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Food as medicine: for the liver

Empowering people to heal through Spirit, Nature and lifestyle is the work of the Vaidya, or Ayurvedic practitioner. The Ayurvedic system is the original holistic approach using; diet specific to ones’ constitution, medicated oils, steam, massage and marma points. Ayurveda is not just a system to treat disease, but a sophisticated method to help us become balanced, enlightened people. I want to share some of this knowledge of how you can use food as medicine in the coming months. This month the focus will be on the liver.
Certain foods affect the liver adversely. You already know these, but I have to mention them anyway; tobacco, alcohol, coffee, fried foods and white sugar. Anger and stress seem to have a similar effect on this organ. In Ayurveda it is understood also, that too much oil, salt, hot spices and fermented food can increase liver heat to a point of imbalance.
Because it has an influence on every cell in the body one can trace most symptoms of disease to impaired function of the liver. As our bodies’ fat-burner the quality of the fat or oil we consume is very important to liver health. It also helps the immune system fight infections, removes bacteria from the blood and makes bile, which is essential for digestion.
Many foods keep the liver happy. The foremost, in my experience, is the artichoke.
Eating a steamed, organic artichoke frequently, is helpful for your liver but here’s how to make your own liver medicine. Put more than enough water in the pot when you steam an artichoke, (which can take about 20 minutes). Then take the water that is left in the pot, and drink it throughout the day. Simple and effective. If only we can find organic artichokes!
Drinking half a lemon squeezed into warm water every morning is another very effective and gentle liver cleanse. Lemon juice stimulates the liver’s bile production, prevents the buildup of gallstones and stimulates gastric juices. The curandera who taught me said “make sure you drink it with a straw, so the juice doesn’t take the enamel off of your teeth!”
Turmeric can help digest fats and stimulate the production of bile. It should be avoided by those who have gall bladder problems. You can find a recipe here, http://www.curanderahealing.com/recipes, for the Ayurvedic remedy known as “Golden Milk”. Taking turmeric (or curcumin–which is a drug) in capsules is not very effective as turmeric should be heated with a substance containing fat to be potent.
Familiar to gardeners everywhere, Dandelion root is a liver cleanser that is still used as medicine in some countries. It also stimulates bile flow from the liver. Some traditions use it to help fight fatty liver, cirrhosis, estrogen dominance, and even acne.
Stones found in the gall bladder seem to begin formation as hard bile deposits in the liver. The Ayurvedic plant medicine for this (and kidney stones), is a plant known as Bhumyamalaki. This is a gentle and effective cleanse.
There are now many chemical liver cleanses on the market–MSM, lipogen, beta glucan, glutathione. Cleansing the liver too abruptly causes what’s called a “healing crisis” which can make you nauseous and cause pimples to erupt as your liver detoxifies. This is why many people choose to do a more gentle liver cleanse by leaving behind the above-mentioned detrimental foods and emotions and including certain beneficial foods in their diet to a greater extent.
More foods that are beneficial to this organ include vegetables that are cool, dry, light, sweet, and bitter, such as: beans, green vegetables (especially bitter salad greens or cabbage), sweet fruits, oats and barley and moderate amounts of fresh dairy.
Garlic helps your liver activate enzymes that can flush out toxins. Grapefruit is high in both vitamin C and antioxidant properties. Fruits like strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries all enhance the health of the liver. These fruits have organic acids that lower sugar blood levels, and will help you to burn fat, decreasing your chances of fatty liver diseases. Beets are high in plant-flavonoids, which can improve the overall functions of your liver. Walnuts are high in glutathione and omega-3 fatty acids, which help support the liver through its cleansing process. The Ayurvedic plant, guduchi, taken with honey once a day on an empty stomach detoxifies the liver.
Cold-pressed organic oils such as olive, hemp and flax-seed are great for the liver, when used in moderation. They help the body by providing a lipid base that can suck up harmful toxins in the body. Practicing meditation regularly can help prevent stress from taking its toll on your liver.
From web md, “Cholesterol drugs and the painkiller acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be toxic to the liver if too much is taken over time or at once. You may be taking more Tylenol than you realize; it’s found in hundreds of drugs like cold medicines and prescription pain medicines”. Our environment is permeated with many other chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides and hormones which the liver must filter out. Other causes of an overwhelmed liver include overeating. This alters the body’s ph level and creates a situation for unhealthy microbes to grow and for blood and lymph imbalance. Excessive protein in the diet can thicken and congest basal membranes of blood vessels, including those in the liver. This prevents cholesterol from circulating, which leads to the body to perceive that its cholesterol level is low, so it will raises cholesterol production to dangerous levels. Using food and gentle herbs we can help the liver eliminate accumulations of chemicals and the by-products of an unhealthy diet.
[Athena Wolf practices Ayurveda and Curanderismo at the Red Hat Healing Center. You can find more information at curanderahealing.com or 536.9335]

Staff Picks: Merlot Bella Vitano

Monica Hoeper is passionate about food! Naturally, then, the Co-op may be the perfect job for her! She’s worked here for 6 months where she can be found gracefully cashiering and tending to the fruits and vegetables of our produce department. When she’s not at work, Monica loves to garden, care for her chickens and play with a local African drum and dance group. Her choice of product is Sartori’s Merlot BellaVitano Cheese. She says that, “it is deliciously flavorful and versatile. A little goes a long way. The more you use, the more it becomes a decadent treat!” Monica includes this cheese in one of her favorite breakfasts that she says, “will set you off to a good morning.” Her recipe is as follows:
Heat a bit of olive oil or butter in a pan. Chop a shallot and add. Then mix in chopped spinach or kale and cover to steam for a few moments. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and tarragon. Make a little spot in the middle of the pan, moisten with more butter and crack in 2 eggs. Cover and cook to over-easy. Grate cheese over the top and enjoy.
This year, Sartori Cheese celebrates 75 years of hand-crafted cheese making. Founded in 1939 by Italian immigrant Paolo Sartori, the company is now in its 4th generation of family ownership and operation. Located in Wisconsin, they use locally sourced high quality rBST-free milk that is turned into cheese within hours of milking. Their cheese-making process is still very hands-on, implementing many of the same techniques that they’ve used since the beginnings of their company. In addition to Monica’s selection of Merlot BellaVitano, the Co-op also carries Sartori’s SarVecchio Parmesan and Rosemary and Olive Oil Asiago.

Pick Two and Call Me Back

Businesses providing goods and services often face competing expectations and must balance them. Customers often want it all.
From years past, I remember a captioned photo hanging in a print shop, showing a person on the telephone, behind a very crowded desk: “You want it good, cheap, and fast? Pick two and call me back!”
I thought of that awkward but pragmatic truth recently after hearing another complaint describing food co-ops as “too expensive.” In a related criticism, co-ops are “not accessible” to low-income shoppers. Those are actually two different points that get run together, and the “too expensive” complaint often is from someone who is not low-income—examples of the complexities around this topic.
An additional but related problem is how to make the cooperative’s member-owner investment easier for moderate-income shoppers.
There is some truth in the point about prices. But the complaint occurs firstly, even before declining household earnings, because most shoppers, even those who eat well and can buy whatever food they want, are captive to a cheap-food market psychology. Production abuses and other externalized costs are ignored in most grocery prices.
For food co-ops, it is a dilemma, because when offering quality food (organic, sustainable, often local) the co-op cannot say: “You want it cheap, with fair prices for farmers and fair wages for workers? Pick two and call me back!”
Food co-ops are driven by their mission to offer good value as well as to pay fair prices. Given the scale of its operations compared to competitors in investment-driven enterprise, the co-op’s food is unlikely to be less expensive compared to conventionally produced items. That distinction is not always made, which reinforces the confusion. It also points to the issue of price image vs. price reality—price image brings additional challenges. But when comparing organic apples to organic apples, or more usefully a basket of items to a like basket, co-ops typically are competitively priced, and that crucial like-to-like assumption makes for a different discussion.
Problems can be solved, while dilemmas are conditions that can only be navigated or moderated. For retail food cooperatives, pressure around price exists for organic product, and it also arises when retailing local product. Procuring and selling organic and/or local product is an area in which co-ops excel, yet often the source is a small or artisanal producer whose clean methods and small scale result in higher prices.
This price dilemma also is a key challenge identified in a new study about the Minneapolis-St. Paul area’s cooperative local food system. The case study, which I co-authored with Joan Stockinger, is available from Cooperative Development Services, www.cdsus.coop. We found that many thousands of food co-op member-owners and others are willing to pay a premium, yet price is still a key challenge:
• There can be tensions between various multiple values in the local food system. The most visible of these is around price, within a context seeking the following:
• Fair return to farmers using sustainable practices and operating at a family scale
• Commitment to paying employees fair wages and benefits/good jobs
• Desire to provide healthy, high-quality food to people of limited means
There is much more to be said about what food co-ops are doing to make their services and member-ownership accessible to moderate-income shoppers. Such efforts are necessary in a society in which half of the population now has zero financial assets or even negative net worth. Co-ops offer such practices as:
• Reduced margins on basic food items
• Classes on how to eat well affordably (shop bulk, less meat, cook at home)
• Purchase discounts for shoppers who also participate in needs-based public programs
Owner investment methods that allow a low beginning payment and extended terms for becoming a co-op member—even allowing the remainder of the investment to come solely through patronage refunds (there also are examples of programs in which other member-owners make donations supporting memberships to low-income applicants).

by Dave Gutknecht
[visit http://www.cooperativegrocer.coop for more information about cooperatives]