Halloween: How to do it healthier this year
As a primary care physician, I see the first real wave of the cold season in the first few weeks after Halloween. Typically, patients will come in with runny nose, sore throat, cough, etc., with a story that goes something like this: "Well, the kids brought home these huge bags of Halloween candy, and I was thinking I should throw them away, but we ended up eating the whole thing."
These stories are very familiar and unsurprising. The connection between the common cold and sugar consumption is as follows: When you consume sugar, the white blood cells, which are the soldiers of your immune system, are inactivated for between 5 and 24 hours afterward.  As a result, the opportunistic rhinoviruses and coronaviruses that cause colds are unopposed in their invasion of your respiratory mucous membranes. The usual cold symptoms often result.
Our family does something a little different for Halloween. My son puts on his costume, and then has the very important job of dispensing treats when we answer the door together. Those treats are basically party favors: pens, tops, rubbery lizards, plastic sunglasses, light-up balls, etc. They are a bit more expensive per child than candy, even at one toy per child. But that is our way of not pumping more sugar into the neighborhood kids.
When I was a kid, we did something similar. Mom gave us kids little stapled bags of popcorn that she had popped, to hand out to the trick or treaters. She did this every year when I was growing up, and the popcorn was often still warm in the bags when we handed it out. It was a good alternative to the candy that kids mostly received.
Some other ways you can have a healthier Halloween is to make your own sweets with healthy sweeteners. The only two really benign sweeteners out there, that are not artificial or alcohol sugars or with a high glycemic index, are stevia and agave nectar.
Stevia has a glycemic index of zero, so it will not raise your blood sugar, and in some cases lowers it. [2, 3] Stevia is probably the most mishandled of any sweetener. Almost all of my patients who tried it used the powder and found that they got so much that a bitter after-taste resulted. This is because stevia is many times sweeter than sugar, and it is easy to get too much. I strongly recommend using the liquid stevia instead, and just using a few drops to start. For example, I make a glass of lemonade by squeezing 1/4 lemon into a 16 oz glass of water. Then I add 8 drops of liquid stevia. From there, you can adjust to taste.
A variety of stevia recipes are on this link at stevia.com. I would start with the cold or room temperature recipes first for the best results.
Agave nectar is more versatile than stevia and is somewhat closer to the taste of sugar. It has a glycemic index of 27, not quite zero, but certainly lower than many other foods, many including vegetables, meats and dairy. You can bake with it, and use it in a variety of recipes. Here are some agave recipes online.
If the food in your house is part of the problem, and Halloween leaves its dregs behind all year long, start shopping just the periphery of the supermarket where the whole foods are. Skip the aisles of processed and sweetened foods and drinks. Leaving bad food behind at the supermarket makes a whole food/sugar-free diet a whole lot easier. Whatever you do, don't bring the cookies and ice cream home to your kitchen, where they then sit there a few feet away from you like ticking bombs, and quickly find their way into everybody's tummies. (You are only human after all. Don't make your temptations any more difficult than they already are by bringing them into your house.) Start the clean sweep of your pantry during a weekend, so that neither you nor your children will be tempted by junk outside the home within those first critical 48 hours. When the cravings become bothersome, massage all of both ears to cover the ear acupuncture points related to addiction. Broccoli, cheese and liver are foods high in chromium, which is helpful specifically for sugar cravings. Drinking water is the best way to flush out toxins and metabolites more quickly.
On creating a whole food household for the first time, your children may balk, but within a few days, they will 1) learn to accept the food that you are providing them, and 2) will then let you know that they are feeling better. During the usually sniffly weeks after Halloween, you will be glad that you have already embarked on a healthier way of life.
Cheap Meat: An Accident Waiting to Happen
By Jo Robinson
The latest fiasco in the U.S. livestock industry is that thousands of hogs and chickens have been raised on feed contaminated with melamine, the same chemical that has sickened thousands of cats and dogs. According to the U.S.D.A., some meat from those hogs and chickens has already entered our food supply.
How did this happen? The story begins in China. Melamine is an inexpensive by-product of the coal industry. In a deceptive practice, some Chinese producers have been adding melamine to rice, wheat, and soy meal to make the products appear to contain more protein. (Melamine is not a protein and has no food value, but it is rich in nitrogen and mimics protein on standardized laboratory tests.) Melamine costs less than true sources of protein, so the manufacturer makes more money.
The story continues in the United States. In order to lower the cost of pet food production, U.S. companies have been importing cheap protein meal from China. The pet food manufacturers had no way of knowing that some of these products were spiked with melamine. The exact number of dead and sickened pets is unknown.
But how did melamine get fed to our pigs and chickens? A common cost-cutting practice in the livestock industry is to supplement animal feed with floor sweepings and other leftovers from pet food manufacturing plants. In recent months, however, some of the sweepings happened to be laced with melamine. In this serpentine fashion, a cost-cutting adulterant that was added to protein meal in China found its way into U.S. pet food, then U.S. livestock feed, and then the food on our dinner tables.
The F.D.A. and the U.S.D.A. do not foresee any health consequences from eating melamine-spiced pork and poultry. This may prove to be true. The family pets that died ate the melamine itself; we are eating chickens and pigs that ate the melamine, diluting its concentration.
We may have dodged the bullet this time, but as long as we continue to raise our livestock on a least-cost basis, our health is at risk. For example, many cost-cutting practices lower the nutritional value of our meat. Research shows that the nearly universal practice of fattening cattle on straw and grain instead of fresh pasture gives us beef that is higher in total fat and lower in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. The practice causes no immediate harm, but our health may suffer over the long term.
Some cost-cutting strategies are deadly. In the 1980s and 90s, feedlot managers tried to save money by feeding cattle scraps back to cattle. The tragic result was mad cow disease. Eating meat contaminated with trace amounts of melamine may cause little or no harm. Eating just one serving of beef from a mad cow can kill you.
Adding more governmental oversight is a stop-gap solution. We need a sea change in the way we raise our livestock. We need to raise the animals on their native diets or on quality ingredients that match their original diets as closely as possible. When we feed wholesome feed to our animals, we can serve wholesome food to our families. We are what our animals eat.
- Bernstein, J., et al. "Depression of Lymphocyte Transformation Following Oral Glucose Ingestion." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.1997;30:613.
- Jeppesen PB,et al. Antihyperglycemic and blood pressure-reducing effects of stevioside in the diabetic Goto-Kakizaki rat. Metabolism. 2003 Mar;52(3):372-8
- Jeppesen PB, et al. Stevioside acts directly on pancreatic beta cells to secrete insulin: actions independent of cyclic adenosine monophosphate and adenosine triphosphate-sensitive K+-channel activity. Metabolism. 2000 Feb;49(2):208-14.