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Vibrant Health On A Tightwad Budget part two
Vibrant Health On A Tightwad Budget part two

by Carol Tashel


In cultures where longevity was common and degenerative disease rare, the traditional diet functioned like preventive medicine. It featured hearty broths, a dizzying variety of vegetables and wild herbs, small amounts of nutrient-dense meats (including liver, kidney, etc.), fermented grains and cultured dairy products with beneficial bacteria, loads of fiber, minerals, natural anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. (These diets didn't contain chemicals, hydrogenated fats, sugars, refined or fake foods, etc.) Many "modern" people pop acidophilus capsules, take dessicated glandulars, mineral supplements and Omega-3 fish oil, hoping for the best.

If only we could take a few pills and guarantee vital health, right? Well, it's not that simple. In general, vitamins, minerals and trace elements depend upon each other. Good quality food and herbs, in a diverse, well-prepared diet, contain these elements, in just the right balance. What if we returned to eating not one or two, but all of these complete foods? Could we set the supplements aside? (I understand that people with serious health challenges may need supplements to help turn things around.)

I know what you're thinking: "But how could we get what we need? Our world is so toxic, soils are depleted, and foods don't contain the nutrients they once did." Good point. My answer? Look for a complete palette of essential elements in the neglected weeds of the land and sea--wild foods and seaweed.

It pays to acquire a taste for sea vegetables, which offer a bounty of minerals and trace elements. Eating just two tablespoons a day is a reasonable and affordable goal. I regularly use seven different tasty varieties, most of them gathered in clean waters off the coast of Mendocino.

Wild greens and herbs contain a gold mine of vitamins and minerals (always gather them on clean land). For example, wild dandelion leaves boast about twice the beta carotene and calcium as spinach. Lambsquarters, purslane, dandelion, amaranth greens and mallow are delicious and free for the taking, probably in your backyard!

There are a couple of inexpensive supplements that can really make a difference. One is cod liver oil, an "old-fashioned" item with an A+ reputation. It nourishes the cardiovascular, nervous, immune and respiratory systems, bones, skin and more. If you just can't chug the oil, then try capsules. To avoid a potentially dangerous buildup of vitamin D, take the oil only from mid-October to mid-April, and don't use it when living in a tropical area.

The other is flax seed. It's a food, an herb and a medicine, and a month's supply costs only a few bucks. Freshly ground, raw flax seeds help prevent breast and prostate cancer, normalize the menstrual cycle, and are anti-inflammatory.



Many people seek the omega-3 cold-water fish oils, and end up purchasing relatively affordable farm-raised salmon (which, by the way, has considerably lower levels of omega-3s than its wild brethren). Since health problems abound on most fish farms, you'll want to avoid farm-raised; but then the real thing--wild salmon--may be out of range for your tightwad budget.

Consider sardines! Some people have unpleasant visceral reactions to this suggestion, but there are some very good tasting brands, like Bela. Sardines are cheap, eminently therapeutic, and these baby fish haven't had time to accumulate mercury. Eat whole (not boneless/skinless), smoked sardines, packed in olive oil (not cottonseed or soy oil). Cost? As little as $1.60 per can--even lower if you purchase by the case.

Many of the best meals start with sautéed onion and garlic (rich in anti-oxidants). A once-weekly serving of shiitake mushrooms (tasty immune support) might cost $1.50. Miso, a traditionally fermented food, is easy to add to your diet. Thin a scant teaspoonful in a bit of water and add to soups or stews just before serving (cooking kills the organisms), or mix with tahini for a sandwich spread. My favorite is the "mellow white" variety. A reasonable amount of complex carbohydrates--dried beans, whole grains, etc.--are important, too. If pre-soaked or sprouted, so much the better.

Nuts and seeds have such excellent credentials that they deserve a place on your table. Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds; New Mexico-grown pecans; lightly roasted almonds and them raw, in bulk, for the best prices. Excess carbohydrate intake is the usual culprit when it comes to weight gain, but if you tend that way, you may need to limit your nuts.

Top quality saturated and monounsaturated fats play a critical role in body chemistry: These include grass-fed meats, olive oil, coconut oil, real butter and ghee, avocado, goat and sheep cheese, buttermilk, unsweetened yogurt. Actually, dairy products made from raw milk are far superior to pasteurized, but they're hard to find (some are illegal to sell). In New Mexico, certain raw milk cheeses are available (Organic Valley brand is one)--check your specialty cheese counter or local farmers for raw options, and look for the best buy. (Some may not thrive on meat or dairy, so fine-tune these issues with a practitioner.)

Include generous amounts of fruits and vegetables, whose brightly colored pigments store resveratrol, carotenoids, lycopenes, anthocyanins, epicatechins and all those unpronounceable things that are so good for you. They also balance out excess acidity in the body. In general, the darkest, richest colors offer the most (cabbage and cauliflower being notable exceptions). Don't eat only broccoli; make friends with collards, kale, Swiss chard and bok choy. In the fruit world, blueberries rank number one in antioxidants, followed by raspberries, sour cherries, blackberries and strawberries. These powerful fruits can be kept frozen and used daily. In small quantities, unsulfured dried fruits like apricots, figs and raisins have many benefits. Combine fruits with nuts and yogurt for a balanced snack. Fruit juice is pricey and contains loads of sugar. Instead, eat whole fruit or dilute your juices.

While the pharmaceutical industry appears to be in the midst of a long-overdue moral crisis (over Premarin, Prozac, Vioxx, Celebrex), and public confidence in drugs is heading toward the gutter, the world of herbal medicine marches on as it has for thousands of years, safely providing unique qualities unavailable in drugs. And they don't cost much. The ultimate way to save money on medicines is by growing or gathering plants for a home pharmacy. You can address an astonishing number of minor health conditions with a few ordinary herbs like chamomile, mullein, peppermint, yarrow, etc.

Robust health is more likely when you encourage harmonious gut functioning, keep your liver happy and soothe your adrenal glands. Herbs easily accomplish such goals. Tea blends with plants like nettle, red clover, oatstraw, raspberry leaves, horsetail and spearmint, offer minerals in abundance. Frequent use of culinary herbs do more than simply flavor your food. They're medicines, too, and as their volatile compounds pass through your body, they relax your gut, prevent infection, and more. Use minimal amounts of ginger, cayenne and cinnamon (rather heating); add basil, thyme, oregano, fennel, dill and rosemary with a heavier hand.

Here's one example of a combination tonic that covers a lot of bases, acting on the liver, kidneys, skin, circulation, gut and adrenal glands. Mix dried herbs in a jar: Two parts each Jamaican sarsaparilla root and Eleuthero root (formerly Siberian ginseng); one part each burdock root and dandelion root; one-half part each licorice root and ginger root. Simmer one level teaspoon of the root mixture in a cup of water for ten minutes, and drink one to two cups a day. Herbalists can suggest a daily tonic blend to support your well-being, based upon your individual constitution.

It's my fervent wish that people could be healthy without spending a fortune. Self-care is a revolutionary act in a culture steeped in consumerism, and where health care is big business. So find practitioners who will teach you skills to care for yourself and try a few of my suggestions. I wish you vibrant health!

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* GARDENING the SOUTHWEST: How to care for your land while growing food, beauty and medicine, by Carole Tashel (1999, Healing Earth Publications)

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