one’s body chemistry into a tailspin. Tag on poor sleep habits, adrenal fatigue, and an overload of distress, intense cravings for sugar (or other substance like alcohol or drugs) can easily develop. Insulin imbalances and a lack of the happy-brain chemical called serotonin are often the underlying culprits. Essentially, the sugar being consumed perpetuates the vicious cycle of more intense sugar cravings.
Are the dangers of sugar giving you chills yet? We live in a fallen world; sickness, crime, mental illness, diabetes, cancer and other unfortunate situations are going to happen, but imagine if the body-wrecking effects of an overload of sugar were removed from the equation? How much less would we suffer? How much easier would it be for children to sit still, concentrate, and behave in class? How much happier would people feel? Would teen violence or drug use diminish? The positive possibilities are endless.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
Becoming sugar-celibate isn’t necessary or appealing to most. We are designed to enjoy sweet foods and, well, they taste good! Nancy Appleton’s extensive research on sugar led her to uncover the fact that, for healthy individuals, the threshold of added sugar is two teaspoons at one time, no more than two to three times a day, totaling two tablespoons altogether.31 This means any sugar—white table sugar, dehydrated cane sugar juice, maple syrup, honey, dextrose, brown rice syrup, maple sugar or coconut sugar. For unhealthy individuals, no amount of sugar is recommended.
In terms of processed foods, two teaspoons isn’t much (see the side bar titled “Sugar in Common Products” on page 57). Bottom-line, most processed foods are too sugar-heavy to be eaten if balanced body chemistry is your goal. Switching to artificial sweeteners is not the answer either, as these synthetic ingredients cause numerous deleterious side effects (see Sugar-Free Blues on www.westonaprice.org for more). Also, as a side note, white flours and other stripped starches (also frequently found in processed foods) function similarly to sugar due to their “skeletonized” state; they are also best avoided for all the same reasons previously mentioned.
Most families seeking vibrant health know that home-cooked meals are a necessity. The case made for cutting down sugar only strengthens the need for this fresh-from-the-kitchen lifestyle. As for added sugar in homemade goods, below are a few reasonable choices one might consume:
• Two teaspoons raw honey in a serving of full-fat, homemade yogurt with berries, ground nuts, and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg
• Two teaspoons maple syrup blended in a fruit sauce to top soaked wholegrain pancakes or waffles
• One tablespoon honey-sweetened preserves on an almond butter sandwich
• A spoonful of ketchup sweetened with evaporated cane juice on your pasturedraised, bison burger
• One tablespoon date syrup or paste in an avocado pudding
• A small pour of brown rice syrup in a smoothie with egg yolks, berries and coconut oil
• A muffin recipe made with 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) coconut sugar per dozen (equals 2 teaspoons per muffin)
Needless to say, it is imperative that each and every one of us becomes keenly aware of our added sugar consumption. But what about sugars naturally found in foods? Fruits, berries, milk, carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes and red peppers? Whole foods contain a cornucopia of vitamins, minerals, fiber, fat and other co-factors that mitigate the dangers of the residing sugars. Body chemistry is not as affected as with more concentrated and isolated sugar sources. Moreover, once a person’s body chemistry is stabilized, these more subtly sweet, whole foods will often be enough to satisfy sweet cravings.
With that said, while these wholesome foods are nourishing to consume, the more sugar-endowed choices can be overdone. If you like fruit, the less-sugary choices of berries, cherries, and apricots are best. One or two dates at a time are plenty, as each can have up to one teaspoon of sugar. Raw milk from range-fed animals is definitely nourishing for most to consume, however overindulging in its uncultured form can work against those who are trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss. (Culturing dairy uses up most, if not all, the sugars.)
A starch-filled sweet potato smothered with pastured butter and sour cream will cause only moderate fluctuations in blood sugar levels, because of the added fat and protein to slow down the meal’s digestion. Essentially, overdoing any food with a higher percentage of sugar or starch (from grains and potato foods) can be counterproductive to insulin stability and overall health. Use wise judgment and regularly re-evaluate your family’s attachment to even non-refined sweet foods.
Dr. Joseph Mercola goes as far as to say in his book Sweet Deception, “Without a doubt the best way to prevent aging and degenerative disease is to keep your insulin levels in a low but healthy range.” The simple answer to healthy insulin levels is moderate intake of grains, minimal consumption of sugars, physical activity, good sleep and a healthy mental outlook.
As for those dealing with health conditions or symptoms, eliminating concentrated sugar sources altogether is ideal, at least for the short term. Ironically, one’s insatiable desire for sugar could indeed be worsened by these very same health issues, resulting in a difficult-to-break cycle. If you are unsure where to start, partner with a holistic practitioner to assess your blood glucose levels. Find out your adrenal hormone rhythm (through a saliva test) and assess your thyroid health. A full blood panel can also give useful information on the body’s needs and deficiencies.
For tips on conquering sugar cravings, see page 58. These will help you get your family off health-wrecking sweeteners and replace them with more nourishing, less-processed sweeteners. And now, knowing what you know, even these naturally derived sugars should be limited; unfortunately, cravings sabotage the best of intentions. But with the right tool you can zap sugar cravings at the source. There is no magic pill; getting off sugar requires a well-designed lifestyle with exercise, plenty of sleep and relaxation, and time in the kitchen. Only then will your days of sugar slavery come to an end so that you can reap the rewards of happier moods, less sickness, and an overall brighter future for everyone.
Sugar in Common Products35
|Kool-Aid, 8 ounces||6|
|Jello, 1/3 cup||4.5|
|Yoplait yogurt, flavored, 99% fat-free, 6 ounces.||8|
|Cap’n Crunch cereal, 2 cups||8|
|Tropicana pure premium orange juice, 8 ounces||5.5|
|Apple and Eve clear apple juice (100% juice), 8 ounces||5.5|
|Ketchup, 2 tablespoons||1.5|
|Original Gatorade, 20 ounces||9|
|Soda drink, 12 ounces||16.5|
ZAPPING CRAVINGS: SIX PRACTICAL STEPS
1. Find your best diet: The diet that best suits your biological needs and satisfies cravings may be a smidge different from that of other family members. Stick with the core traditional food principles (see Modernizing Your Diet with Traditional Foods on www.westonaprice.org), but experiment with different food combinations, portions, protein levels, grain intake, and amount and type of fat. Then take the time to evaluate how you feel. There should naturally be a sense of ease, vitality, clarity and satisfaction that will not be felt if a diet is off kilter.
2. Focus on fermented food: Many people find that once they begin to consume more fermented foods and beverages their yearning for sweets naturally disappears. Your choices are myriad; see Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell or Eat Fat Lose Fat by Mary Enig for ideas and recipes. Donna Gates, author of The Body Ecology Diet, says “If you do give in to the temptation of sugar, consider having fermented foods and drinks along with them. The healthy microflora in fermented foods and beverages will use the sugar as its food, reducing the negative effects on your body.”32
Try a tall glass of fermented ginger ale along with a popsicle during a warm summer afternoon, or accompany a rich homemade carob coconut oil-based truffle with a fruity fermented chutney. If your child is attending the occasional sugar-laden birthday party, send her off with a can of coconut water to enjoy during the festivities.
3. Win the mental game: For many, eating something sweet to “top off the tank” following one or even all meals is simply habit or a lackadaisical presumption about sugar. Don’t forget, eating sweets begets more sweets. Remind yourself regularly that for a healthy body and mind, desserts (even when made with natural sweeteners) are ideally reserved for occasional consumption and special celebrations, not everyday meals. Additionally, while dealing with more negative thought patterns and emotions—distress, anger, sadness—the consumption of sugary and starchy foods can quickly morph into a coping mechanism. Stay aware and seek help for emotion-driven eating when necessary.
4. Take the Three-Week Challenge: Slowly remove added sugar from your diet. If you have a competitive edge, find a friend to help spur you on. For the more sugar-addicted folks, commit to a three-week challenge. Week one involves becoming aware of your added sugar consumption and removing, replacing, or reducing the most obvious insults. Replace soda drinks with spring water, cookies with trail mix, store-bought dressings with homemade vinaigrettes. Week two, cut your sweet treats in half; for example, if you often follow dinner with a dessert, cut that down to three or four times a week. During week three, cut dessert intake in half again and continue this pattern until you are down to once a week at most. On dessert days, plan it and relish your indulgence. Sally Fallon Morell suggests
on evenings when a meal is less appealing to some in the family, such as a liver dish, dessert can be the prize for cleaning plates.33
At the conclusion of this gradual decline, you will notice your desire for sweets has lessened dramatically and as time goes on the effort needed to refrain will be much less. Don’t forget to give yourself a well-deserved reward for your accomplishment: a luxurious massage or that new book you have been waiting to buy.
5. Remove the temptation and have a plan: Sounds too simple to mention, but I find most people need reminding now and again: play hard-to-get with sugary snacks. Invariably, if a sweet food is ready and waiting in the cupboard or fridge when hunger strikes, it will be consumed, even for those with the most powerful of wills. Always have a clever plan for the moment when cravings creep up, such as stash of sugar-free CinnamoNuts or a pitcher full of Pucker-up Red Tea (see recipes on page 59). A nut butter-stuffed date is always a quick and easy delight as “au naturel” berries or fruit. Also try topping fruit with whipped cream and nuts or bake a cored apple or pear with butter and spices (stuffed in the opening) to jazz it up. Finally, when you do allow your family the occasional indulgence, make sure it is bursting with nourishing fats—coconut, avocados, cream, butter, nuts, egg yolks—to slow the absorption of sugar, and dish up fat soluble nutrients essential for regulating the effects of sugar in the body.
6. Prepare meals with all six tastes: Ayurveda is a six-thousand-year-old philosophy on life, health and food preparation. Practitioners of this system believe that when each taste is present in a meal— sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent—the body becomes more balanced, ultimately minimizing cravings, stabilizing appetite and perfecting digestion. Ayurvedic teachings go much deeper into the properties of each food and their effects on an individual’s dosha or constitution, yet the practice of the six tastes is fairly easy. For example, chutney made with fruit and spices can incorporate all six tastes and makes a lovely condiment to many meals (see the Fruit Chutney recipe in Nourishing Traditions). All tastes are easily incorporated into a meat stew with butternut squash, greens, tomatoes, onions, legumes and spices. Or chicken tacos (chicken slow cooked with salt and a touch of turmeric under the skin) topped with sour cream, tomatoes, cilantro, avocados, red pepper spears, leafy greens, and cortido (Latin American sauerkraut, recipe found in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell). Basically, strive to include a wide variety of ingredients in your family’s meals, complement each with a fermented condiment, and there is a good chance of dishing up six tastes.
NO-SUGAR SNACK ALTERNATIVES
2 cups crispy almonds (or walnuts, pecans, etc.—see Nourishing Traditions for details)
1 egg white, preferably from pastured hen
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon green stevia powder (not extract)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Whisk egg white until frothy but not stiff. Blend in the oil. Add almonds and stir until well coated. Sprinkle on the cinnamon and stevia powder and mix well again. Spread out evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until golden, stirring every 20 minutes to ensure even cooking.
Note, the nuts will become crisper as they cool. Store in an airtight container. For variation, try other nuts (pecans, walnuts, brazil nuts) and play around with different spices (add a dash of cayenne or nutmeg or replace the cinnamon with turmeric and ginger), but bear in mind that cooking times may vary a bit.
PUCKER-UP RED TEA
4 cups boiling filtered or spring water
1/4 – 1/2 cup dried hibiscus flowers
2-3 teaspoons green stevia powder (not extract)
Cinnamon stick (optional)
Pour the boiling water over the dried flowers, stevia and optional cinnamon stick in a glass container and stir. Allow the tea to stand for at least 10 minutes, up to overnight. Strain out flowers and dilute to your liking with additional filtered water or a fermented beverage, such as water kefir or the Punch (similar to lemonade) or Ginger Ale recipes in Nourishing Traditions.
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20. Sanders-Butler, Yvonne Ed.D, Healthy Kids, Smart Kids. The Principal-Created, Parent-Tested,Kid-Approved Nutrition Plan for Sound Bodies and Strong Minds. Penguin Group. 2005. pp. 33-34 NOTE: Dr. Sanders-Butler’s strides in her sugar-free school are noteworthy; however, her advice on fats and soy is incorrect, if using this program in your own school, adjustments must be made.
21. Appleton, Nancy. Lick the Sugar Habit. New York. Avery Penguin Putnam. 1988. p. 23
22. Mercola, Joseph. Sweet Deception. Why Splenda, NutraSweet, and the FDA May Be Hazardous ToYour Health. Thomas Nelson. 2006. p.12
23. Fallon, Sally, Enig, Mary, PhD. Dem Bones: Do High Protein Diets Cause Bone Loss? Myths & Truths about Osteoporosis. 2000 First published in Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation quarterly journal. Found at http://www.westonaprice.org/modern-diseases/osteoporosis/271-dem-bones.html
24. Dufty, William. Sugar Blues. Warner Books. 1975. p. 137
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Body Ecology E-newsletter. Found at http://bodyecology.com/07/04/12/25_reasons_to_avoid_sugar.php
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This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2010.