There is no longer a doubt that the footprint of humanity is starting to take its toll on our global environment and ecosystems. This realization has ignited a much-needed shift towards finding environmentally friendly options in all areas of our lives. This emphasis on “green” options has started to shift our awareness to making our homes more energy efficient, increase our recycling and purchasing environmental friendly options. There is a tremendous opportunity for each person and household to play their part to reduce our waste and conserve energy. Despite the overwhelming benefits to making more environmentally choices for our homes there is still a need to assess if these changes have a beneficial impact on our health. Since the vast majority of the “green” options we have available to us have a positive impact on our health we tend to assume the same of all “green” options. This article highlights a few potential areas where “going green” is not necessarily the healthiest option. It is up to you to decide if the potential health risk is worth the “green” trade off.
Recently, I went to test drive a number of new cars. Now more than ever, there are super fuel-efficient vehicle options available to consumers. Almost everyone is aware that hybrids and electric cars are leading the field in lowest emissions and gasoline consumption. It was actually surprising to discover that a 2004 report by the Connecticut General Assembly, stated that when comparing a traditional compact car to its hybrid counterpart, you can expect emissions to be reduced by only approximately 10-15 percent. While this is an improvement over gasoline engines its not as high as we may think. The key factor that makes a hybrid more fuel-efficient is the use of electric power at lower speeds. This requires a much more powerful battery and wiring. This results in higher electromagnetic radiation (EMR) production. Most people don’t realize that a hybrid vehicle is really one large sophisticated battery and generator, which the passengers are sitting directly above. The effect of EMR produced in hybrid vehicles on the human health has not been well studied but recently a large-scale research trial in Europe has linked EMR from cellphones to a higher incidence of brain tumours. Another very recent study showed that sperm quality was decreased when exposed to Wi Fi (a source of EMR) from laptop computers in close proximity. It’s still to early to definitively determine if there is a negative impact from the EMR given off from hybrid vehicles but my guess is that it does have a negative impact.
Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR)
Every electric device (toaster, heat blanket, cell phone, light etc.) gives off EMR. Certain types and wavelengths are potentially more damaging to human tissue than others. Typically, higher frequencies have more potentially dangerous effects to health. Cellphones are particularly worrisome because high power frequencies are transmitted for extended periods of time very close to sensitive brain tissue. Experts are warning of the possible dangers of chronic exposure especially in children. Research studies are now showing that EMR is linked to cancer, sleep dysfunction, migraines, hormonal disruption, infertility, vertigo and attention difficulties. We are surrounded by radio waves every day but exposure to high intensity frequencies definitely has a negative impact on your health. There have been many recorded cases of people living near cellphone towers or hydro-lines and develop debilitating symptoms because of the exposure. You should reduce your exposure as much as possible especially to high-power electrical lines, cellphone towers and long-term cellphone use. For more information about your cell phone, look at my cell phone hygiene info sheet in the downloads section on my website (www.paulhrkalnd.ca) or visit www.ewg.org. For more excellent information and research on the dangers of EMRs visit www.magdahavas.com.
Back To Hybrid Vehicles
Another issue with hybrid vehicles is the need for a large amount of rare metals in the construction of the high voltage battery and wiring. Old car batteries are made of lead (a metal with toxic effects on nerves) but hybrid batteries require large amounts of nickel and lithium, which can be potentially toxic. Experts have classified Nickel as a potential cancer causing substance. Exposure to our environment may occur has more hybrid batteries are being made and used. The vast majority of these rare metals are mined in China where the environmentally devastating technique of strip mining is used to extract the metals for the earth. After considering the above points, the overall effect of hybrid technology may not be as environmentally friendly or healthy as we may believe despite the improved fuel economy and marginally lower emissions. Until more research is done to test the long-term sustainability of hybrid technology and exposure to higher EMR I remain sceptical about the health impact of this “eco-friendly” option.
Upcoming: Part 2 – New Energy Efficient Fluorescent Light Blubs and Recycled Plastics
The concept and reality of food allergies and sensitivities has been growing in the past few years. As a naturopathic doctor I see food sensitivities very often in clinical practice. Despite the awareness in natural and holistic health circles, I have recently started to hear more and more people talk about how food sensitivities (also referred to as intolerances) are adversely impacting their health. Food intolerances play a central role in many symptoms but how it affects our body and causes those symptoms is not fully understood by most people. The goal of this article is to shed some light on the mechanism of food sensitivities and how they can affect our bodies in often-bizarre ways.
It is important to understand the difference between food intolerances and allergies. Most people are familiar with the concept of allergies where substances such as peanuts or bee stings can cause rashes, hives and swelling of the throat, which requires emergency treatment. Food sensitivities or intolerances do not cause this acute and severe reaction but rather cause a low grade, chronic effect that is responsible for a wide range of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms are indigestion, diarrhea, frequent colds, headaches, bloating, chronic sinus congestion, fatigue and acne. A well-known example of food sensitivity is lactose intolerance. In this condition, the body can’t digest lactose (due to a missing enzyme), which causes bloating, diarrhea and intestinal cramping.
There is a large, growing body of scientific research that has connected food allergies to numerous diseases. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are 2 of the most well researched examples. When eliminating gluten (a protein commonly found in wheat), patients with IBD and IBS have shown significant improvements. Other diseases that have been linked to food intolerances are autism, acne vulgaris, and a number of mental disorders such as schizophrenia.
A key concept to understanding why food intolerance has such a powerful and wide ranging effect is the connection of our digestive tract and immune system. The majority of the immune system is located just outside of our gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The human body has evolved this way strategically since our GI tract is one of the most common ways that foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, can enter the body. Food sensitivities or intolerances cause chronic irritation and inflammation of our digestive tracts, which causes our immune systems to be over stimulated and become sensitized to normally harmless food particles. Specific substances have been linked to promote food intolerances. Benzoates, sugar, fat, hydrogenated vegetables oils, MSG, nitrities, sulfites, salicylates (aspirin) and tartazine (food colouring) all have been linked to food intolerances.
This chronic inflammation can also start a viscous cycle that promote a "leaky gut" which further allows more food proteins to irritate and sensitize immune cells.
Leaky gut is a term used to describe our intestinal wall no longer doing its job in preventing unwanted substances from entering the body. Now larger food molecules and proteins can enter the blood stream and cause the immune system to attack them as if they were a bacteria or virus. Sometimes these food proteins can look vary similar to proteins normally found in the body (i.e. in joints or blood vessels) the immune system, just trying to do it job, attacks those healthy cells. This partly explains why food intolerances can cause symptoms such as headaches and joint pain.
The obvious question is how do you identify your food allergies and resolve your symptoms. The simple answer is to avoid the most common food allergens to stop this cycle of inflammation and damage. The most common food allergens are dairy products, soy, corn, eggs, oranges, beef, pork, and gluten/wheat also part of this infamous group. Most food elimination diets will start by eliminating the foods listed above and most people find that it resolves the majority of their symptoms. However, a person can have food intolerance to any food. To identify what specific food intolerances you may have there are 2 options. The most cost-effective but also time-consuming option is to go through a full food elimination diet. This usually takes a month to identify which foods cause symptoms. The second option is get a food intolerance blood test, which assesses 96 common foods. It does cost money to complete the test but it avoids the time intensive elimination diet process. Discuss these options with your naturopathic doctor to see which
Food intolerances are a very common condition that many people experience and can be responsible for many symptoms. Identifying which foods you are sensitive to is essential to eliminate the root cause. This can take commitment, effort and patience. Most people give up once they need to remove common foods they are use to eating. It is also important to remove substances such as refined sugar, food preservatives and dyes. Only once you remove these obstacles you can allow your GI tract to heal and your symptoms to resolve.
I recently noticed coconut milk as a new addition in the non-dairy milk section at the grocery store. My wife currently has love affair with all things coconut so we picked up a few containers to try. For a number of years I have been avoiding dairy products, especially dairy milk. Dairy products are one of the most common food sensitivities that I see in clinical practice so we try to avoid it if possible. Many of us have a number of food sensitivities that can cause symptoms such as indigestion, diarrhea, frequent colds, bloating, chronic sinus congestion and acne to name a few. For more information please read my post on Food Allergies and Sensitivities Explained.
I have been a big fan of dairy milk alternatives for a number of years.
The majority of my patients eliminate dairy products to some degree as part of their dietary treatment plans. This one small simple change often yields substantial improvements in a number of symptoms you would never think are related to what you are eating. This change has been made so much easier with so many non-dairy alternatives that not only are free of common allergens but also taste great. The taste factor has always been one of the biggest stumbling blocks and I was interested to see how coconut milk (that can be consumed as a drinking beverage or with cereals, not the type used in asian cooking) stacks up against the other options. Before I give you my verdict on coconut milk, I wanted to give you a taste and nutritional value assessment of the most common non-dairy milk options available. The flavours that I compared where all original flavours to level the playing field. There are a number different flavours available but always be aware of higher sugar content in flavoured milks. Also, as a reference point I have rated the taste of dairy milk a 4 out of 5 stars so you can see how the milks below stack up.
Soy Milk: The first and most commonly available dairy milk alternative. There is some controversy surrounding this beverage, questioning if long term use is healthy (especially for men) because soy can act like the hormone estrogen in the body. Some studies show benefit to menopausal symptoms and cancer prevention in women, others show none. The verdict is still out but overall it appears to be safe.
Key nutritional points: Fortified with calcium, B-vitamins and magnesium
PROs: Higher in protein, source of magnesium, source of phytoestrogens, possibly beneficial for cardiovascular health, dairy free
CONs: High allergenic potential (soy is very common allergen), unknown effects in mens, all soy is GMO
Taste: Most people like the taste and consistency (3.5/5 stars)
Bottom line: Soy milk is a better alternative than dairy milk with some potential health benefits but I don't recommend long term use (over 2 month at a time). If you are not sensitive to it (don't feel worse after drinking) then you can drink it as a change from other milks discussed below.
Almond milk: The emerging favorite alternative to soy milk that is now widely available. Many health benefits are associated with almond intake.
Key nutritional points: High in magnesium, low in fat, great source of calcium
PROs: Very low allergenic potential, high in magnesium and calcium, soy and dairy free, available at costco to buy in bulk.
CONs: low in protein, taste is bland (original), not all people like the flavour, can be higher in sugar depending on brand
Taste: Really hit and miss with most people, the original flavour as unique taste which some would called "acquired" (3/5 stars).
Bottom line: One of my go-to dairy alternatives because of the low allergenic potential and solid health benefits. The unsweetened or original is actually great if mixed with oatmeal, quinoa or cereal (not that great to drink by itself). This is my milk of choice for breakfast and in protein shakes.
Rice milk: Another alternative to soy with low allergenic potential
Key nutritional points: Low allergenic potential
PROs: Soy, gluten and dairy free, low in sodium
CONs: As with almond milk the taste can be plain or considered as 'acquired'
Taste: Can vary between brands but generally very little taste (which can be good or bad depending on the person) (3/5 stars)
Bottom Line: I like rice milk as an alternative to almond milk if patients don't like the taste or need to switch up flavours.
Oat milk: A newer option. It's not widely available yet.
Key nutrition stats: Higher in fibre
PROs: Oats are higher in fibre then soy, almonds or rice, low in saturated fat
CONs: Oats can still contain gluten which is highly allergenic
Taste: Average taste. Some people like it better than rice or almond milk. Its all about personal preference (3/5 stars)
Bottom line: can't really comment much on this milk since it don't use it often but I think its a good alternative.
And now finally coconut milk. Lets see how it stacks up vs the above options.
Coconut Milk: New kid on the block that is gaining popularity with the emergence of coconut as a new "superfood"
Key nutriton stats: despite containing saturated fatty, it does contain medium chain fatty acids
PROs: Contains medium chain fatty acids that help with energy production and weight loss, great taste
CONs: Higher in sugar, no protein, fibre or magnesium, slightly more expensive than almond or rice
Taste: Best surprise is the great taste and palpable consistency. It has a mildly "coconutty" flavour with a light consistency. It is great in cereal or by itself. (4.5/5 stars)
Bottom line: This is a welcome addition to the dairy free line up. Great taste with medium chain fatty acids as a source of good fat and energy. Don't worry about the saturated fat. Rather avoid sugar instead as it has much more powerful effects on cardiovascular disease.
So in conclusion, coconut milk has now been added to our shopping list as an alternative to rice or almond milk. The only downside is that it is not that readily available and the price is a little more expensive than the other options, but the superior taste makes it a great gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free option. It is one of the only options that I really enjoy drinking on its own as it it were a glass of dairy milk. The future looks even better as there now is a coconut and almond milk combination available . I can't wait to try it.
If you can't decide between the options I recommend to first try all of them at least once (give it a fair chance since the taste can grow on you) and don't expect them to taste like diary milk. Find the types you prefer and then use each one for a period of time and then switch. This provides variety in the taste and nutrition without you getting tired of one flavour. I hope that clarifies the world of non-dairy milk options. Enjoy
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