Hello from 13,000 feet up in the Andes: Part 2

Our 11-day trip to Peru will soon be over, and it’s officially the only long trip I have ever taken where I wished I could stay. Emma and I have fallen madly in love with 34 little brown children. We just went to church with them, where some of the girls were wearing Emma and Libby’s old dresses, which delighted Em. I have seen my daughter learn and grow in a profound way (her Spanish has  improved in a quantum way because she’s so motivated to express herself to the orphans). Today we visit babies in a hospital in Cusco and give them the donations we brought.  Babies go home wrapped in newspapers there, because the families are so poor.

One thing I won’t miss: the kids all call me Shakira, and I have had to respond to demands to ¡CANTA! and ¡BAILA! oh, I don’t know, 200 times? After singing Hips Don’t Lie and Underneath Your Clothes a few times, and doing Shakira’s hip-shakin’ thing, I decided that Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba would be more appropriate to sing. The kids vastly prefer my dancing to my singing. The adults called me Barbie (including random strangers when I went running every morning, ” ¡Hola Barbie!”). Apparently the only two people the orphans and even most of the adults have been exposed to, who have long blonde hair, are Shakira and Barbie? At first the kids would take my long hair and drape it over their heads to pretend it was their hair, and they’d surreptitiously pull out a strand of my hair to keep. Then after a while they got bold and would beg me to cut off a lock of my hair. (That’s where I draw the line.)

On New Year’s Eve we had a huge party for the kids at the orphanage, with live music, crafts, fireworks like I have never seen before, and a traditional feast the expedition volunteers paid for. The younger ones could barely prop their eyes open at the end of the night but, when asked to go to bed, pleaded, ” ¡Por favor, no!”

I met the most gorgeous 4 y.o. boy, Marco, who has cerebral palsy, and I held him and danced with the others for a couple of hours to give his mother a rest. His mother Kynet had apparently been told what I do in the U.S. and asked me, shyly: Will you help me with nutrition, for Marco? She was the cook at the orphanage until carrying Marco on her back tied with a shawl (all the women here do that) became too much for her.

Yesterday I had a meeting with her, with my friend Van translating, as my Spanish is adequate but I don’t have the sophisticated vocabulary for everything I wanted to say.

Kynet is very poor and has no education, but she is one of the most motivated, intelligent, loving mothers I have ever met. She talked about how Marco’s father (her common-law husband) said, “I will never smile again until my son is well.”

Kynet juices carrots and beets for her tiny boy, who is the size my children were at 15 months. She then adds the pulp to rice–brilliant!–rather than throwing it away. She didn’t know that brown rice is much more nutritious than white rice, and the grama of the orphanage, Eunice, told her where to buy it. We discussed high calorie and high nutrition foods such as avocado and banana to feed Marco more of. I taught her how to sprout seeds and raw nuts, and I emphasized the importance of raw foods. Kynet uses a cheap blender, because Marco cannot masticate food so she blends most of it. I am going to talk to BlendTec: between us we will get a Total Blender to Kynet. I told her she is a wonderful mother, smart and attentive, the mother God chose very specifically for Marco.

Marco has winces with pain when he eats anything slightly cold or hot because of impacted teeth needing extraction. The anaesthesia used by locals could put Marco in a coma, so a pediatric oral surgeon is needed, and one does not exist in the entire state of Cusco. My friend Van and I talked for a minute about how to get such a doctor to fly to Lima, and pay for Kynet and Marco to go to Lima. Kynet looked us both in the eyes, back and forth, and whispered in Spanish,

“I plead with you.”

The love of a mother. It is profound. It made tears well up in my eyes, in Van’s, and in Kynet’s, and I have the same reaction writing this. As difficult as life will be for Marco, a severely handicapped boy in a third world country, whose father makes $200/month, his eyes shine from all the love he’s given daily. The 34 children of the Sunflower Orphanage break my heart even more.

I have had much to reflect on during many hours of physical labor at the orphanage.   We planted a vegetable garden, ploughed and planted a wheat field, painted dorms, hauled rocks, built a swing set, built an outdoor sink. And played with the children, read to them, did arts and crafts with them, loved them up. If only you could love and touch and physically give enough to a child in a week to shore up a lifetime. It takes $30K and 2 years to get a child out of a Peruvian orphanage, only if you’re lucky.

Primary among my reflections has been how significant parents are. I cannot really describe for you the effect on me–and more importantly, on my daughter–of spending an intensive week serving and loving children who have no mothers, no fathers. The children are fascinated by parents and grandparents and grilled me endlessly about mine: How old are they? Where do they live? Do you live with them?

I will post a photo of my meeting with Kynet, Van, and Marco when I get home. Give your children, if you’re blessed to have them, an extra hug from the GSG readers who are here. All the children of the world deserve parents.

Hello from 13,000 feet up in the Andes

Hola y buenas dias de las montanas hermosas del Andes Peruvianas! Prospero Nuevo Ano!

I am here in the rarefied air of the Sacred Valley of Peru near Cusco and will write more when I ´m home. But there ´s a rare opportunity to get on the only PC here in the hotel because I ´ve opted out of going for Chinese food with the group. We ´ve had virtually no down time to write, but when I ´m home I ´ll tell you the most interesting parts of this incredible adventure.

Today we visited a tiny village called Huilloch at 13,000 feet in the Andes, a place untouched by tourism that my friend Van knows. They are as fascinated by us as we are by them. They dress in native, homemade clothes, colorful wool skirts and unique inverted hats. The Peruvian government brought them rudimentary electricity 3 years ago, taking them from the 17th century to the 19th, and then, in an explicable move the village elders are unhappy with, threw them into the 21st century by bringing them the Internet in a central location in the village.

The female head of the village women ´s arts association (they make crafts and clothing by hand to sell) invited us into her home. Isabel, her daughter Virginia, and her baby Jefferson live with Virginia ´s husband and his mother, and two others, in a mud hut, one of the nicest in the village, that is half the size of my master bathroom. These are the poorest people I have ever met.

Twenty guinea pigs live under the small bed that sleeps two (the others sleep elsewhere, and there ´s a small fire in the corner somewhat vented to the outside). They speak Quetchwan rather than Spanish and only Van speaks rudimentary Quetchwan. He told them in los Estados Unidos, we name guinea pigs and never eat them. They thought that was hilarious.

The children are healthy and strong with strong white teeth, unlike the children in town (and at the Sunflower Orphanage we are here serving) who all have snotty noses, blackened teeth, and stunted growth. That ´s because the children of Huilloch are far from civilization and processed food, and the water they drink is mineralized stream water. I met and photographed a 120 year old woman wearing ancient Incan gold rings she found in her childhood that, if sold (she has no idea), would probably support the village for a year! She is one of three in the village! She chews on coca leaves all day (the plant that cocained is derived from) and is without teeth, but she is lucid and funny and walks on her own with a stick.

We played soccer against the women and girls of the village in a muddy field full of puddles. Even with their wool skirts and flipflops that flew off when they ´d kick the ball, they absolutely schooled us in their native sport. Emma and I both nearly scored once, but the score, in the end, was downright embarrassing.

I just received my laundry from a very poor local woman who took 1 1/2 days to do it by hand (for $3! don ´t worry, I paid her more), and none of it is folded, so I am off to complete that task. I will tell you more when I return next week about the phenomenal, heart breaking, life changing experience my daughter and I and some GSG readers have had here. And I will post photos, including one of the 120 year old village elder.

I hope that all your dreams come true in 2010! Much love,

Robyn

Raw green food and kidney stones

I have more requests to address oxalates.

It’s another one of those “they” things: first they tell us greens are good for us, and then they tell us oxalates will cause kidney stones and other problems.   Many people are fearful of kidney stones since they’re not only common (estimates are than 10 to 15 percent of Americans are diagnosed at some point), but also terribly painful.

Here’s the thing: it’s a gross oversimplification to say greens contain oxalates, oxalates cause kidney stones, and so you shouldn’t eat greens.   First of all, calcium is so plentiful and highly bioavailable in greens, and calcium binds to excess oxalates to render them harmless and easily removed from the body.   With all but a few serious health problems where specific nutrients are banned by your doctor, green foods are VITAL and should be eaten DAILY.   Some evidence says BLENDING oxalate-rich foods neutralizes it–voila, green smoothies!)

Foods high in oxalates include soy, beer, wheat, nuts, beets, chocolate, rhubarb, spinach, and strawberries.   I eat wheat, nuts, beets, chocolate, spinach, and strawberries regularly, most of them daily.   But if you have a problem with kidney stone formation, I would address eliminating three deadly S’s rather than greens: SODA, SUGAR, AND SALT.   Those chemically upset your body’s ability to utilize minerals like calcium and magnesium, leading to stones.

I know a schoolteacher who suffered with stones and eventually kidney failure, probably because for 30 years she didn’t want to have to leave her classroom to go to the bathroom, so she avoided drinking water.   Drink LOTS of water to avoid kidney stones!

Weston Price Foundation versus The China Study

A yahoo group I belong to, “Natural LDS Women,” is having a debate about the “science” of the Weston Price Foundation, versus The China Study.” A recent poster said that with scientific “facts” so conflicting, you really just have to pray about it and go with your gut. “LDS” means Mormon (my religion), and in this post I refer to the famous before-its-time scripture known as the Word of Wisdom, as I have in other places in my writings, about nutrition:

I rarely have time to respond to yahoo groups even though I follow some threads, but this morning I responded with this posting, about the two research titans, about research in general, and about navigating the “science” versus “gut” decision making tension:

The first people to tell you there are no scientific “facts” are scientists themselves. We have evidence, but not proof. Good science is hard to come by. In the modern world, the vast majority of our “science” (not even qualifying as “facts”) is bought and paid for. That is, the science looks objective but is funded by someone with a profit motive.

Industries paying for lots of research such as pharmaceuticals, dairy, meat, or processed foods (four huge industries that are very powerful) may have sifted through a lot of data and cherry picked whatever makes them look good, for promotion and publication.

Studies begin to become compelling when they are valid and reliable, the two highest standards in research. Briefly, VALID means the study truly measures what it purports to measure. (If a study saying wine consumption reduces heart disease is valid, it will have controlled for the fact that wine drinkers are more affluent than beer drinkers–so they also eat more fruits and vegetables. That’s hard to do!) RELIABLE means the research study was repeatable with consistent results.

The China Study is one of the most reliable studies I have ever encountered. Colin Campbell (PhD, Cornell) conducted the original animal studies, but other researchers all over the world copied them with the same results, over and over. Then he found similar findings in humans–in a huge study of 6,500 people spanning now 30 years (so the study is also longitudinal–that’s expensive and very rare in research, but one of the ways to achieve validity).

When you see a study saying oatmeal prevents heart disease, you don’t run out and buy all the oatmeal you can and knock every other good thing out of your diet. You watch and wait until you see lots of OTHER studies showing the same thing. You have a healthy skepticism about what you read–open minded, keen eye looking for more data. You are waiting for further light and knowledge. And you use your common sense. (For instance, in this case, “Well, I know that UNREFINED oats have bran and germ–vitamins, minerals, and fiber–so it’s good. But other grains have the same thing, so I’ll keep using them, too.”)

Vitamin D is one of those issues. The first time I read a study that those getting more sun get vastly less cancer, I was intrigued but skeptical. Now, more and more research is coming out with consistent conclusions, and I am beginning to believe strongly that getting more Vitamin D is critical to the strength of our immune systems, to our ability to minimize disease risk, to our ability to build and maintain bone mass. And it’s hard to get enough D in places with long winters, or for people who aren’t outside much–without supplementation. It has given me pause, since I have not been much of a fan of taking vitamin supplements in the past. Now that it’s cold here in Utah, I can’t get sun. I took a Quest Diagnostics baseline test during my peak of sun exposure in July, and now I’m supplementing with Vitamin D tablets and will test again in Feb. or Mar. I want to know if my synthetic Vita D consumption actually is utilized in my own body.

Double blinded, placebo-controlled studies are the best. Peer reviewed articles in journals are the best. Even they are not foolproof, though. Plenty of flawed research has been published in the most prestigious journals of the world. Studies that have had to be pulled back when their flaws are revealed. Good research is extremely hard to achieve. It’s meticulous, it’s difficult to isolate one factor, and above all, it’s time consuming and expensive.

This is not the place to go into why I vastly prefer the more recent, more thorough work in The China Study to the much older, much more flawed, much more biased work the Weston Price Foundation has done.

But let me say this, briefly: the findings of China Study match the LDS Word of Wisdom that we discuss in this yahoo group and are a fan of. Campbell’s studies weren’t meat eaters versus vegetarians. They were meat eaters (20%, matching the Standard American Diet in that respect at least) versus eating meat sparingly, in times of winter, cold, and famine. (Language culled from D&C 89, The Word of Wisdom.) Following the Word of Wisdom wins–with more than 200 statistically significant findings. (That means that the margin of error is NOT the reason for the finding.)

Yes, pray and receive revelation to guide your journey through what is admittedly a CONFUSING path in nutrition and health. But also be smart, savvy, educated consumers of information. Some research–though NONE of it qualifies as “fact”–is better than others.

That’s my $0.02. With that and a quarter, you can buy a phone call.

Robyn
GreenSmoothieGirl.com

natural infertility treatments

One of my first blog entries when I put this site up two years ago was about my infertility story. I forget about it sometimes, since I have four wonderful children ages 9 to 16 and that trial is behind me. But what a hard time that was. All the infertility treatments and drugs are things I wish I didn’t do. I didn’t know better at the time.  

Recently Craig and I and my girlfriends went to Utah’s figure and bodybuilding (female and male) competition at Cottonwood High School, to support my friend Jamie.   Jay Cutler, three-time and current Mr. Olympian, was a “guest poser.”  We were in Las Vegas two months ago when he won his third title (he had lost, in 2nd place, many times, to the same guy).

My goodness! Mr. Cutler is a freak of nature–or steroids–probably a combination of both!   People are not meant to be that huge. Craig says Cutler wakes up every two hours during the night to drink/eat protein powders / bars.   You’d have to, to support such massive muscle weight. This is not healthy–you probably already know if you read this site what I think about processed / fractionated soy and whey protein powders. I have hemp protein powder and SunWarrior raw fermented brown-rice protein powder for my teenage son, who asks for a protein shake every night at 10 p.m. For the rest of us, I believe we should trust nature to provide the right amounts of protein/carbs/fats in natural, whole foods, primarily from plants.

My two girlfriends I work out with, Jamie and Kristi, trained hard for a few months prior to Jamie’s competition. They ate nothing but protein (virtually no vegetables or fruits, even) for quite some time. It’s a way to bulk up, lean out, and cut up, but it’s not healthy to cut out complex carbohydrates with all their nutrition and fiber.

Jamie  and her husband have been going to Vaughn Johnson in Provo, Utah for natural-method infertility treatments.   I love that he told them, “You don’t need drugs–you need to address both of your hormone imbalances [Jake is a former competitive bodybuilder]. And we can do that naturally.”

I am very impressed than a local M.D. isn’t sucked into the pressure to promote drugs and surgery as a way to address infertility issues. I wanted to pass that name along to anyone local who is struggling with infertility.

I also found this Toni Wechsler’s book Taking Charge of Your Fertility extremely helpful in solving my own problems 15 years ago. They never found anything wrong with me or him, and  having read the book, I  believe it was the medical intervention, ironically enough, that was sabotaging our efforts to start our family.   (I wish I’d found the book a few years earlier, before lots of drugs and 4 artificial inseminations and losing my oldest son’s twin.) I highly recommend it to anyone struggling to conceive.  

How do I convert resistant family members to eating right?

If you know my writing, you know I’m always encouraging my readers to share with others what they’re learning that has changed their lives.

One of my most common conversations with whole-foods enthusiasts and 12 Steps to Whole Foods converts is around this issue.   Here’s an email I got:

“Dear GreenSmoothieGirl, I am excited about eating right and enjoying the changes I’m making, but my husband is sabotaging my efforts and doesn’t think eating white flour, sugar, meat, and Diet Coke is really gonna hurt anybody as long as we mix in a salad now and then.”

You aren’t alone.   I have constant email and personal conversations with people about this. Wives, if it makes you feel any better, solving this problem is easier for you than it is for a husband who wants to eat right but whose wife does the cooking.

I used to be a marriage and family therapist.   You know how in marriage a disagreement often isn’t really about what it seems on the surface to be about? It’s natural for any spouse to be resistant to major change. We humans like habit and predictability and safety. Imagine if your spouse came home and said, “Honey, I know I just finished an engineering degree that you worked hard to pay for, but I’ve decided I want to be an artist instead: I’m quite certain that will make me happy.” You might resist, yes?

Your loved one is worried you’re going to become someone else.   That is, not who he has always known, but someone extreme and scary. You’re not, of course.   You’re just progressing toward becoming your best self.

Food issues are BIG issues. They are as emotional and deeply held, often, as religion and politics. Have some compassion for your resistant family member and realize that announcing, “We are now a vegetarian family: I’m quite certain this will make us all healthy” or something like that might be too much, too fast.

For more information to help you convert a loved one, click here:

http://greensmoothiegirl.com/2008/05/02/the-nutritionally-recalcitrant-spouse-part-two-of-four/

To Your Health,

–Robyn

GreenSmoothieGirl.com

p.s.   If you have a Total Blender, you can make things that aren’t just nutritious, but YUMMY, too, and that could be the most important investment you make in converting your family to come along with you in your journey to being thin, healthy, and gorgeous.