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The Truth About Citric Acid

5 Feb

It’s in many foods you may buy.  Citric Acid.  It sounds innocent enough but what is it really?….

This journey of mine has been about many things.  It’s been about new experiences and explorations, travel and adventure, and it’s also been about health and well-being.  For over ten years now I have been peeling back the layers of health and well-being and working on getting to the root of what helps me feel better.  While traveling it’s been particularly important to feel my best in the midst of new challenges and foreign territory.  So I’ve learned to pay close attention.

I’ve learned that what I put in my body really makes a big difference in how I feel. I’ve learned to take a closer look, read the labels, question what is in my food – and pay attention to the impact what I eat has on my mood and body.  Enter Citric Acid.

Citric acid doesn’t sound too bad and may not get our attention if we see it in a food item’s ingredient list.  I had always assumed it was “harmless” and of an “innocent nature” but one day I decided to take a closer look. Surely it comes from lemons or something like that?…  While citric acid is naturally found in citrus fruits, most modern-day citric acid comes from a chemical process involving… MOLD.

According to the website ethicalfoods.com and many other sites as well, “American food chemist, James Currie, discovered a process for making citric acid from mold in 1917. Pfizer started to produce citric acid from molds in 1919.”  The mold used is Aspergillus niger, a common black mold.  This far less expensive process is commonplace and typically what you will find when you read “citric acid” in your favorite food ingredients.

The website newhope.com tells us “more than 1.6 million tons of citric acid are produced annually in the United States, with roughly two-thirds used in foods and beverages and the rest used in detergents, pharmaceuticals and supplements.”

Mold?… is that something you want in your body?  This new information made sense to me.  All too often I would eat something with healthy ingredients except for citric acid and found after eating it that I just didn’t feel right.

I have to admit I have given up citric acid begrudgingly at times – looking through the ingredient list in a favorite healthy treat finding quality ingredients only to be bombarded at the end with the final ingredient… citric acid.  It’s used as a preservative so it’s common place in even healthy prepared selections.

Why avoid citric acid?  If you struggle with any health issues – pain, discomfort, disease or mood and anxiety concerns – what you eat is always a good place to start to feel better.  I have learned that paying attention to how I feel after I eat something is a big indicator for what works for me and what does not.  So aside from the fact that it just doesn’t seem like a good idea to eat something derived from black mold, pay attention to how you feel next time after you eat something with citric acid.

With so many food products containing mold derived citric acid, how do you avoid it? Well the simplest thing is to prepare your own healthy foods and snacks.  But I get it, sometimes we just want to grab something and go!  When that’s the case your best option is to check out healthy local brands with a shorter shelf life, fresher ingredients and more likely to be prepared without preservatives.

The next time you are shopping for your favorite food items, take a look at the ingredients and when you see “citric acid” don’t think – “ah, lemons” think…”mold.”

Thanks for joining me on the journey of adventure, healing, health and well-being!

What’s Cookin’ in Chiang Mai

31 Jan

Wow, it’s been quite a week here in Chiang Mai.  Earlier this week we had an unexpected “Chiang Mai version” of winter. The temperature dropped down to about 50 F.  This was quite a shock to the system after months of temperatures in the 80s and 90s.  I heard it was even recording-breaking cold! We had a few days of good “bundling-up”, some cold (and one wet) morning rides to work, and one day you could even see your breath (the kids at school of course loved this!). I even broke out a short down winter coat and my wool long underwear from Germany!  “What’s all the fuss?  That’s not that cold!” you might think?  It seems at least part of it is the tropical humid weather makes the cold even colder, an icy cold that shoots straight through you. Also, buildings here have no insulation and no heat.  Plus, your body is used to (at least somewhat on my part) hot weather! For a few days, there were many empty seats in classrooms and students bundled in fleece blankets and fuzzy animal hats.  As much as I complain about the heat, I am glad to have things back to “normal” today with pleasant blue skies and a comfortable 81 degrees.

Things are a bit crazy at work lately.  In part because we are preparing for the annual NP Fair, put on by the Native English Program at my school.  For the teachers this has us creating booths for the fair as well as preparing students for song and dance performance extravaganza.  As the end of the years is winding in, it is inevitable that teachers are a bit exhausted (I personally am…) and students are… well, let’s just say… less interested in paying attention and listening.  But like it or not, here it all comes and the crazy dance continues of life and teaching in Chiang Mai.

Tom Yum Soup

The beginnings of Tom Yum Soup

This weekend I treated myself to a Thai Cooking Class.  It was something I was hesitant to do with all of my food sensitivities. More and more it is challenging for me to eat here… but I thought perhaps if I cooked the food I could at least control what goes into it and learn a bit more about Thai food and culture.

I chose the Thai Farm Cooking School in part because they use organic ingredients they grow at their farm and also because of their popularity and high rating.  Plus you they pick you up, take you to their farm out of the city – always nice to have a little break from Chiang Mai and some new scenery for the day.  You cook I think… six different dishes… and get a selection to choose from.

curry paste

Curry Paste

Overall, it was a great day! The other folks in the class were all really personable and it was fun to spend some time and talk with an assortment of people with their own travel experiences and stories to tell.  And I learned a lot about Thai Food!  I was able to make most of the foods with some adjustments.  With these adjustments (mostly no adding anything that included sugar), some dishes tasted okay… and some in earnest were completely flat.  This class helped me to get clear that most Thai dishes simply rely on the MANY sugary sauces for their good taste.  A bit of a bummer for me, but also an eye-opener to the extent of the high sugar content of the food here.

curry

Chicken Curry

One of the highlights of the day was making our own curry paste.  We each had our own impressive mortar bowl and pestle. We added the curry ingredients and pounded away for a considerable amount of time until our paste looked like “peanut butter” as we were told. This was the basis for the curry we made later, a dish that still tasted pretty good even though I left out all of the sugary sauces used to complete the dish.

Overall they did a great job of being patient with me and adapting to my food needs and requests.  I would recommend them for someone with food sensitivities as they seem pretty adept to it.  However, the inevitable truth is that many of the dishes just don’t taste that great when you have to leave out some of the main ingredients…

That said, I now know what many of the “foreign” veggies are that I see in the supermarket and also know what they are used for – which is great!!  And I feel more informed about some basic Thai food and dishes.

Today at the JJs Organic Market, one of the regular weekly markets here in Chiang Mai, I ran into an American woman who has lived in Chiang Mai for ten years and also happens to be an organic growing expert.  One of my concerns here in Chiang Mai is that you don’t REALLY know what is organic and what isn’t – even at an “organic” market.  It was such a relief to chat with her a bit about finding organic food in Chiang Mai.  One of the challenges here, as she pointed out, is that it’s hard to really get the truth about things.  Someone may say something has no pesticides but you can’t count on the fact that they are telling the truth… which makes it difficult to eat healthy.  She pointed me towards some growers at the market she worked with personally who she could confirm are organic growers.  She also gave me some simple tips like if the veggies look kind of “bad” that is a good sign that they are grown organically.  Bug bites, for example, she suggests are a good sign when looking for organic food.

She also warned that many street markets use harsh pesticides including formaldehyde!  I do my best to stay away from traditionally grown veggies here as I know harsh pesticides are used… but had no idea about the formaldehyde!  And so the adventure of healthy eating on the international landscape continues!

I have just a little sunny day weekend left and look forward to a Thai Massage later today as the weekend sneaks away and a new workweek soon begins.

How are things in your neck of the woods?  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

Happy, Healthy New Year

9 Jan

I can feel it.  It’s a whole new year.  It may be 2016 to many of us, but here in Thailand the year is 2559 (that’s in Buddha years). It’s hard to believe that it’s January as I sit comfortably warm in my apartment with the golden sun and shiny blue sky making its regular appearance.  Yes, it’s the best time of year to be in Chiang Mai.  The cool mornings do a world of good to cool off bodies and buildings before the still steady heat of the afternoon makes its arrival.  This time of year is called “cold season.” I am surprised at the temperature range that happens now from day to day… lately morning lows are about 13 degrees C (mid-50s F) and afternoon highs nearing 30C/86F.  Because this is a tropical climate, the humidity shoots the damp cold right through you.  I understand now why the markets have been selling gloves, scarves and winter coats… it’s for those chilly morning scooter rides.  You won’t get frostbite here but in the mornings it does feel… cold…ish… in it’s own kind of way.

It feels like it’s been a busy time for me lately.  The holiday break passed by quickly.  It was a good time of personal exploration as well as some healthy R&R and sightseeing around Chiang Mai.

School has started back up again in full swing filled with the final quarter lessons and the standard assortment of extra activities.  Upon returning to school reality hit me like a brick wall, now fully realizing that this school year is slipping away in just a few short months (along with my Thai Visa…).  As I plan to depart at the end of the school year, I am now more diligently focused on tending to what might be next.

Children's Day

Children’s Day

I have also been focused intently on handling quite a variety of health-related issues.  I have felt a “push” lately to pay deeper attention to some new and long-term health issues and kick it up a notch.  I am learning more day to day about tending to the details important for me in truly sowing a life of good health. It isn’t always easy doing this in a foreign country – with different practices, customs and expectations.  It can take some extra effort and patience but I am finding that with a little creativity and some persistence, I can care for my health using natural methods at a high standard.

Recently I made a move away from grains and have been eating grain-free. The good news of this exploration is it has invited more vegetables into my life. Veggies for breakfast, veggies for lunch, veggies for dinner. The truth is, without gluten, sugar and grains… veggies are just about the best thing going.  I have enjoyed integrating more vegetables as both a source of protein and carbohydrates.  It’s an adjustment but it’s been fun expanding my veggie regiment and trying some new things… new recipes, trips to the Sunday Organic Market at JJs

"TLT" - Tempeh, lettuce and tomato

“TLT” – Tempeh, lettuce and tomato

Of course I love food, so it is truly one of my favorite past-times having healthy, simple food that works for me.  I am often collecting new healthy recipes on pinterest.  If this strikes your fancy, you can check it out here.  Just today I tried a new simple combination inspired by the BLT… it’s a lettuce wrap with organic tempeh (from the local farmers market,wrapped in banana leaves), tomato, avacado, and quinoa.  I fried up the tempeh in a little organic coconut oil, assembled the goodies and topped it off with a simple sauce I made from yogurt, a dab of organic salsa and a squirt of lime.  Not a bad easy treat for a lazy Saturday afternoon lunch.

How about your New Year?  How is life unfolding?  Any great discoveries or healthy adventures to share?  It’s always great to hear from you!

 

My Big Lessons in Healthy Eating

30 Sep

It’s a quiet evening in my small on-campus abode. We are just days away from the end of the first semester and subsequent break. You can feel the winding down and impending relief from some time off or time away.   In earnest, I am relieved to have some down time to simply “be at home.”  In these past nearly 5 years of international exploration, I haven’t lost my appetite or need to cultivate time and space to be at home.

Some of my most important lessons from these recent traveling years have revolved around “home life” — working and cleaning rooms at the Seminar Haus in Germany and Les Battees in France, assisting with preparing and serving food for guests, and of course who could forget cleaning up the kitchen after Seminar Haus meals extraordinaire… an experience I will never forget.

I am grateful for all of it. Despite my recent nomadic tendencies, these experiences have helped me come home to me – learning to cultivate, care for and nurture myself in the many small and needed ways that foster feeling “at home.” I am most appreciative that these lessons took place in the context of the pristine French countryside and amongst the windmill sprinkled potato fields of Germany.


Healthy Eating Habits Have Changed My Life!

The biggest lesson I have learned and continue to learn is the importance of healthy eating habits for my health and well-being. It’s just undeniable. What I eat makes a HUGE difference in how I feel. And I am so grateful to have this lesson and experience.

I would like to share the healthy eating habits that make the biggest difference for me. These are things I learned from personal experience, my own reading and investigation, as well as guidance and information from a trusted mentor. Changing my diet literally changed my life and it’s information I want to pass on.

Of course I am not a doctor, so this is not professional advice, but honest to goodness experience from the front lines of my journey to wellness.

If you’re struggling with health, mood or anxiety issues or maybe you just want to feel better, I urge you to read below and consider for yourself how diet changes might change your life for the better.

  1. I feel my best when I eat some protein, healthy carbs and healthy fat at every meal, three meals a day. For me often this means a little meat, perhaps some organic brown rice, some fresh veggies cooked in organic coconut oil. Recently I am exploring non-grain carbohydrates including root veggies as a part of my diet. I look for whole healthy fats including (when available) organic butter and ghee, olive oil, nuts. I try to eat about 20 grams of protein per meal as recommended by one of my favorite resources, Potatoes Not Prozac by Kathleen DesMaisons.
  1. Hydrate.  This one is so powerful. So many days have been turned around for me simply because I stopped and took some time to drink water. Drinking water is my super-power and one of the first places I turn when I feel off. When I feel bad, even if I “think” I already drank enough water… I drink some more.
  1. Sugar is not an option. If you read my blog you know that sugar just doesn’t work for me. But the truth is, I didn’t know this until I cut sugar out of my diet. Once my system was clean and sugar free I got clear just how severely sugar was affecting my body, mind and mood. Thank God I understand that now! It is a challenge to stay sugar free while traveling, but for me it’s just non-negotiable. Life with sugar doesn’t work for me and I am not willing to “do that to myself”. I have been sugar free for over ten years now. Over the years I have experimented with natural sweet options like honey and agave nectar. I have come to understand that even those natural sweets tilt my mind, body and mood in a negative direction and I am better without them. That goes for dried fruits as well as some super-sweet fruits. I eat fruits in moderation and pay attention to what’s working for my body. I also stay away from foods that turn into sugar as I have learned these make me feel awful as well. This includes potatoes and white rice. Sweet potatoes aren’t great for me either. No alcohol as well.
  1. Absolutely no processed foods or artificial ingredients. Really. I mean it. I have learned this the hard way, trying foods that have just a little bit of this or a little bit of that and then feeling awful. If it isn’t natural or I don’t recognize it, I don’t buy or consume it. If it’s not natural it just doesn’t work for me. Incidentally, this includes citric acid. Despite its friendly “natural sounding” name, most citric acid is not sourced from citrus and is sketchy at best.
  1. Quality matters. Wow, I have learned this lesson big time here in Chiang Mai. Living in Thailand and other places internationally, there is often not access to the same quality organic products we know and love in the States. To save a little money and also sheer lack of access, I have purchased food items here that are typically not a problem for me only to end up feeling terrible afterwards. Items like almond butter, peanut butter, black beans, nuts, oils, spices.  While the ingredient list looks innocent enough there is one big difference…quality. If it’s not high quality, I just don’t feel well. After this experience I am more committed than ever to eating organic EVERYTHING because… it matters. Eating organic has nothing at all to do with being trendy, extravagant or picky and has everything to do with not putting genetically altered, poisoned or low quality foods in your body. Bottom line.
  1. Listen to your body. I have received a lot of great information from my mentor, books and blogs that have served as a great starting point for food health. Information is the beginning. But from there I have had to learn to pay attention to my body. Hmmm… I feel weird, what did I eat? I feel a little off today, what might make me feel better or balanced? Listening to my body is the refinement of my roadmap to health.
  1. Are you “Hangry?” I love this word. Do you know what I’m talking about?   Those times when you get irrationally angry but really you just need a little food in your body? This is the lesson I learned most clearly on the road. If I don’t eat quality food regularly, say every 5 hours or so, my blood sugar drops and I get ANGRY. I have also learned that really… it’s not my fault, it’s a physiological reaction and I just need to get some protein in my body. This was a challenge for me when I was in France as we wouldn’t eat dinner until later. My body and mood would fling off the charts and I am thinking “what is WRONG with me!” With the wise advice from my mentor, I tried simply getting a little protein a few hours before dinner. This dramatically helped me to more happily make it until meal-time. A spoonful of almond butter, a handful of almonds, pre-made mini-quiches… just a little simple hit of protein makes a big difference.
  1. I eat meat. I tried eating vegetarian for a few years and still remember the day that came to and end. I was in the kitchen of the Seminar Haus in Germany, apparently with my cheeks sunken in looking a little gaunt, and my host there (a vegetarian by the way) said “I think you need to eat some meat.” I did and… I felt a lot better. While I don’t knock vegetarian diet and lifestyle, my body feels so much better when I have meat in my diet. I have since learned from a vegan friend of a high quality B vitamin recommended for folks not eating meat… and perhaps that would make a difference for me. But for now, for my health, I am sticking with meat in my diet.
  1. Protein rich veggies. That doesn’t mean I want to eat meat all the time. But I still need to get my 20 grams of protein at mealtime, not an easy feat without meat. As lately I have been reacting to legumes I buy here in Chiang Mai, I am looking into protein rich veggies. The tops I have found so far include peas, mushrooms, leafy greens, and broccoli.
  1. No Caffeine. I kicked the caffeine habit over ten years ago. I was a coffee-a-day girl and a regular at the local coffee house. I was at the beginning of my health metamorphosis and tried cutting out caffeine. While I felt a little crazy at first, after I got past the “withdrawal” phase I learned that… caffeine makes me crazy! Really, I feel just awful when I get even a little caffeine. So we are happily and likely eternally parted.
  1. Gluten Free. I feel better when I don’t eat wheat. It makes sense when you read that wheat today is very different from its original genetic make-up. For the most part, I eat organic brown rice products (rice and pasta), quinoa and millet. Watch out for “Gluten Free” products as most of them are filled with nasty cheap products that won’t do your body any good. Read the labels! I don’t eat bread. And lately I am exploring cutting out or reducing my grain intake by replacing it with veggies high in carbohydrates. All of these choices are because I feel better when I don’t eat these things. How about you?

Whew! Thanks for sticking with me on this long but important feast of healthy eating habits. I share this so thoroughly because for me… it all really matters. If you are struggling with health issues in any way… whether emotional, physical or both… take a look at your diet. Over the years I am AMAZED at the impact the wrong food can have on my body and mood and I am so grateful for what I have learned along the way. And the journey continues!

While earnestly this way of eating can be a challenge when eating out and living abroad, it is 100% worth it to me. Caring for myself with quality food and sometimes simply finding the food…has become part of the adventure and the journey.

If this is new to you, such diet adjustments may seem limiting or daunting. But the truth is, so much of the food in our supermarkets and restaurants are filled with non-food things. In many ways I am grateful to my body because it’s given me a road map back to simple, clean healthy eating. And enjoyment wise – nothing beats lovely, well prepared, organic whole foods.

Well, night-time is approaching Chiang Mai. I am listening to the regularly scheduled evening howl of the free-roaming dogs found throughout Thailand. Every night about this time they unite in packs in a somewhat impressive howling chorus.

Good night from the land of Chiang Mai where I continue my journey of health, happiness and being at home.

How about you, how are you nurturing your health, well-being and “being at homeness” lately? Any stories or words of wisdom to share? Would love to hear from you!