Monthly Archives: October 2013

Get Your Mag On

Mg12

Photo from the helpful Periodic Table

I’ve talked before about how I recommend using topical magnesium oil as a better method of supporting the body’s magnesium needs (see the “Start Here” link under “Home” in the menu bar). But let me break down my recommendations again:

  1. Rub an almond-sized dollop of topical MAGNESIUM OIL on yourself every night about half an hour before bedtime. Magnesium oil makes your skin a bit itchy, like how you feel after getting out of an intensely salty sea. I rub the oil on my stomach and the leftover on my legs. After half an hour, if the itchiness is still irritating me – I wipe it off. All the magnesium should have been absorbed through my skin by that time.
  2. Take epsom salt baths. There are other kinds of salt baths – like Dead Sea Salts, Brittany Fine Sea Salts, Himalayan Salts etc. All of these are great, and I love to alternate. But if it’s magnesium you are after, epsom salts have the most. Epsom salts are also by far the least expensive. I buy huge tubs of it at Whole Foods in the bulk section for about $2.
  3. Consider taking a magnesium supplement, especially if you are prone to constipation, arteriosclerosis or kidney stones. Magnesium chlorate might be best for you, possibly in powder form – but others are also good. But skip magnesium oxide – it doesn’t absorb very well at all.  This should be taken ideally in the morning and then again at bedtime. You need to pace it out. The problem with oral magnesium is that if you take too much, you can get diarrhea. So at least you always have an easy and relatively harmless way of knowing if you have taken too much. The topical magnesium oil above bypasses the digestive system, so will never give you diarrhea. Hooray for that.

A TELLING EXPERIMENT

Take an ounce of water. You know: a shot glass. Now crush up a calcium pill and try to dissolve that in the water. You will see that it doesn’t dissolve very well and leaves some chalky bits suspended in the water. Now crush up a magnesium pill and add that to the same glass. Suddenly the calcium starts disappearing. The magnesium helps keep the calcium dissolved in solution.

/END OF EXPERIMENT

When you take calcium or even just get a lot of it from your diet – without enough magnesium – this is what can happen to calcium in your body: Calcium will precipitate out of solution and form nasty things like kidney stones, stiff cell walls and arterial plaques.

So first of all, never, ever, ever take calcium supplements on their own. I don’t want you to take them at all, not for any reason. But if you absolutely must because of some deep belief or fear – then please, please take a calcium/magnesium combo. And of course make sure you are also taking Vitamin K2, which also directs calcium to your bones and teeth and away from soft tissues. Please see my book review of “K2 and the Calcium Paradox” under the “Books” tab in the “Home” menu above. (I will provide a direct link below.)

Magnesium won’t reverse arterial calcification on its own; only Vitamin K2 can do that. However to reap the full benefits of Vitamin K2 (and A and D), you will need magnesium for the maximum vitamin metabolism.

magnesium miracle

THE MAGNESIUM MIRACLE

I learned about this easy-to-visualize experiment from a book by Carolyn Dean, MD, ND called “The Magnesium Miracle”. If you want to get hot and heavy on magnesium, this is a great place to start. She promotes a very specific pico-ionic magnesium which is apparently absorbed “100% at the cellular level”! So maybe if you are not seeing profound enough effects with the above recommendations after 3 months, these crazy blue bottles are the way to go. I will link to the product at the bottom of this post, though I haven’t used it.

FOODS THAT ARE HIGH IN MAGNESIUM

  • Wild nettles
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Brazil nuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sea salt

I am going to skip right over grains. That’s because although grains have incredibly high levels of magnesium, the magnesium is bound up with the grain’s high phytic acid content – so it is unavailable. Furthermore, the phytic acid can bind with the magnesium in your body and further deplete you. It is a total misunderstanding and marketing ploy to indicate that you can get magnesium from modern grain products. A caveat: if you soak your grains (at least overnight in an acidic solution), you can reduce the phytic acid content and make the magnesium more bioavailable. This is the case with traditional, whole grain sourdough bread. But come on people, we’ve come so far… Just skip the grains altogether!

Likewise legumes, which have the same phytic acid business going on.

BACK UP. REMIND ME ABOUT THIS PHYTIC ACID BUSINESS AGAIN?

Okay listen up. Phytic acid is a storage form of phosphorous which is bound up with grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to prevent them from sprouting. This is why you can store grains, legumes, nuts and seeds for so long without them growing into plants or rotting. Phytic acid does this by “locking down” these minerals: calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc (and others). Locked up means you can’t get them! Not for you!

So if you want to source fresh organic wheat berries grown on magnesium-rich soil, stone-grind them at home for freshness and to prevent oxidizing the fatty acids, then soak the ground flour overnight in a solution of water and apple cider vinegar or whey, and then pour off the phytic acid-rich water and make a sourdough with an extended rise over a couple of days – like, go for it. You can probably get a good dose of minerals from this effort.

What I do is split the difference. I buy raw, organic almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds – which are all rich in phytic acid – and I soak them overnight with a little bit of apple cider vinegar. In the morning, I rinse them all and then put them in a dehydrator at 105F to keep the seeds “alive”. You can also use a low oven setting (ideally 140F or less) for a day or so. If you don’t dry out the nuts, they will go rancid pretty quickly.

Alternatively, you can do the super Ayurvedic thing and soak just 10 almonds overnight, and maybe 2 Brazil nuts, and then eat them “wet” the next day.

Nuts and seeds have more nutritional density and less effect on insulin than grains and legumes.

MORE BORING PROBLEMS: OXALATES

Green leafy vegetables are also rich in magnesium (and other minerals), BUT WAIT! They are also high in oxalic acid, which works just like phytic acid to bind minerals and make them unavailable to you.

Now of course there is a bit of natural buffering going on, but essentially what this means is that if you are trying to do yourself a favor by eating a lot of raw spinach, Swiss chard, and even kale to a lesser extent – you are inadvertently depleting your body of minerals. Which is pretty ironic because spinach, Swiss chard and kale are pretty packed with minerals.

SO HOW DO YOU WIN AT THIS INFURIATING GAME?

This part is easy. COOK your dark leafy greens. Swiss chard, which is particularly rich in oxalic acid, should be boiled, for a long time (!), and then drained of its oxalic acid-rich water.

I know there is a big movement afoot to eat raw vegetables for all of their fabulous enzymes. But the fact is that minerals trump enzymes. Why? Because enzyme action is driven by minerals. Not enough minerals? No enzyme action. Minerals are the chicken that comes before the enzyme egg.

So you should eat the majority of your vegetables (ALL VEGETABLES) cooked. It’s not my fault that we evolved this way.

SOME RAW IS PERFECTLY FINE!

Oxalic acid is not all bad. It’s also a fine antioxidant. So don’t freak out so much.

QUICK SAMPLE LIST OF MAGNESIUM-DEFICIENT SYMPTOMS

  • migraines, pain and insomnia
  • strokes, brain problems
  • cholesterol and hypertension, heart disease
  • obesity and diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia
  • PMS, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • infertility, pregnancy, preeclampsia, cerebral palsy
  • osteoporosis, kidney stones and tooth decay
  • anxiety and depression
  • chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, asthma

WHY DID I EVOLVE TO NEED THIS MUCH MAGNESIUM BUT I’M NOT GETTING IT NOW?

It’s our industrialized food system, stupid! Growing food on depleted soil means no minerals. That’s why they add fertilizers like Potash, which is essentially a cheap potassium solution. Potassium is great! But it pushes out the magnesium. Now it’s not available in your crops! Those cheap crops are fed to your “protein sources” like factory-farmed cows, chickens and farmed fish. Are you getting it? What you’re not getting is magnesium.

OTHER THAN SUPPLEMENTING, WHAT CAN I DO?

Buy your vegetables from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group or farmers’ market, and check in on their farming practices. You’re looking for some biodynamics going on – crops fertilized with cow and chicken manure either from the same farm or a local neighbor. You’re looking for naturally mineral-rich soils, or soils that are supplemented with balanced minerals (like Redmond Clay).

Eat pastured meats (grass-fed, grass-finished) like lamb and beef, and true free-range poultry – animals that can absorb the minerals from the soil in the grasses they eat. Use these mineral-rich bones to make stock!

Eat brains and hearts! Brains and hearts are super concentrated with magnesium. Choose young lamb brains and hearts from a butcher you trust.

THE MAGIC OF ROCKS

Did you know that having rocks in a field used to signify mineral-rich and fertile soil? But now we think rocks in a field means the farmer is too poor to remove them and buy himself a tractor. That’s because rocks mess up tractors – from tilling to seeding to harvesting, so we have developed a bias against them. Industrial farmers have to remove the rocks from their fields.  But the rocks were the sweet naturally slow-releasing mineral depositories. Now they have to replace those lost (free) minerals with purchased fertilizers and nutrients. That’s an expensive proposition, and besides, a lot of the fertilizers just get leached away when it rains… Which then accumulate in wetlands and create salty, acidic, life-averse environments. So on every front: bummer.

The CSA I buy my vegetables from uses horses to plow their fields. I’m serious! There are rocks everywhere!

THE VERY BOTTOM LINE

Magnesium is deficient in almost everyone. The Recommended Dietary Allowance is between 300 – 400 mg for adults. Any overdose is self-correcting (you will get diarrhea if you ever take too much). It improves the body’s ability to metabolize other minerals and vitamins. There’s not much magnesium doesn’t help with, and it doesn’t cause any harm.

FURTHER READING

The Magnesium Miracle” by Carolyn Dean, MD, ND

ReMag Pico-Ionic Magnesium drops

Ancient Minerals Magnesium oil, available at Smith’s Pharmacy on Yonge Street in Toronto

My book review of “K2 and the Calcium Paradox”

Arteriosclerosis linked to magnesium deficiency.

Migraines and magnesium

Diabetes and magnesium

Plowshare Organic Farm CSA outside of Toronto that uses Sally and Milly, two fine work horses to plow

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Let’s Make a Pumpkin Pie

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First a disclaimer: I just can’t make a sugar/sweetener-free pumpkin pie yet, so if you are looking for an LCHF (Low Carbohydrate High Fat) pie, this isn’t it.

I don’t trust the “sugar substitutes” like Stevia drops and any of the other more complicated industrial sweeteners; I am still turned off by the flavor of green Stevia leaf powder; I don’t eat grain so this is made with an almond flour crust – other nut crusts tend to brown too quickly; unlike the Paleo People, I still appreciate whole fat organic dairy like butter and sour cream, so I use those instead of coconut oil and cream; and finally I can’t just eliminate the sugar without everyone in my extended family ridiculing me ad nauseum.

So this is a very simple pumpkin pie made with some nutrient-dense ingredients (eggs, butter, almonds, sour cream, pumpkin purée) and plenty of free radical-fighting spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, lemon zest, vanilla). This version is not Low Carbohydrate though, it is simply a pie.

START WITH THE CRUST

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Now I’m going to do all the mixing for the crust and the filling in the bowl of my 7-cup Cuisinart food processor – because it’s simple and tidy. Into the bowl, add:

  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1 egg white (reserve the yolk for the filling)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Pulse it up until a dough forms. Press this dough out into a pie plate, and crimp up the edges. Put it in the freezer for ten minutes while your oven gets up to temperature. Finally, prick the pastry with a fork and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, until the crust is barely brown and dry on the surface.

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NOW LET’S MAKE THE FILLING

Don’t even wash your food processor bowl; I’m sure it’s fine. Now add:

  • 2 eggs plus the reserved yolk
  • 1 can of pumpkin purée or equivalent freshly baked pumpkin
  • 1 cup of full fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup of rapadura or coconut sugar
  • 3 TBS maple syrup
  • 1 TBS freshly grated ginger
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp powdered cloves or less
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Pulse a few times until all mixed together. When the crust has finished its 10 minutes in the oven, remove and fill right to the top with this mixture. It will be pretty runny, but the eggs will make it set nicely.

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Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Cook for at least 50 minutes or until it is barely “jiggly” in the center, and before the crust starts to brown too much.

The filling is going to really puff up, and then will deflate a little as it cools.

Serve heated with a generous dollop of whipped cream.

A NOTE ON NATURAL SWEETENERS

Honey is great but I like to use it raw, so never in baking. Agave nectar is too high in fructose, so basically no better than HFCS. Regular table sugar and brown sugar have been really refined, so are missing their trace minerals.

Better to choose maple syrup or molasses for your wet applications, as they are both high in trace minerals. And use rapadura (also called Sucanat) or coconut sugar crystals for your dry applications, as they are simply evaporated, so also high in trace minerals.

Trace minerals don’t make maple syrup, molasses, rapadura or coconut sugar good for you; they just make those sweeteners less of a waste of your time. They all have basically the same 4 or 5g of sugar/carbohydrate per Tablespoon – so are interchangeable depending on what flavor you are going for.

In this recipe, I used 1/2 cup of rapadura, which imparts a mild sulphurous molasses note, and 3 TBSP of maple syrup for a sweeter, earthier note. There is even more natural sugar incorporated from the pumpkin purée, but at least its sugar effect is moderated by its own soluble fiber.

NUTRIENT BREAKDOWN

This makes a huge pie. If you divide it into 8 really generous slices, each slice has:

  • 19g carbohydrates (13g sugar, 4.7g dietary fiber)
  • 26g fat
  • 8.4g protein
  • 135% of your Vitamin A RDA
  • 12% of your Calcium RDA
  • 12% of your iron RDA
  • trace minerals

I am pretty satisfied with this ratio of fats:carbs:protein at 67:23:19, especially since I know the generous amount of cinnamon and fat will help lower blood sugar spikes resulting from this dessert.

But if you are worried about pleasing your crowd, I would suggest adding at least 1 TBSP of maple syrup, some vanilla and cinnamon to the crust recipe, and possibly adding another TBSP of maple syrup to the filling. You might also cut back on the powdered cloves because some people find them overwhelming.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING CANADA!

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Sending Out An S.O.B. (Save Our Brains)

We are all worrying about it. We have all noticed changes in our our memory, our attention and our behavior. I’m talking about what “the internet” is doing to our brains.

I took my worry to a book, because it is still my opinion that long-form authors can contemplate the strongest research and compose the deepest arguments. There are at least ten books on this topic to choose from now; I read some book reviews (online!) and chose “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr.

Okay if this is a book review, then here’s my review: great book. But this isn’t really the place for a formal book review; this is a blog, and you are reading it online, so what you are really doing is just skimming the screen in an “F” pattern looking for BOLDED INFORMATION and being distracted by hyperlinks and flashing ads. Turns out even though I’ve tried to keep it simple and engaging, you’re probably not even reading any of my posts from beginning to end, as I have logically expected you to.

BUT IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT

It’s the fault of our limited human short-term memory. Carr uses a fabulous metaphor that transferring new information from our short-term memory into our long-term memory is a slow and limited process, much like trying to fill a bathtub with a thimble. The bathtub is our long-term memory – and it is actually infinitely fillable, theoretically. But the bathtub can only be filled with a thimble. There’s a serious bottleneck of information at that thimble, and adding more information doesn’t help it transfer to our long-term memory. Making the thimble bigger might help, but that is not what the information age is doing, and I don’t have any specific ideas on how to hack the brain to increase this transfer rate.

APPLYING THE METAPHOR TO THE SCREEN

When we read a page online, the information is frequently surrounded by other distractions: there are the friendly icons at the bottom of our home screen, there are the indicators on your mail and text icons that you have a new message, there is a warning light on your reminders icon or equivalent that you still have things to complete today; on a specific webpage, there are sometimes ads on the sidebars or at the bottom which are helpfully targeted precisely to your needs, there are hyperlinks embedded within the text to help you define tricky words or pop culture references, or to direct you to further information or a buying opportunity.

We may think that we have the self-restraint to push forward through these distractions, and it may help on some level if we do practice the discipline of maintaining focus on the task at hand (reading through this page, for example). However the real problem is that in our unconscious mind, we are being distracted by the ads and hyperlinks because we are unconsciously trying to make decisions about whether or not to click on a link. Trying to make all these, albeit unconscious, decisions taxes our working memory. It uses up some of the thimble. Now if we are also consciously regarding the hyperlinks and ads and consciously trying to decide whether to click on a link or an ad, then we are using even more of the thimble. There is not much room left in the thimble, or in our working memory, to transfer any information into the bathtub or long-term memory. The result is a shallow, at best, retention of the information.

THE THIMBLE IS SHRINKING

Now there are many references to research by legit organizations (Stanford etc) which show that test subjects retain information from a printed page better than from a screen. Hands down. You can go and read the book and look up the research, or you can just take my word for it.

You will remember the details and context in a news article better if you read it in a printed newspaper than if you read it online. This is easy to test for so go ahead and design an experiment at home with your family, and see the results for yourself. Comprehension and retention are impeded by reading online. The distractions and choices inherent in online reading and surfing tax working memory and make the thimble smaller.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO

Well I’m certainly not going to tell you to stop reading online, to cancel your internet account or to look down your nose at the incredible advantages that the internet information age has brought us. But I am going to offer you some behaviors that you can adopt to mitigate the changes in your brain from our ubiquitous web surfing.

  1. Read paper books. Books are not obsolete. The physicality of books still has a relevant function. Paper books allow the brain to gently relax into a state of deep reading and thinking. Books do not overtax the working memory (except for certain hyper-footnoted books – anything by David Foster Wallace comes to mind). Books are a great way to move information from short-term memory into long-term memory. I especially like to underline and make notations in books – adding a physical component to my visual exercise helps me remember. This is not distracting, this is enhanced learning. Neurons that fire together wire together.
  2. Read physical, long-form journalism. Most magazines are simply excuses for selling ads. If you want to protect your brain, read magazines with limited ads that are truly maintained through subscriptions and foundations. My favorite example is Harpers Magazine, which is consistently excellent. I also love reading The New Yorker and The Utne Reader. I can admit that The Economist bores me to tears, but it would be a great contender for long-form journalism. The Atlantic Monthly is alternatively filled with astounding articles and pandering infogendas. Read these in their physical manifestations. Only go online to look up out-of-print articles, then print those out and read them.
  3. Listen to long-form radio productions. NPR and the CBC usually have a story longer than 5 minutes every day. I’m not talking about a talk show. Howard Stern is not there to enrich your long-term memory. Our most ancient style of learning is obviously auditory; hearing the different voices and textures of life is similarly an enriching learning experience, which fills the thimble efficiently and lets you transfer information to long-term memory. Alternately, attend lectures that hopefully aren’t full of soul-sucking powerpoint presentations.
  4. Practice mindfulness. This is a very basic and non-denominational method of stilling your mind chatter. In addition to formal meditation practice, it is useful to engage in mindful listening, mindful eating etc. Even when you are at your computer, try to engage fully in one task at a time. (That means don’t talk on the phone while also checking your email, reviewing your calendar, dreaming of a holiday, buying school supplies online and drinking your coffee. Ease up already!)

ELITIST? HELL YA

Are these mitigating suggestions elitist because it costs money to buy books and magazines, attend lectures and hire a mindfulness coach, but the internet is free? Sort of. But there are libraries, for now, where books and magazines can be freely borrowed. You can listen to radio documentaries and probably learn mindfulness from a book or a friend. The fact is, good information has to be paid for. Good information has to be researched, fact-checked, edited, crafted by experience and presented in an intellectually and aesthetically compelling manner. That has never come free, does not come free and will never come free. If that offends you, then support a library so that people less fortunate than you can also read journalism and fiction.

I would like to be among the few who still has room in my working memory to transfer information to my long-term memory. I would like to retain a richness of memories and experiences to draw from so that I can think deeply about ideas, form considered opinions and have wisdom in my old age. I do not want to erode this process because of my addiction to technology and end up a listless, shallow shell of a human – someone who is easily distracted by bright colors and baubles. Let that happen to everyone else. They will be easier to care for and sell to, after all.

NO MORE HYPERLINKS EMBEDDED IN BODY OF TEXT

So for my small part, I made a decision not to imbed hyperlinks into the body of my text anymore. Instead, if I think a link is going to be helpful, I will submit it at the bottom of my post.

WHY BLOG AT ALL

Writing this blog was really my own form of mitigating forgetfulness. I read so many books and plow through so much information, but find it difficult to retain it all. One of my best strategies for learning was to make sure someone else was reading a certain book at the same time as me, and then engage in long conversations about the book. These conversations would force me to go back to the book and make references, and to reconsider my point of view based on the other reader’s impressions – behaviors that deepen learning. Usually these conversations would raise even more questions and I would seek out another book for further answers. This was imminently helpful. But I ran out of humans that could be interested in reading books at the exact same time and with the same intensity as me. What a betrayal that people have different interests than mine! My mom is the only one who keeps pace with me nearly book for book, and I try to keep pace with her books in return.

Writing these posts is really just a chance for me to process the books and information that I have been reading, either in the absence of long conversations or in addition to them. This is my way of extending the time this information is in my working memory, so that my little thimble has more of a chance to transfer information into my long-term memory. In addition, once the information has been posted, I can refer back to it at any time when my long-term memory fails me, giving the thimble another opportunity to fill the bathtub. I can re-read the posts whenever I need to deepen my memories of it.

NOW YOU CAN GET CLICKING AGAIN

The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains” by Nicholas Carr

Harper’s Magazine

The Utne Reader

The New Yorker

Petition to save Toronto’s Public Libraries

Wiki site on Mindfulness

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