Friday, May 6, 2011

Spring cleaning time!

Greens = perfect food for spring!

Spring is here, so it’s time for me to deliver some seasonal nutrition education! When we eat in harmony with the seasons, we are naturally healthier because local, seasonal foods help us adapt to our environment.

In Chinese Medicine’s Five Element system, the spring season is associated with wood (element), green (color), anger (emotion), sour (taste), and liver and gallbladder (body organs). Spring is the time of growth, renewal and regeneration—manifesting our ideas into action.

Spring = detox time

From Halloween to Valentine’s, and the celebratory holidays in between (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s), Americans tend to indulge in foods that harm the liver:
• a diet rich in animal foods and alcohol combine to make the liver expanded/overactive/inflamed (yang)
• a junk food diet (excessive fat, sugar, refined grains, artificial ingredients) makes the liver overly contracted/deficient (yin)

These diets that abuse the liver cause stagnation of blood and qi, and imbalances reveal themselves as excess of anger/irritability and associated with strokes, diabetes, heart and liver disease, etc. Our bodies have systems equipped to remove toxins and metabolic wastes through the skin, lungs, liver, kidneys and colon. However, our bodies can get overloaded with toxins from daily exposure to synthetic chemicals, pollution and other contaminants in our food, water, air, personal care products, etc. Most of this toxic load which can’t be detoxified is stored in the liver, or in adipose tissue (fat). When the liver is overburdened, it’s less able to filter toxins from the blood and break them down for elimination, so toxins remain, leading to dis-ease.

You are what you eat, absorb, assimilate, and don’t eliminate!

Liver functions to metabolize macronutrients so here’s a quick review:

1. Proteins

Proteins are needed to make, grow, maintain and repair our body tissues. They are big, complicated molecules made up of amino acids, which really work the liver and kidney functions. The digestion and metabolism of proteins require more work than carbs and fats, so they’re less efficient fuel sources. Protein contains nitrogen, which metabolizes into ammonia (toxic in high amounts), which the liver converts to urea (also toxic), which is then eliminated by the kidneys.

People who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD) rely on animal foods for protein. However, consuming animals means taking in larger doses of toxins because animals are high on the food chain, where environmental toxins concentrate—along with added toxins from hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals used in industrial animal production. Last month, Clinical Infectious Diseases, a medical journal published a study finding that 47% of the beef, chicken, pork and turkey at supermarkets nationwide may be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria! (

(Caveat to anyone relying solely on plants for nourishment: Because plants contain all essential amino acids in varying amounts, it’s important to plan meals to eat complementary proteins during the course of a day: grains/nuts/seeds + legumes. Traditional diets typically use 1 part legumes to 2 parts grain. Soy, amaranth, buckwheat, hempseed, spirulina and quinoa are considered complete proteins.)

2. Fats

Fats help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K), and slow down nutrient absorption so we can go longer without feeling hungry. Our heart, liver and muscle prefer fat as their fuel source.

It’s best to get fats from whole foods (e.g., avocado=monounsaturated; flaxseed, walnuts, purslane=omega-3), which are found in their natural source with antioxidants such as vitamin E (removed during processing). Fats extracted from whole foods become susceptible to rancidity when exposed to air, light and heat. Fats should be refrigerated or stored in a very cool, dark place to prevent oxidation. If you use oil (say in salad dressing), go for organic, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil in dark glass bottles. Avoid trans-fatty acids, which are extremely toxic and rarely found in nature.

3. Carbs: Eating lower on the food chain, or eating plants

Carbs, our best source of fuel for the body (especially our brain and red blood cells), come mostly from plants.

If you decide to phase out meat, the rest of your diet must change so your body gets the nutrients it needs. When you give up meat, also give up refined carbs, and replace with whole grains + legumes. Because meat provides the minerals that are absent in refined foods that make up SAD, it’s important to include fresh, lightly cooked leafy vegetables rich in calcium and magnesium. Eat a rainbow of colors from veggies and fruits—organic if possible to avoid pesticides.

Refreshing foods that heal

Like spring, the liver is regenerating. To heal the liver: eliminate excesses of fat, refined foods, artificial ingredients, drugs, sugar, and alcohol.

Start your day with warm water + fresh lemon juice, which help the liver and gallbladder clean out fats and toxins, so you feel energized yet balanced.

Our spring seasonal diet should be mostly whole grains, green vegetables (broccoli, celery, parsley, collards, dark lettuces), beans (limas, green lentils, split peas), and fruits (green apple, sour cherry, sour oranges, lime). Sour foods (lemon, grapefruit, sauerkraut) stimulate the liver to produce bile (which help digest fats and absorb fat-soluble vitamins) and release stored waste—but too much causes astringency, preventing the liver from releasing toxins.

Put it all together: Sauté greens and drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice!

Later, in the day, enjoy Briahn’s liver calming tea (
2-3 China rose buds, crumpled (mei gui hua; gently moves qi & blood; neutral, sweet, slightly bitter)
1 tsp peppermint (bo he; relax liver to benefit throat; cool, spicy)
Wolfberry (gou qi zi; nourish liver & kidneys, brighten eyes, moisten lungs; neutral, sweet)
2 cups boiled water
Steep 20 minutes. Strain and drink to support your liver.
Wolfberry (Lycium barbarum) is 1 of 3 “national treasures” of Chinese Medicine (others are green tea & ginseng). Also known as goji, it’s high in antioxidants and known to help with treating diabetes, liver problems, fatigue, cancer, etc.

Liver-rejuvenating habits
Avoid sources of toxins that place a heavy burden on the liver. Remember: You are what you eat, absorb, assimilate, and don’t eliminate! We’re designed to run on foods produced from Mother Earth, so stick to eating natural, SLOW (Seasonal, Local, Organic, Whole) foods.

Avoid late-night eating and go to bed before 11 pm to prepare yourself for deep sleep during Liver detox time (1-3 am), when blood is strengthened and our hormones regenerated.

Finally, move your body to prevent liver stagnation and breathe deeply to get qi flowing. The most helpful activity for liver conditions is outdoor exercise (sweat and oxygen-rich blood help body elimination and clean out fats and toxins), especially around nature (greenery, as well as wood in the structures of roots, trunk and limbs for trees and plants) . . . so gardening at The Free Farm may be your best medicine!

Unplug from the internet (thanks for reading this blog, though) and let’s grow plants, eat plants!

Gardening at The Free Farm = healing power!

Public Service Announcements:

Daily through Mon.,May 16, 2011 at 5 pm
Vote for Free Farm Stand/Free Farm (#3) at
Free Farm Stand/Free Farm have been nominated for the Citizen of Tomorrow Award, which offers a chance to win $5,000 that would help us purchase seeds, supplies, and a large refrigerator/walk-in cooler to store produce when it’s ready to harvest. The group with the most online votes will win. You can vote as often as once a day! Thanks for your support!

Sat., May 7, 2011 at 4-6 pm
Fermenting 101: Kombucha, Soda and Sauerkraut
Mission Arts Center, 745 Treat St., between 20th & 21st St., SF
This DIY in two hours, complete with tastings, is led by The Free Farm’s Lauren Anderson of Produce to the People, who will share her kombucha and kefir soda secrets and Luke Amaru Chappellet Volpini, a sauerkraut sage who loves revealing the fun and ease of fermenting food.

Sun., May 8, 2011 at 11 am
Plant Fruit Trees at the Free Farm Stand
Parque Niños Unidos, 23rd St. & Treat St., SF

Mon., May 9, 2011, at 7-9 pm
Growing Food Democracy: Connecting Global Lessons to Local Action
Women's Building, 3543 18th St # 8, SF (near 16th St. BART)
Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) presents—along with co-sponsors LiveReal, the California Food and Justice Coalition, Food First and People’s Grocery—this FREE food justice event.
We bring together two of the food justice movement's leading authors, Robert Gottlieb and Raj Patel, and activist Navina Khanna of Oakland's LiveReal for a stimulating evening of dialogue, moderated by PANNA's senior scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman. These speakers will explore the successes, tensions and synergies between the local food justice, national food democracy and global food sovereignty movements; we invite you to join the conversation!

Wed., May 11, 2011, at 2:30 pm
Training Session for May 17 Hunger Action Day
150 Golden Gate Ave., SF
Each May, hundreds of anti-hunger advocates from all over the state meet in Sacramento to educate their legislators about hunger and support anti-hunger legislation. Low-income advocates, soup kitchen volunteers, nutritionists, food bank supporters and others concerned about the 3.1 million Californians experiencing hunger travel by bus, car and airplane once each year to participate in this important event. Lunch and transportation provided. Attend training session to get your spot on the bus! Contact: Celina Sutton, 415.592.2728 or

Tues., May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm
Slow Food for the People
SF Public Library, Latino/Hispanic Community Room, 101 Larkin St. at Grove, SF
The first in St. Anthony’s series of 60th anniversary symposiums, explores how local policy makers, food banks, and feeding programs integrate into the Slow Food Movement. According to the San Francisco Food Bank, 197,000 people go hungry in our city. How do we, as a community of people living in the Bay Area, ensure that Slow Food, defined as “Good, Clean, and Fair Food” has space for everyone at the table?
Panelists include Charles Sommer, Manager of St. Anthony’s Dining Room; Paul Ash, the Executive Director of the San Francisco Food Bank; and Paula Jones, Director of Food Systems at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The Panel will be moderated by Tannis Reinhertz, Department Chair of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Studies at City College of SF

Thurs., May 19 & Fri., May 20, 2011 at 6-10 pm
Screening of In Search of Good Food + Greenhorns
Recology HQ, 900 7th St. at Berry, SF
In Search of Good Food follows Antonio Roman-Alcalá, an urban farming activist from San Francisco, on his search for the "sustainable" food system in California. Built off of footage from a two-month trip around the state in early 2008, In Search of Good Food features interviews with farmers, farmworkers, wildlife advocates, cultural biologists, university professors, historians, educators, grassroots groups, organic foods distributors, the CA secretary of agriculture, and many others who form the various arms of this movement to ensure an ongoing supply of healthy, ecologically and locally-produced, economically affordable food for all Californians.

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