Sugar and Plain and Simple

vegetables

Eat more vegetables and less sugar.

“Sugar feeds cancer,” she wore a kind of frank-looking expression, a sum-it-all-up in a few words kind of expression. I’d not heard her words of wisdom until after I’d already been treated for cancer, but they struck me to the quick. Sugar, I thought! Not my good friend sugar! Yes, in every form sugar feeds cancer. It could be refined white sugar so prevalent in processed foods, raw cane sugar, agave, honey, even fruit and  fruit juice. Sugar is actually bad for most things: cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, depression, obesity, lethargy, blah, blah, blah. So, plain and simple, it is a wise thing to reduce our overall sugar consumption.

We tend to make getting rid of sugar in our diets very complicated. We use substitute sugar replacements or some type of natural sugar like honey or agave. Stevia is the new sugar substitute that has some positive health claims. However, using these “better options”  does nothing for reducing our appetite for sweet foods, and sometimes can even make it worse. Sugar substitutes tend to rev-up a taste for sweetness.

The recommended daily amount of sugar for adults is about twenty grams or nine teaspoons which is not very much. Just one sugary drink can put us over this limit. Replacing what we eat on a daily basis with foods very low in sugar can reduce our overall dependence on sugar. Choose to eat more vegetables than fruits. Skip white rice, bread, and pasta (our bodies process sugar from these foods) and eat greens and beans and a smaller portion of whole grain foods. Use unsweetened almond or soy milk in smoothies instead of fruit juices or milk and yogurt (these contain milk sugars). Instead of using sugar and sugar substitutes, use fabulously sweet fruits like dates, bananas and mangoes to sweeten smoothies and desserts, and healthy fruit juices like carrot juice for soups. It is still sugar but our bodies are so much better at processing natural sugars and it reduces our desire for bakery foods and other sweet confections that are best saved for special occasions. Withdraw symptoms from sugar are miserable: headaches, stomach huger feelings, digestive discomforts, dizziness, a weak and shaky feeling and/or just an overwhelming malaise. It’s the body’s way of saying, “This is hurting me.”

The same sick feelings and even the same diseases we attribute to too much sugar occur with too much stress. Stress is the flight or fight feeling we get when we are under pressure and at its foundation is fear: fear of failing, fear of losing a job, fear of getting mugged, fear of losing our friends, fear of divorce, fear of consequences, fear of dying, fear of blah, blah, blah. We fret and worry over things we have done and said, over disappointments in life, and outcomes of our reckless actions. We mess up time and again–even over the same stupid stuff, or we watch the people we love suffer from our own bad choices. We get to the point where we just can’t function as well as we used to under this constant stress and guilt. God tells us to “fear not” and “cast all our anxieties on Him” but can we?

Those feelings of fear and worry, of guilt and self-reckoning though are not brought on by our own wisdom. When we actually see how far we fall from perfect, it is a gift of discernment from God. It is the kindness of God that leads us to where we can see that we have messed up. We know something is wrong. It occurs at the beginning of repentance and trust. It is the proud and guiltless person who is lost, not the one who sees his error and is sickened with fear, worry and anxiety. Those humble folks who know they will never measure up are the ones that belong to Him. God is calling us: It is a simple as that. God has made us this way, plain and simple but we make ourselves very complicated. Forgiveness is not something we earn; it is a gift and it starts with that sick, I’ve-really-messed-up-this-time feeling. It is like the little boy who falls and suddenly sees he’s made of flesh and blood because it is pouring out of a wound, that jumps up and goes running to his father for comfort.

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.” — Jesus, Mark 2:17

Summer Corn and A Seed that is Sown

Corn-stalk planted by God in my backyard!

Corn-stalk planted by God in my backyard!

“I didn’t mow it down,” my husband told me. “I thought you planted it.” The gardener next door assured us it was a corn-stalk. Nothing grows in our backyard, including grass unfortunately. But there it was, planted not by me but by God in his natural way. It was a stubborn little corn-stalk coming out of the ground unexpectedly and very rapidly. One day it was not there and the next day it was a foot or more tall. I never realized how rapidly corn grows. I wonder if it will bear any fruit? Nothing says summer like corn-on-the-cob. If I get just one ear of corn off that stalk I’m going to boil a pot of water and when the water is in a rapid boil, I will throw the little ear in and boil it for five minutes. I will split it with my husband and we will eat this miracle corn fresh from our one-stalk garden.

My husband and I sometimes go to visit family at Kezar Lake where there is a post along the road with a little closed box that has a slit on the top for money. Alongside the post are fresh ears of corn piled high on a table. Usually the corn has been picked only hours before and it is there for the taking for a small price. It is the most delicious corn. One summer we researched and experimented with several different corn-on-the-cob recipes. Here is what we found. Five minutes at a rapid boil will result in corn “al dente”,  crisp and juicy; for 8 minutes of boiling the corn will be softer, and longer than that it begins to lose its flavor and grow mushy.

Most corn, especially sweet white corn, has been genetically modified for sweetness. However, recently corn has been genetically modified to withstand great amounts of herbicide and pesticide. So much so, that today’s GMO corn actually contains its own herbicide without any modification. When folks in the white lab coats laugh at GMO objectors, they claim we don’t know what we are talking about because genetically modifying seeds has been going on for decades. However, genetically modifying seeds for sweetness is much different from today’s modifying it for receiving poison. It is not the genetic modification we object to but the use of the process to make plants able to withstand huge amounts of herbicides and pesticides that without such modification, the plant would surely die. Such use destroys our land, our water supply and the creatures living in the water, and is possibly causing all sorts of medical problems for our children who are consuming more amounts of toxic poisons during their growth years.

Jesus talked a lot about seeds and planting because he lived in an agrarian society. People of that time understood plants and farming, sheep herding, and fig trees, and Jesus talks about all these things. It is difficult to understand when today most of us get our produce from the market. Nevertheless, I have many people in my life who understood what Jesus was talking about and have done what they could to help me understand. When we help each other to understand the message of Christ, a small seed of understanding is planted in our hearts. Jesus describes this process as a mustard seed that is a very small seed but when planted grows into an enormous tree that is abundant with life. He warns us of worries, troubling times, other people around us who behave contrary to his teachings, and the deceitfulness of wealth that can choke and kill the seed of understanding that was once planted. Learning about Jesus Christ, what he said and did for us is much different from what we first expect. His truth is not from human understanding but from God. God does not think like we do, so once we begin to read or hear what Jesus said and understand his intent for us, it is like a cold hard seed turning into a gracious living thing abundant with the joy of life that will never end. Our understanding is only a small shadowy plant now, an odd little stalk that has somehow shown up in the backyard of our thoughts.

When we first grasp the truth for which Christ lived and died, it is important to know that it is only one tiny stalk of understanding. Do not ignore it and certainly do not mow it down with worry or give up on it because of troubling times or the distractions bought by wealth. Instead, seek more understanding, and that little stalk may in time bear fruit that can be shared with others.

“And the seeds sown in the good soil stand for those who hear the message and understand it: they bear fruit, some as much as one hundred, others sixty and others thirty.” Jesus Christ from one of his many parables about seeds in Matthew 13

 

 

 

Comfort Food and the Happy God

Elle, my trusty steed that glides up hill and down.

Elle, my trusty steed that glides up hill and down.

“This is bad,” my husband was troubled by his jaw and by the end of the week he could not eat. Visions of an impending life of smoothies and soup discouraged him. A storm was rolling in fast. I hopped on Elle, my trusty electric bike that glides uphill and down, and raced to the food store.  Seven dollars later and a hasty trip back with thunder and lightning nipping at my wheels, I set to work on some Potato Pancakes. It was time for some comfort food.

Potato pancakes may not be high on the list of the nutritarian diet but they do squeak by, at least on my accounting. Take a large potato, peel it, chop it into squares, and then square each piece again until it is about the size of two thumbs. No need to chop them too small. Put them in a pot of boiling water until the pieces are soft. Drain and mash the potato squares until smooth and creamy with the help of a  little pat or two of butter and 1/8th cup of cream (okay, broth and a nut butter since butter and cream are not part of the nutritarian diet, but hubby needed a little pampering). Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cool and then form into patties. These are called pancakes, but the size of the patty is more like the size and shape of a hamburger.  Fry onions, garlic, and mushrooms  in a pan with just a bit of canola oil. Add the potato pancakes and cook until golden brown.

Often times we think our God is a little grumpy, kind of like we are when troubled by something that just won’t leave us alone. We think we need to comfort Him with some great act of kindness or service that will appease the grumpy god. Actually, our God is a happy god. His son has redeemed his children back to him. God longs for us to be with Him eternally. When we come to Him in prayer, He does not think, “Is she really going to go over all this again: boring!,” No, instead He comforts us every time. His joy over us fills the heavens. His love for us is so great that there is nothing that can separate us from Him. He has an open-door-policy and when we walk into His office, He says, “Welcome into my joy.”

Jesus Christ is God’s great comfort food. Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, the Passover lamb, the bread of life, the water for all who are thirsty, stands beside His father and forever intervenes on our behalf. Our health issues and moments of despair are like fiery darts that burn our conscious and make us think God does not care, but God has revealed to us through the person of Jesus Christ how much He does love us, and the life of Christ reminds us that this life is troublesome. It is through our love of Christ that we gain compassion for each other and that we try to comfort those who suffer.

God is not bored by our constant and repetitive prayers for others and ourselves, or our whining and groaning over health issues or other misfortunes. Though we have gratitude for any blessings in this life, we are not glorified by them, not by money, power, or fitness. Instead, these can become distractions to seeking God’s glory that is in Jesus Christ who is mighty to save. He can bring joy in the midst of suffering that is beyond our understanding. His power is revealed in our weakness. This life is like birthing pains. We have many troubles but they our only temporary. We have many setbacks, but they will be overcome. Does anyone who is born brag about how easily he came into this world? No, that pain was necessary only for birth and is forgotten in the joy of life. Does anyone who is born not have trouble? No, but in the next life the pains of this world will be forgotten in the joy that God has chosen us to be His very own children for all eternity.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Revelations 21:4

 

A Main Meal Salad and Side Salad Religion

Salad as the main dish

Salad as the main dish

“Make the salad,” my mother ordered.  I chopped up iceberg lettuce and added tomatoes, sliced a hard-boiled egg and added onions.  One summer night, my father’s friend added the task of making blue cheese dressing . “Start with a half cup of sour cream, add a tablespoon of mayonnaise, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, juice from half of a lemon, a few shakes of  garlic powder, and crumbled blue cheese.” My father loved the dressing so much that from then on I had to make it every night along with the salad. I can make this salad and dressing with my eyes closed.

This little iceberg salad was not the main dish, only a side, and for many years it was the only salad I ever ate. My mother made dinner for us every night under the same scenario: a protein (meat, chicken or fish), a starch (potatoes or corn), a vegetable, and the salad. I continued this tradition well into my adult years for my own family until my daughter decided to become a vegetarian.

Salads are probably the easiest meal to make for a vegetarian. Nowadays, most people who plan to feed a large group will include a salad for those who prefer not to eat the common meat and potatoes meals. At many of these gatherings I still run into the old-fashioned iceberg lettuce salad which seems so dreary to me now I can barely eat it. There are tons of salad recipes on the Internet, but my favorite is the cancer-fighting one I often make for myself.

I mix a couple types of greens: kale, arugula, endive, romaine, collards, or dandelion greens. In a dab of oil or a little broth, I fry onions and corn. In  another frying pan I cook mushrooms in Bragg’s Amino Acids sauce or low salt soy sauce. This gives the mushrooms a distinct flavor. When these cool, I mix them in with the greens. I add chopped broccoli (or broccoli sprouts) and cauliflower, peppers , sliced avocado, sliced carrots, black beans, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. If you like some sweets in your salad, chopped figs or dates go nicely with the seeds. Served with a whole grain bread, this salad is a hardy meal in itself. It also contains the food groups my mother lived by: a protein (beans and seeds), a starch (corn and whole grain bread), a vegetable (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, and mushrooms), and a salad (all the greens listed). The salad dressing often is what makes a salad, but this one is so full of flavor it barely needs a dressing. Try a tablespoon of humus with it or one of the nut butter dressing on my recipe page for added protein.

We often grow up with a standard recipe for religion, a sort of side salad that never changes. Later, we begin to ask questions and doubt what our elders taught us. Many of us give up on religion entirely finding it to be ostracizing, oppressive, and dogmatic. Like my dreary iceberg lettuce salad, religion can seem boring with the same set of instructions to follow. As we walk away from faith, religion can seem purposeless and even more in line with fantasy than reality, but a walk away from faith is a lonely walk.

The best way to return to faith is to read about the person of Jesus Christ who is well-described in the New Testament.  His life, the concepts he taught, his actions, and the stories he told can nurture our faith back to Him. The life of Jesus can illuminate our thinking and give us discernment about what is real and what is not. The life of Christ is an amazing story and filled with encouraging news about God’s true plan for us that can vanquish our worries, our loneliness, and our sense of dread and fear.

Reading what Jesus said and did is often puzzling, strange, and shocking. The friends of Jesus, his disciples, are always so surprised by Jesus. They don’t understand him and are often asking him questions about what Jesus said or did. Then, after Jesus dies, these same guys are completely different. They know, they understand, they discern, and they create the very thing Jesus wanted: a group of people who believe in him, have faith in what he promised, and who worship Him through adoration and prayer. What happened to make these very same friends of Jesus that were so bewildered during his lifetime, such experts later?

I believe God happened. He revealed His truth after the sacrificial death of Christ. He shined His light in the hearts of  men and women and gave his greatest gift, God’s love finally understood and accepted. He continues to shine light into the darkness of our thoughts and fill us with His own love through the writings in the New Testament. The New Testament is written by the friends of Jesus, those known as his disciples who followed him around while he was alive, and worshiped him and preached about him after Jesus died. The New Testament writings give us a chance to sit at the feet of Jesus’ friends and listen to them tell about Jesus. Mark, Matthew, Luke and John all have stories about Jesus that they wrote down and are ours now to read. The other writings in the New Testament are actual letters these men wrote along with Paul’s letters, a man who persecuted the friends of Jesus until God shined his light and truth into his heart in a most miraculous way.  These writings about Christ bring light into our dark world even today, and give us faith in His promise of a new world to come where Jesus will be ruler of all people.  The Bible is God’s word and it never comes back to us void because it is not mere words we read, but power. So, don’t settle for a side salad religion, dig into the word of God and find a real meal.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard ? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  …So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.– Romans 10:14-17

Candy for Body and Soul

The prize I liked best at the weekly Saturday night fair.

The prize I liked best at the weekly Saturday night fair.

“I want number 14.” I gave her the sweaty nickel in my hand. The 24 yellow rubber duckies floated in a large tin at the Saturday night festival. Each held a candy prize. This was my favorite stand. There was no loosing at this stand. Behind me, a lively band played yet another Polka tune on the stage  and the night was warm and wonderful with smells of french fries, perogies, sizzling burgers, and hot dogs. Every ducky held a prize and my eye was on the little set of six wax soda bottles filled with colored sugar-water. She lifted ducky number 14 and handed me a pixie stick instead. I had two more nickles and two more chances to guess which ducky held the prize I wanted but I didn’t care much if I didn’t guess the right one, it was the sugar I was after. Children love candy. In fact, children have far more sugar taste buds than adults do and so they tend to like their food sweeter. Cereals for kids are loaded with sugar because the makers of these products know this. Ready made lunches like Lunchables, have tons of sugar and even come with candy and juice–both replete with sugar. The favorite dinner food for most kids is pizza, a product made of white refined dough, sugary tomato sauce, and fatty cheese. However, these extra sugar taste buds on a child’s tongue are to draw children to more fruits and vegetables and not for candy. Growing up, Saturday night was the time I could find the sugar I craved, but today children are bombarded with sugar at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The early onset of type II diabetes rates soar higher and higher so that the medical community is faced with learning how to care for these young people and in time, how to care for people with forty or more years of this disease. This is a new a problem and it is caused by one little ingredient: sugar. Since I am around children all the time as a teacher, I see the effects of sugar on them. Tired, unable to concentrate, frequent stomach aches, and extra weight take the sparkle out of kids. When I walk through the cafeteria and see what they are eating, I feel like it is an uphill battle trying to get them to eat right. Schools complain that when they offer kids a choice, they rarely choose the food that is good for them and go for the high sugar foods instead. Of course they do, they’re kids, they want sugar. Why do we even give them a choice? Children need to be taught how to eat and learn to eat whole foods, real foods, foods that give their bodies the nutrients they need. We often choose Christianity the way kids choose food. The promise of heaven, the promise to live forever, the promise that we will see our loved ones again, all draw us to a yes for Jesus. The promises of God through Jesus Christ fill us with hope but these are just “sugar coatings” of the real promise, that is, to be with God not only after death, but in this life as well. When we look at Jesus Christ we see a man who could have ruled the world but chose to serve it instead. We see a man strong and healthy who chose to touch the leper and heal the sick. We see a man who could have been the richest person in the world but chose to live a modest life without riches and dwell and teach among the common people of his day. We see a man who could calm a storm but faced the storm of hatred to save us. When we look at Jesus we admire him and wonder at his gentleness and power. This is the God we seek. He is the one, the glorious and excellent man who was God. He is with us now, He is here and He is near. The afterlife and heaven may look good to us when we first consider committing to Christianity, but God is the real food, the one who will nurture our souls and give sparkle to our lives. If the fear of hell or the promise of heaven has drawn you into Christianity, take time to look at Jesus, at what he did, and how he lived because he is the best view of God that we have.

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11

Fed Up and Failures of the Heart

“I feel so tired every day. My head hurts, my stomach hurts. I just want to lie down.” My girlfriend had been thin most of her life but in her forties she started gaining weight easily. Her energy level dropped to an unmanageable level and she looked to me for compassion. So I answered her truthfully. “Stop eating sugar. Stop eating white bread, white rice, white pasta, and processed foods. Eat more greens, fruits, and vegetables. Choose only whole grains, and cut way back on animal protein.” After lunch I saw her again and told her about the new movie out, Fed Up. “Go see it. Make yourself go and you will learn a lot from it.”

I remember how tired I felt at 40 and the first nutrition book I read advised me not to eat butter or white bread. I nearly threw the book out. “How am I supposed to do that?” It seemed impossible to me. I served it at every meal. I even made my own bread right out of my new bread-making machine. I loved buttery roasted garlic bread, toasted bread with cinnamon and sugar, warm white bread with salted tomatoes and mayonnaise, bread at dinner with gravy, bread for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my kids. Please! I will cut out desserts but let me have my white bread.

In the movie, Fed Up, people try to lose weight by choosing “diet” processed foods, exercising more, and starving themselves by cutting way back on calories, then getting on the scale and not losing a pound, sometimes even gaining weight. How can that be?

Here’s why. The movie explains that sugar-laden calories like soft drinks turn immediately to fat while nutrient-laden calories from vegetables turn to energy we use now. If we cut back on calories but we still eat sugar, our bodies are still making fat. Sugar hides in processed foods and white refined grains. It is hard enough to stay away from candy bars, sodas, and pastries where the sugar is easily recognized but all processed foods? That really cuts into our food choices, our quick-cooking shortcuts, and our fast-food and drink options.

I have a real-life example. I went to the ballgame yesterday where fat-laden hotdogs and hamburgers on white buns, white potato fries, funnel cake, lemonade, sugary frozen yogurt, and sausages were the only food options. It was lunchtime, a hot day, and I was thirsty and hungry along with hundreds of other spectators. I ended up buying bottled water and eating peanuts for lunch. Later I went to another event and helped set up for a celebratory dinner of more hot dogs and hamburgers on white buns, chips, cake, and soda.

We are literally starving ourselves with empty calories. If I opened up a salad bar at one of the stadium food stalls, would anyone come? How about a roasted vegetables stall? Maybe a green smoothie stall? What do you think?

With movies like Fed Up, the word is getting out. The truth about our food is starting to shine through all the lies that manufacturers of processed foods swear by in order to protect their profits. In the movie, I watched folks from large corporations testify that their processed foods do not cause obesity and are actually healthy for us, that pizza sauce is a vegetable, that soda is actually a viable liquid to replace the recommended eight glasses of water a day, and that sugar-laden foods are not addictive.

The Word of God states that faith comes through hearing the message. In the case of scripture, the message is Christ, but knowing the truth about processed foods and what it is doing to our young people is a message we need to hear too. Our food industry is deeply rooted in our economy and culture. Profits and stocks from investments fuel the fire of fear in all of us. But financial ruin in the form of health costs is sure to follow if we don’t stop now. These talking heads from big food industries lie until they believe it themselves. They don’t want to lose the money or lose the jobs they have and provide, and yet to see these young people on the screen struggling to free themselves from obesity and early disease is heartbreaking. It is a failure of the heart of our nation and the only way we can face it is to hear the truth in movies like Fed Up and in books like Salt, Sugars, Fat, over and over again until we have the power to say, “Okay, I’ll give up the white bread and butter.”

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people (read: nations) eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. — 1 Timothy 6:10

All or Nothing Diets and Christianity

Enjoying bean burgers doesn't make us vegetarians

Enjoying bean burgers doesn’t make us vegetarians

“I know that smell,” I said to myself as I peddled my bike through the neighborhood in the early evening when everyone was cooking dinner. “Pork.” I imagined the tenderloin covered in a savory sauce on the grill.

Meat and chicken are macro nutrients, mostly protein, and though protein is an essential nutrient, we don’t have to make it our main dish. Fish is an excellent source of lean protein with omega 3, a very healthy oil. Fish and plant proteins won’t add extra weight to the scale like meat will. In fact, as we age we can keep the extra weight off if we simply change from a meat and chicken-based diet to a fish and plant-based one. The consumption of red meat on a daily basis is not only disastrous to keeping our weight in control but also to our health in general. Daily consumption of red meat is linked to weight gain, heart disease, and some types of cancer. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, take meat out of your diet.

It’s not easy giving up a meat-based diet. Try cutting back by eating it only two or three times per week and replace meat with fish and plant protein dishes. Veggie bean burgers are great piled with toppings like mushrooms, lettuce, and onions with banana pepper mustard. Try making a meal of roasted vegetables (asparagus is very high in protein) with rice and black beans. Use a small amount of meat or chicken as flavoring to help give the taste of meat without the deleterious effects of it. Add nuts and seeds to your plant-based dishes for extra protein.  If you love meat, keep it in your diet, just don’t eat it every day.

God told Adam  “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Later, Eve tells the serpent that God told them, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ She added to the rule, ‘you must not touch it.’ Our natural tendency is to, ‘add to the rules’ to make them even harder to follow.

We set ourselves up for failure when we do this. We have this all-or-nothing attitude. Either we are vegetarian or we are not. Either we eat meat everyday or we eat only plant-based food. We cannot simply be Christians, we have to be Catholic or Methodist, Evangelical or Reformed.

It is better to do away with labels. If becoming a vegetarian is not for some of us meat-lovers, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy vegetarian dishes.  If a brother or sister in Christ seems too liberal-minded or too oppressive in his literal translation of scripture, he is still a brother and she is still our sister in Christ. We can enjoy the fragrance of Christ in one another without having to agree on every point, just as we can enjoy the scent of roasting pork without having to eat it.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13