top of page

where food is medicine

Our Blog

The Challenge of Choosing Healthy

A guest blog by Frances O’Neil, MSW, RDN, CDE

Get to know the author of our guest post, Frances O'Neil, on our community page:

Think back to the last time that you gave into a treat. Did you try to resist? How difficult was struggle? A woman once told of changing her driving route to avoid driving past certain restaurants. Another woman who struggled with sugar cravings once admitted to eating sugary foods until she felt sick and depressed.

Genetically, we are designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. For people living in the western world, food has become one means to achieve this end. In the US, highly-processed food is cheap and abundant. It is often nutritionally inferior and contains high concentrations of fat, sugar and salt in various forms. These are the foods that people often choose when seeking pleasure or avoiding pain. For those of us in the business of helping people change eating behavior, the odds seem to be stacked heavily against us and our clients. Lets look at some of the reasons why it is so difficult to resist these foods.

In the book, “Training Your Brain to Adopt Healthful Habits,” behavioral neuroscientists Trafton, Gordon and Misra explain that neurotransmitters that act as messengers between brain cells are often to blame. The authors highlight dopamine, which they describe as the neurotransmitter involved in motivating behavior and associated with “disorders of habit and impulsivity.” (1)

Trafton et al go on to explain how our brains are made up of networks of neurons and that dopamine-producing neurons transmit information regarding “opportunities in our environment” and estimate the “potential value” of those opportunities, which motivates us to act. The greater the perceived benefit of an opportunity, the more intensely the neurons fire. The more intense the bursts, the more you repeat the behavior regardless of any consequences. (1)

For example, if you love Starbuck’s Iced White Chocolate Mocha and you drive past a Starbuck’s, your brain detects an opportunity to improve your current situation. Dopamine neurons begin to fire. Since you LOVE Starbuck’s Iced White Chocolate Mocha, (it is something you have determined to be highly valuable), the neuron-firing burst is intense. You do a U-turn at the next light, drive up to the drive-through and place your order. Within a few short minutes, you are in Iced White Chocolate Mocha bliss. So intense was the firing of the dopamine neurons, as soon as you are finished with your Iced White Chocolate Mocha, you are thinking about your next visit to Starbucks.

Despite there being a Starbucks on every corner, why is it that sometimes we can drive right past, resisting the craving? This is due to our prefrontal cortex system, or executive function part of our brain, that works in opposition to the limbic, or reward system part of the brain, that dopamine acts on to motivate us. The competition between these two systems for control over behaviors is influenced by the speed at which they make their choices. Trafton et al state that the limbic system tends to make faster decisions than the prefrontal cortex. Additionally, when something is strongly overvalued or there is a powerful drive for immediate gratification, the limbic system will win out almost every time. Another factor stated as giving the limbic system an advantage and weakening our resolve, is our perception that a product will improve our social status. (1)

Trafton et al state that our brains use “social observation” and the opinions of others to set expectations and determine the value of performing certain behaviors. Interestingly, the authors suggest “the human brain is more likely to base choices on social norms than objective realities.” (1) In addition, we are social creatures and don’t like to be the odd man out and risk alienation. Therefore, if our “pack” provides us with information about something, we tend to go along with it, sometimes despite our better judgement.

For example, my first Starbucks coffee tasted burnt, leaving me with no desire to ever go back. However, soon afterwards, I started seeing Starbucks on every corner, everyone was talking about how much they loved Starbuck’s coffee, and the logo called me like a siren. Needless to say, I’ve gone back and enjoyed many a cup of coffee since.

Advertising and social media also influence our drive to consume certain foods and beverages. We are bombarded by advertising 24/7, giving the food industry a never-ending opportunity to appeal to our reward system. The industry has also perfected how to create highly-palatable food that appeals to our senses and triggers our neural reward systems. In his book, “Salt, Sugar, Fat,” author Michael Moss discusses how the food industry uses “high math regression analysis” and intricate charts to help the industry determine the “bliss point” or the precise amount of sugar or fat or salt that will create the perfect taste. Moss goes on to say that the most attractive attributes of a product’s color, smell, packaging, and taste are computer analyzed to design a product with the ultimate bliss point. According to Moss, scientists can manipulate fat globules to affect absorption and mouthfeel, pulverize salt into a fine powder to hit the taste buds faster and harder improving the food’s “flavor burst,” and create enhancers that amplify the sweetness of sugar to two hundred times its natural strength. Additionally, Moss states scientific research demonstrates sugar creates the greatest allure for products (2).

Ultimately, though, it can be our expectations rather than true reality or advertising that change how our brains respond. It is our expectations of the effects of food or drink or treatments that modify the reward estimates of our dopamine neurons (1). The goal then for those of us trying to help change behavior is to create positive expectations about the changes our clients are trying to make and help them change their beliefs surrounding expectations of their old habits. This could be done by helping them construct a list of pros for maintaining their current habits and a list of pros for changing their habits. If they find the pros for changing more convincing, have them make a copy (or snap a photo) of their list so they can read it often, especially when feeling vulnerable. If they find the pros for maintaining more convincing, ask them what would need to change to move them toward changing their habits; then brainstorm with them how they could make that change happen. You could also ask, “What concerns you most about your health?” to get them thinking about what they might be willing to work on.

What we feed our bodies matters and when our perceptions, values, experiences, expectations and more contribute to poor choices, our health will suffer. Our bodies are not landfills for throwing anything and everything into without regard to long-term health or well-being. Rather, giving our bodies the nutrients they need in the correct amounts, with pleasurable as well as nutritious food, keeps our appetites and metabolism in check and promotes optimal weight and well-being.

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

~ Virginia Woolf

1. Trafton, Jodie A., Gordon, William P., and Supriya, Misra. Training Your Brain to Adopt Healthful Habits: Mastering The Five Brain Challenges. Institute for Brain Potential, 2016

2.Moss, Michael. Salt, Sugar, Fat. Random House, 2014blog

Taking Weight Loss Out of the Equation

(for professionals) 

Losing weight is hard. Keeping it off is even harder. Getting our patients to succeed with weight loss is time consuming, frustrating, draining and oftentimes fruitless. Could it be that we are setting them up for failure the minute we suggest it? How can we instead set them up for success?

1) Take the focus off the weight. The number on the scale is subject to change despite the best efforts. It’s also intangible. It’s much easier to control things that we can touch such as medications. Another problem is that the weight is simply a symptom of a much bigger problem or at least a cause of poor lifestyle choices. The focus needs to be on the cause of the weight, tie. lifestyle choices, depression, PTSD, etc. Most importantly, a person’s weight comes with a lot of baggage, i.e. the divorce, the poor self image, the death of a loved one, an abusive childhood. This baggage (sometimes even a metaphor for the weight) can be very difficult to unload.

2) Focus on specific, more manageable variables that are devoid of baggage; variables such as energy, blood sugars, triglycerides, alertness. Focus on a variable that the patient chooses. If the patient mentions their weight, explain that you would rather they not worry about their weight that you’re more concerned about them feeling better.

3) Ask them what has worked for them in the past. Then brainstorm with the patient what I call 99.99% doable (something they could do on their craziest, busiest day), user friendly, everyday behaviors that they can engage in to improve the targeted variables. Examples would be moving their body for 1 minute every day or trying one recipe from the cookbook this week or checking their blood sugar daily. A good tool to use to help determine how likely they are to follow through on the actions are the Motivational Interviewing confidence and motivation scales (any search engine will provide information on these). If either their motivation or confidence is less than 7, they need to pick a new goal.

4) Have them choose a non-food related reward for reaching their goal. This can be a massage, a magazine subscription, new clothes, a round of golf, manicure or pedicure, some flowers, a book, etc.

5) Equip them with applicable products/tools that they can take home. They must be very user friendly and practical. Some examples include a glucometer, our cookbook, a pedometer, exercise and/or blood sugar log book, meal replacement products, resistance bands. You can use these products to market yourself by having your logo placed on them.

6) Before they leave, let them know that you will call them or see them in a week to see how they are doing. Ongoing and frequent support is critical to their success.

7) Ask them how they did on their goals. Discuss what was easy about it, hard, enjoyable or unenjoyable about it. If they didn’t achieve their goal, ask them what got in the way.

8) Using the confidence and motivation scales again, see if their confidence and motivation has changed since your last visit. If they don't feel confident about meeting their goals any longer, set new goals. Otherwise, if they are making progress with their goals ask them if they would like to establish a new goal(s) to work toward in addition to the ones they are already working. Again, be sure to apply the motivation/confidence scales every time that you establish new goals.

9) Once they have met their goal(s), no matter how simple, at least once, that is proof that they can in fact do it.

10) Praise them for their efforts and achievements. For example, “great, you were able to put yourself first and as a result you met your goal!”

11) Ask them if their variables have changed since their last visit and if so, how. If they’ve improved, again, praise them for their efforts that allowed for the positive results. If they’ve gotten worse, assess what got in the way and what changes need to be made. Enlist them in the process. Ask them what they think might need to change.

12) If you do all of the above and see no or little progress after a few attempts, consider the possibility of a more complicated medical problem that will require a more comprehensive level of care and/or the presence of a mental illness like depression, anxiety, ADHD. To quote a study, a group of doctors offered a reduction in their premiums to patients if they were able to improve their outcomes by making some lifestyle changes. Some of the patients were able to do this, but a notable number saw their premiums rise. When the doctors looked into this, they found that these patients either had a chronic disease and/or mental illness.

Be an agent of change.

Eat well,

Be well,



Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW,CDE: Posted on Friday, August 24, 2012 1:00 PM

If today is the first day of the rest of you life, wouldn't you want to make choices today that will have a positive effect on the rest of your life? Ideally, we want to make choices today that will eventually become healthy habits. It's not any one thing that you do that is as important as what you do repeatedly. So when it comes to making changes in your eating habits or exercise or any lifestyle change, make changes that will be easy to repeat. This often means changes that are small such as leaving a spoonful of food on your plate at every meal, drinking 8 - 10 ounces of water before each meal or with exercise, to start out doing 1 - 5 minutes every day. Slow and steady does win the race and is easier to do repeatedly than quick and sporadic.

Taking Care of Yourself

Posted on Saturday, August 18, 2012 7:50 PM

I was recently sent this in an e-mail. It was very timely as time has been scarce lately and I needed to be reminded of this. Please enjoy these helpful suggestions:

Maintain balance. Life gets busy. Breath and make it a deep, revitalizing breath. Take a moment to stop, smell the flowers, sip your coffee on a sunny porch. Make time for you. Get a facial, massage, take a yoga class, exercise. Keep on moving. Drink water! And don't forget to wash your face at night. Find an aroma that lifts your spirit. When you inhale it, you feel lighter. Smile! Appreciate the now... the moment you are in. Being in balance means you will be better at all your jobs: being a parent, partner, business owner, volunteer, etc. It's okay to take care of YOU!

Be Well,


Metabolic Syndrome, Drilling Down

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Saturday, June 16, 2012 1:46 PM

So, you have an apple shaped body from all that sugar, fat, alcohol, stress and no exercise. The excess fat in your midsection has caused an increase in blood glucose, insulin, triglycerides and blood pressure and a decrease in your HDL levels. Such a pattern is called “metabolic syndrome” and it is life-threatening.

Metabolic syndrome is a condition where the body is not able to properly handle the food that we eat. As a result, fat and glucose build up in the bloodstream causing our organs, particularly our pancreas and liver, to not work well. Let’s look at what happens when metabolic syndrome occurs.

When insulin levels are high, the cells of the body are too busy processing glucose to burn fat. The fats are then packaged into triglycerides and released into the bloodstream causing high blood triglyceride levels.  The triglycerides go to the liver where they become LDL or bad cholesterol particles. When the liver has to produce so much LDL, it does not produce as much of the good cholesterol or HDL.

The higher blood triglyceride levels also lead to more things called “adhesion molecules” inside the artery walls. Adhesion molecules attract white blood cells. If a white blood cell sticks to an adhesion molecule inside the artery wall, the white blood cell then becomes a “macrophage.” Macrophages wrap around fatty material in the walls of the arteries in an attempt to get rid of the fatty material and in the process, the macrophage becomes filled with fats. The fats give the macrophage a "foamy" appearance thus causing the macrophage to be referred to as a “foam cells.” Forming these foam cells is the body’s way of trying to remove LDL particles from the blood vessel. Instead, the macrophages are often unable to remove the fatty deposits and build up in the wall of the artery causing a narrowing of the vessel. 

The build up of fat in the walls of the blood vessels and the creation of foam cells causes a condition of inflammation throughout the blood vessels in the body. This inflammation damages the walls of the arteries. The walls of the arteries are responsible for producing a substance called nitric oxide (NO), but when the walls are damaged, they produce less of it. Nitric oxide (NO) helps control blood pressure. When NO is high, blood pressure is is in good control and high when it is low, blood pressure rises.

Can you reverse metabolic syndrome? The answer is a resounding, yes! You can reverse it by 1) losing weight, 2) lowering blood glucose levels and 3) making your cells more sensitive to insulin.

Weight loss will occur when your calorie output exceeds you calorie intake. This can be accomplished simply by decreasing the amount of food eaten and increasing exercise.

Blood glucose levels are lowered with exercise and eating less carbohydrate-rich foods and/or eating low glycemic load foods (see my post on glycemic load). Another option is to adopt a Mediterranean-type diet preferably a low glycemic load Mediterranean-type diet. A good resource for this type of information is the Harvard School of Public Health specifically the work by Dr. Willett

Lastly, there are several things that you can do to increase the insulin sensitivity of the cells in your body. They are:

1) Engage in regular aerobic and resistance exercise

2) Increase muscle mass

3) Reduce blood fat levels

4) Eat a diet high in antioxidants

5) Reduce stress levels

6) Increase fiber intake

7) Eat a healthy breakfast daily

8) Limit caffeine

9) Get adequate sleep

It’s primarily your lifestyle choices that have caused metabolic syndrome. Making different lifestyle choices will reverse it. It’s a challenge that you will face every day, several times every day. Who’s going to win, you or the temptation?

I Like Apples, But I Don't Want to Look Like One

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Saturday, June 02, 2012 9:28 PM

It is well documented that weight and BMI are not reliable indicators of health. Instead, it is the distribution of a person’s body fat that determines health or disease. We know that a body with a greater amount of fat deposited in the midsection or central area of the body is at high risk for developing type II diabetes and/or heart disease.

This body fat distribution is termed “apple shape” as the trunk of the body is round like an apple. The other type of body fat distribution is called “pear shape” as the body’s fat is largely stored in the hip, buttocks and thigh area of the body. This type of fat distribution is not strongly associated with chronic disease so long as the BMI and body fat percentage are within normal ranges. Instead, this type of body shape is associated with pituitary and thyroid dysfunction.

The apple shape is more common in men and the pear shape more common in women. When women reach menopause, however, they are more likely to develop the apple shape possibly due to the loss of estrogen. The apple shape is associated with insulin resistance. These people typically present with elevated insulin and triglycerides and decreased HDL levels. As the disease progresses, insulin levels decrease and glucose levels increase. This is due to insulin resistance becoming more severe and the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin decreasing.

Midsection fat is a toxic chemical factory producing inflammatory substances such as interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α)], Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1and C-reactive protein or CRP. In addition, this type of fat lowers levels of Adiponectin which helps to control weight and appetite.

Midsection fat leads to fat build up in the liver leading to increased insulin levels, glucose, triglycerides and a damaging type of blood fat called Apolipoprotein B. It also increases insulin resistance in the muscles reducing the amount of glucose that can be taken up by the muscle and leaving the glucose to build up in the bloodstream. When the muscles can not take up glucose, they cannot produce energy which leads to severe fatigue and muscle pain commonly known as fibromyalgia. Lastly, the elevated insulin, glucose, triglycerides and Apolipoprotein B result in coronary atherosclerosis and unstable plaque build up better known as fat build up in the blood vessels and an increased risk of blood clots forming.

Wherever there is fat accumulated in the midsection of the body, there is insulin resistance and abnormal fat levels in the blood. The presence of midsection fat is determined by a measurement of the waist to hip ratio or WHR. A woman with a WHR of greater than .8 and a man with a WHR greater than 1 have too much fat deposited in the midsection of their body and therefore has some degree of insulin resistance and abnormal fat levels. To measure your waist, use a tape measure to measure the distance around your waist just above your belly button. To measure hips, measure the distance around the largest area of your hips and the widest part of the buttocks. Divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement to get the WHR.

To improve the WHR, one needs to lose weight. As little as 5 to 10% of initial body weight can reduce midsection fat by 10 to 30% and therefore improve their WHR. Moreover, exercise burns more midsection fat than caloric restriction and will prevent muscle from being broken down and used for energy. It is therefore possible to reduce midsection fat without necessarily losing weight.

Achieving optimum health doesn't cost much. Forget about spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on diet programs. Reducing the number on the scale or your BMI is not what is important, but reducing your WHR is. Instead, start using that gym membership that you have been paying for years or make use of that treadmill that has been paid off and sitting idle in your garage. With a little sweat equity, a long and healthy life is yours for the taking.

Type II Diabetes and The Brain

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Saturday, May 19, 2012 9:26 PM

What do addictions, Parkinson's Disease, depression and Alzheimer's Disease have in common? They all involve some degree of insulin resistance.

Alzheimer's Disease has a new name, it's "type III diabetes."  Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital and Brown Medical School have discovered that insulin is produced in the brain and that reduced levels are linked to Alzheimer's disease. "What we found is that insulin is not just produced in the pancreas, but also in the brain. And we discovered that insulin and its growth factors, which are necessary for the survival of brain cells, contribute to the progression of Alzheimer's," says senior author Suzanne M. de la Monte, a neuropathologist at Rhode Island Hospital and a professor of pathology at Brown Medical School." This raises the possibility of a Type 3 diabetes." Based on these new findings, a new experimental treatment applied in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease is a form of inhaled insulin.

Parkinson's Disease occurs when when the nerve cells in the brain that make dopamine are slowly destroyed. Without dopamine, the nerve cells in that part of the brain cannot properly send messages. Dopamine levels are low in the insulin resistant state. There are trials evaluating medications that treat insulin resistance (pioglitazone and exenatide) as possible disease modifying drugs in Parkinson's disease.

Dopamine is a chemical produced in the brain that is responsible for the reward or pleasure experience that we derive from our behaviors such as eating, sex, exercising, gambling, taking drugs, etc. It is the dopamine release that we get from these behaviors that leads to the repetitive nature or addiction associated with them. If dopamine levels are low in the insulin resistant state then could activities or drugs that counter insulin resistance treat addictions? An article from PubMed entitled "Insulin Signaling and Addiction" states that the brain evolved to respond to natural rewards such as food and sex and that These physiological responses are important for survival, reproduction and evolutionary processes.Research over recent decades has revealed that dopamine and insulin work together to orchestrate both the motivation to eat and the level of reward associated with the eating. Given that many abused drugs target the dopamine system, the discovery of how dopamine is regulated by insulin will create opportunities to develop therapies for drug and potentially food addiction.

According to the CDC, people with type II diabetes are twice as likely to have depression. Low dopamine levels are associated with a low energy type of depression. There is a new medication to treat type II diabetes. It is called Cycloset. Cycloset increases levels of dopamine which in turn reduces insulin resistance. Will we be seeing Cycloset used as a treatment for addictions, depression? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can increase dopamine levels with green tea, Indian Ginseng, Ginko Biloba and high protein diets especially protein foods containing the amino acid tyrosine. Youcan improve functioning of dopamine receptors with omega-3 fatty acids, phosphatidylserine found in organ meats and phosphatidylcholine found in lecithin, egg yolk, soybeans, sardines, nuts and peanuts, and folate, B12 and B6.

Solving the Weight Loss Puzzle

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Monday, May 07, 2012 3:26 PM

With the evolution of humankind has come an evolution of the role of food. It now fulfills to a much greater degree than before our emotional as well as our physiological needs making it nearly impossible to simply stop eating when we’re full.

The physiological messages associated with appetite have been severely blunted or naggingly persistent as a result of chronic dieting and years of abuse. Also, the many external messages we get 24/7 have contributed to the blunting of our own internal regulating systems. We get messages from advertising, people in our lives and society in general that we must be the right size to be accepted, eat a certain item to be happy, to super size because more is always better, etc. In short, we have lost control of our senses and have willingly given that power over to outside forces.

Regaining that control is complicated. In part, the economy is driven by our ever growing needs and apathy. The market capitalizes on this with a constant parade of new products all the while keeping it’s finger on the pulse for the next new and improved whatever to cure the ills caused by the now passé trend. All of this is further complicated by increasing rates of depression and anxiety. A recent study attempting to find ways to incentivize people to change behavior found that those who had the most difficulty changing behavior either had more severe cases of disease or were mentally unstable.

So are we doomed? The answer is no, IF we attend to the type and quality of the food we eat and exercise regularly. When type and quality become the focus, the individual experiences success on multiple levels, i.e. appetite control, portion control, mind/body connection, intrinsic control as opposed to external control, and it’s not too much of a stretch to say, a transcendence of the mundane.

In 600 BC, Hippocrates, the father of medicine said, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The updated version of that ancient mantra is “food is information.” It is a phrase used often in the field of Nutrigenomics, an evolving field of study that looks at the effects of food on gene expression. Researchers have discussed the possibility of using food to prevent an individual's genes from expressing disease. It has been said that nutrigenomics could completely change the future of public health and the food and culinary industries. Nutrients have been shown to affect gene expression through transcription factors, which are biochemical entities that bind to DNA and either promote or inhibit transcription of genes. By understanding the roles of specific nutrients and how they might cause diseases, scientists could recommend foods that contain specific nutrients for an individual based on his or her genetics.

Research is also awakening to the idea that many of the chronic diseases seen in many developed countries are “long-latency deficiency diseases.” These are diseases that result from nutrient deficiencies, but whose effects are not seen for a long time. These diseases include heart disease, cancer, depression, schizophrenia, ADD or Alzheimer’s

As for what mixture of the different macronutrients; protein, fat and carbohydrate are best for a person will depend on genetics, level of activity and type, age, existing disease states to name a few. A valuable tool for helping to determine the best mix is metabolic testing. This evaluation can tell you how much fat and carbohydrate your body burns. The amount of protein to consume depends on physical assessment looking for protein deficiency symptoms; the stage of life of the person is in, intensity and type of exercise, existing disease states and assessment of current dietary intake. BUT the work doesn’t stop there. One needs to address the type of fat, carbohydrate and protein they consume. One of the most well balanced and nutrient rich diets on the planet is the Mediterranean diet. It would be an excellent place to start for anyone wanting to send the right messages to their body.

To create the right balance of substances, we also need exercise. If you recall from high school biology and the classification of organisms, humans fall into the animal kingdom. If you’ve ever observed animals in the wild, they are either moving or in an active stance. Our ancestors were nomadic and had to compete with their animal brethren for survival. There was little down time. There also was/is no such thing as chronic disease in the wild. Have you ever seen a gazelle or zebra galloping down the Serengeti clutching its chest? This is quite a different scenario from our automated and technology driven world of today.

Our bodies and brains are designed to thrive on movement. Exercise done at the proper frequency, duration and intensity is the stressor that produces healthy chemical changes in the body. Exercise is the equivalent of giving your car a tune up. Vessels are cleaned out and opened, healthy fluids and chemicals are added and unhealthy, sticky fluids are removed, parts are lubricated and so on. The result is a body that runs more smoothly, doesn’t have “breakdowns” in the middle of the afternoon, emissions are cleaner, runs on less fuel, signs of imbalance are more pronounced and performance is optimal. In the brain, exercise increases levels of dopamine, which helps you focus and serotonin which calms you down. Exercise beats or equals Prozac or psychotherapy as an antidepressant in head-to-head studies. It increases levels IGF-1, an indicator of growth hormone (the repair and youth hormone) and levels of BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), which is like super fertilizer for your brain. These chemicals are the brain’s way to make new brain cells (neurogenesis) and improve connections between existing brain cells (neuroplasticity). The hippocampus, the memory and mood center in the brain, is very sensitive to BDNF which means exercise improves memory and mood. Exercise actually REWIRES your brain for better mood and cognitive functions. Exercise makes your brain run faster, smoother, and more efficiently.

For starters, for those dealing with weight issues and/or wanting to improve cardiovascular fitness, general recommendations for exercise are: 150 – 250 minutes/week of moderately vigorous activity (a fast walk for most) to prevent further weight gain. To lose significant weight, 225 – 420 minutes/week is probably needed. To maintain lost weight, they recommend 200 – 300 minutes/week, but more is preferred. For help designing a tailored exercise program that will address not only body mass but also strength, flexibility, balance, cardiovascular conditioning and concurrent injuries/diseases, be sure to consult a physician first for clearance. Once clearance is obtained, seek the advice of an exercise physiologist, physical therapist or a qualified personal trainer preferably one recommended by a trusted healthcare professional. To get it right and derive all the benefits you deserve, be patient, be steadfast in your commitment and before you know it, it will be the drug you can’t live without.

Exercise and food breakdown create waste products. If left to build up, these products become toxic. Adequate water is needed to flush byproducts and toxins out and keep the body’s systems in balance and functioning optimally. The general recommendation is 64 oz of fluid/day for the average individual. This recommendation includes water coming from all sources both food and beverages. For individuals who workout regularly or intensely, more fluid is required. The best way to determine how much is to weight oneself before exercise and after. Replace every pound lost with 16 oz of water. If an individual is overweight, add another 8 oz of water for every 25 additional pounds.

Finding a sound, effective treatment for weight loss and maintenance is like trying to untangle a knotted ball of yarn, tugging on one piece only compresses it requiring you to dig deeper. What society and oftentimes medical practitioners believe should be an easy fix juxtaposed against an epidemic of growing waist lines should provide convincing evidence that the issue is a multi-faceted, convoluted one like no other. This ignorance also feeds a social pathology wherein a person’s weight becomes a measure of their character. Weight has become a catchall for many of society’s ills and yet a remedy eludes us. So, until the knot can be unraveled, take note of what you eat and listen. Your food is talking.

Using Food to Treat Cancer

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Tuesday, May 01, 2012 8:07 AM

This was forwarded to me by a friend. I do not know whose mother they are referring to in the beginning of the e-mail, I cannot vouch for the validity of the info in the article and do not know who the biochemist is who refers to himself at the end of the article, but if you or someone you know is a cancer patient, they are typically desperate for information that may help especially if the suggested treatment won't hurt. Also, due to my work in functional medicine, I know the healing power of food especially our vegetables. I know of reputable practitioners who do use foods in the treatment of their cancer patients. Lastly, at the end of this article, it mentions that asparagus is high in glutathione, a very potent anti-oxidant. I recently had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM, a Board-Certified Neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition ( and the effect of nutrients on brain health. In the following YouTube video you will witness the healing power of nutrients specifically glutathione--enjoy!

Asparagus and the Treatment of Cancer

My Mom had been taking the full-stalk canned style asparagus, pureeing it and taking 4 tablespoons in the morning and 4 tablespoons later in the day. She did this for over a month. She is on chemo pills for Stage 3 lung cancer in the pleural area and her cancer cell count went from 386 down to 125 as of this past week. Her oncologist said she will not need to see him for 3 months.

THE ARTICLE: Several years ago I met a man seeking asparagus for a friend who had cancer. He gave me a copy of an article, entitled "Asparagus For Cancer" printed in the Cancer News Journal, December 1979. I will share it here, just as it was shared with me: I am a biochemist, and have specialized in the relation of diet to health or over 50 years. Several years ago, I learned of the discovery of Richard R. Vensal, D.D.S. that asparagus might cure cancer. Since then, I have worked with him on his project. We have accumulated a number of favorable case histories. Here are a few examples:

For the treatment , asparagus should be cooked before using. Fresh or canned asparagus can be used. I have corresponded with the two leading caners of asparagus, Giant and Stockily, and I am satisfied that these brands contain no pesticides or preservatives. Place the cooked asparagus in a blender and liquefy to make a puree. Store in the refrigerator. Give the patient 4 full tablespoons twice daily, morning and evening. Patients usually show some improvement in 2-4 weeks. It can be diluted with water and used as a cold or hot drink. This suggested dosage is based on present experience, but certainly larger amounts can do no harm and may be needed in some cases.

Case No. 1, A man with an almost hopeless case of Hodgkin's disease (cancer of the lymph glands) who was completely incapacitated. Within 1 year of starting the asparagus therapy, his doctors were unable to detect any signs of cancer, and he was back on a schedule of strenuous exercise.

Case No. 2 , A successful businessman, 68 years old, suffered from cancer of the bladder for 16 years. After years of medical treatments, including radiation without improvement, he began taking asparagus. Within 3 months, examinations revealed that his bladder tumor had disappeared and that his kidneys were normal.

Case No. 3, On March 5th 1971, a man who had lung cancer was put on the operating table where they found lung cancer so widely spread that it was inoperable. The surgeon sewed him up and declared his case hopeless. On April 5th he heard about the Asparagus therapy and immediately started taking it. By August, x-ray pictures revealed that all signs of the cancer had disappeared. He is now back at his regular business routine.

Case No. 4, A woman had been troubled for a number of years with skin cancer. She developed different skin cancers which were diagnosed by the acting specialist as advanced. Within 3 months after beginning asparagus therapy, the skin specialist said her skin looked fine with no more skin lesions. This woman reported that the asparagus therapy also cured her kidney disease, which had started in 1949. She had over 10 operations for kidney stones, and was receiving government disability payments for an inoperable, terminal, kidney condition. She attributes the cure of this kidney trouble entirely to the asparagus treatment. I was not surprised at this result as `The elements of material medica', edited in1854 by a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania , stated that asparagus was used as a popular remedy for kidney stones. He even referred to experiments, in 1739, on the power of asparagus in dissolving stones.

As a biochemist, I have made an extensive study of all aspects of cancer, and all of the proposed cures. As a result, I am convinced that asparagus fits in better with the latest theories about cancer. Asparagus contains a good supply of protein called histones , which are believed to be active in controlling cell growth. For that reason, I believe asparagus can be said to contain a substance that I call cell growth normalizer . That accounts for its action on cancer and in acting as a general body tonic. In any event, regardless of theory, asparagus used as we suggest, is a harmless substance. The FDA cannot prevent you from using it and it may do you much good. It has been reported by the US National Cancer Institute, that asparagus is the highest tested food containing glutathione , which is considered one of the body's most potent anti carcinogens and antioxidants. Just a side note... In case you are wondering why this has not been made public , there is no profit in curing cancer!

Insulin Resistance—What is it and How to Combat it

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 2:14 PM

Insulin resistance is a condition in which the cells of the body do not respond to insulin’s message that there is glucose in the bloodstream and to make the necessary cellular changes to allow it to enter the cell. When insulin’s message cannot be heard by the cell, the glucose is not able to get inside the cell and instead remains in the bloodstream eventually building up to high levels leading to pre-diabetes or type II diabetes

After digestion of a meal, glucose enters the bloodstream from the small intestine. As it goes from the small intestine to the bloodstream, it passes the pancreas. The glucose signals the pancreas to excrete insulin. The pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin and glucose then travel throughout the bloodstream to the cells of the body.

When insulin arrives at a cell, it attaches itself to “insulin receptors” on the outside of the cell. Once locked into the receptor, the insulin then transmits a message to the inside of the cell that there is glucose waiting to come in. The cell will then move “glucose transporting vesicles” to the surface of the cell. The glucose can then enter the transporting vesicle and be transported inside the cell where the cell then uses the glucose for energy.

There are many factors that can disrupt this process. One problem that can occur is not having enough insulin. This is one of the reasons blood sugar levels are elevated in type II diabetes. Insulin levels typically continue to decline as the disease progresses due to the pancreas continually having to work overtime due to high glucose levels. Eventually the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin tire out and die.

This decline in insulin production can be avoided or at least slowed by eating a diet that does not require the pancreas to produce much insulin. The types of diets that do this are low carbohydrate diets (30 – 50% of calories coming from carbohydrates) and/or a low glycemic load diet (see my previous post on this topic).

Another way to avoid or slow the decline in insulin production is to be active at least 150 minutes/week. The best type of activity is one that combines both aerobic and muscle building forms of activity. Aerobic activity is activity that engages the large muscle groups of the body like the legs and back, the heart rate is elevated and stays elevated throughout the duration of the exercise. Examples include walking, running, stair climbing, cycling and rowing. Muscle building activities include any kind of resistance training or weight lifting.

Activity uses muscles and muscles use glucose. Muscles depend on glucose 24/7. They are “glucose thirsty.” They have to have it. Since they are so dependent on it, muscles do not require much insulin to get the glucose inside of them and sometimes, no insulin is required at all. Muscle is therefore called “insulin sensitive” tissue. Also, muscles use much more glucose than other cells of the body. The bottom line is that the more activity ones does, the more glucose is going to be needed. The more activity one does, the more muscle one will have requiring less insulin from the pancreas to get the glucose into the cells. All of this spares the pancreas from having to work overtime to keep blood glucose levels in control and therefore prolongs the life of the pancreas.

Another disrupter of the process of getting glucose into the cell is not enough insulin receptors. This is seen in chronically elevated blood glucose levels. When the blood glucose is always elevated, insulin levels can be excessive as well (except in the case of diabetes when the pancreas is not producing enough). Too much insulin trying to attach to insulin receptors overwhelms the cells receptor causing them to “hide” inside the cell membrane. To avoid this, again, eat a low carbohydrate or low glycemic load diet.

The health of the cell’s membrane can also impact the effectiveness of this process. As mentioned, the insulin receptor lies on the outside of the cell or cell membrane. For a cell membrane to allow messengers like insulin to properly attach to receptor sites, the membrane must be fluid and not rigid.

Cell membranes are made up of fats and cholesterol. The types of fats that are in the membrane are determined by the fats that one eats. If one eats unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats, the membrane will be stiff and rigid resulting in poor insulin attachment. On the flip side, if the diet is full of primarily omega 3 fats and monounsaturated fats and a little polyunsaturated fats, the membrane will be fluid and much more able to allow for proper insulin attachment.

Of course, genes do play a role in the development of insulin resistance, but it is a minor role. The major contributor to insulin resistance and diabetes is lifestyle. Nonetheless, genes do determine the cell’s sensitivity to insulin. To ensure that genes make sure that this process of enhancing insulin sensitivity happens, one can include Conjugated Linoleic Acid or CLA in the diet. The best possible sources of CLA are grass-fed beef and raw dairy products that come from grass-fed cattle. One can also use CLA supplements.

Lastly, there are specific nutrients that are involved in insulin signaling. They include: Vanadium, Chromium, CLA, Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), Inositol, Magnesium and Vitamin E. 

Glycemic Load—How to Have Your Carbohydrates and Good Blood Sugar Control, Too

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Wednesday, April 18, 2012 4:23 PM

The concept of glycemic load was developed by Harvard School of Public Health professor and researcher Walter Willett, M.D. and his associates in 1997. It is the measure of the rise in blood sugar caused by a certain amount of a certain food. A food is given a number based on how it affects the blood sugar. A score of 10 or below is considered a mild affect on the blood sugar and 20 or above is considered a large affect on blood sugar.

The typical American meal contains high glycemic load foods which cause the blood sugar to rise significantly after the meal. These high blood sugars require a larger amount of insulin in order to keep the blood sugar under control. Higher insulin levels block the body’s ability to burn fat and increase fat storage especially in the midsection of the body, called “central obesity.” When fat can’t be burned, our appetite and food intake increases.

When the fat cells in the midsection of the body become full, fat is then stored in the liver, pancreas and muscles. All this stored fat contributes to a condition in which the cells do not respond to insulin, a condition called “insulin resistance.” The liver, pancreas and muscles are then unable to recognize when there is glucose in the bloodstream.

These fat-filled organs also regularly release fats into the bloodstream causing high blood fat levels. According to a report in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008, higher after meal blood sugars are a common cause of disease progression and are associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gall bladder disease, breast cancer, and all diseases combined.

An article in Nutrition by Brand-Miller et al states that high blood sugars create pro-oxidant molecules (the opposite of antioxidant). These molecules come in contact with the lining of the blood vessels causing damage. In summary, high after meal blood sugar levels lead to:

♦high insulin levels which creates extra work for the pancreas ultimately killing the cells that produce insulin leading to type II diabetes

♦damage to the lining of the blood vessels

♦decreased fat burning

♦increased fat storage which leads to insulin resistance

♦increased levels of fats in the bloodstream

♦increased appetite

♦all of which leads to:

•increased appetites

•weight gain

•increased risk of heart disease

•development of type II diabetes

•worsening of existing type II diabetes

A low glycemic load diet has the potential to lower risk for developing type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease. According to data from the Nurses Health Study, a low glycemic load diet offered the lowest risk for developing type II diabetes. A low glycemic diet will do all of the following:

♦reduce blood glucose levels

♦reduce low blood glucose (or hypoglycemic) events

♦increase HDL levels

♦reduce LDL levels

♦reduce triglycerides levels

♦reduce inflammation in the body

♦increase insulin sensitivity

♦reduce insulin resistance

♦enhance appetite suppression

♦reduce total energy intake

Low glycemic diets also tend to be higher in protein. A higher protein intake…

♦appears to have greater ability than do carboydrates to suppress the appetite

♦requires more energy to break it down resulting in calories being burned.

♦have also been found to produce greater weight loss in some trials

The following is a list of the glycemic load of some foods:

Steamed Broccoli (1/2 cup) - 1

Cashews (2 oz) – 3

2% Milk (1 cup) – 4

Ice cream (1 cup) – 8

Apple juice (1 cup) – 12

Cooked oatmeal (1 cup) – 16

Corn flakes (1 cup) - 27

Raisins (1/2 cup) – 28

For a more extensive list of the glycemic load of foods, go to: or which also provides information, a monthly newsletter and searchable GI database.  You can also decrease the glycemic load of a meal by doing any or all of the following:

♦Eat high-fiber breakfast cereals (oats, bran, barley) or add berries, nuts, flaxseed and cinnamon to high glycemic load cereals.

♦Choose dense, whole grain and sourdough breads and crackers or add a heart-healthy protein and/or condiments to high glycemic load breads and crackers

♦Include 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables every day

♦Eat less refined sugars and convenience foods (soda, sweets, desserts, etc.) or combine nuts, fruit, yogurt, ice cream with commercial sweets – just watch portion sizes.

There are some people that would not benefit from a low glycemic load diet. These would include people with lots of muscle mass and moderate (not excessive) amounts of fat mass. This is because muscle is what has been called “glucose thirsty” tissue. Muscles must have glucose in order to function. Muscles also store glucose and what is lost during activity is replenished after the activity is completed. Muscle is also insulin sensitive tissue therefore glucose can be taken up by muscle tissue using very little insulin. The more muscle tissue one has, the more glucose is needed.

Lastly, an excellent resource for anyone interested in following a low glycemic load diet is,Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, by Walter C. Willett, M.D. and Patrick J. Skerrett (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc.

A Marathon Experience--part II

by Frances O'Neil, RD, MSW, CDE: Posted on Friday, April 13, 2012 4:13 PM

Miles 5 through 7 were filled with doubt and fear of what could happen. I had 20 some miles left to go and the elements weren’t letting up. I did the only thing I knew to do, concentrate on what I was doing and just get to the next mile marker.

Up ahead, an over-sized white baseball cap bobbed up and down like a float on the water. The woman in the white cap systematically checked her watch at every mile. She bugged me. I began to reel her in passing her soon after the halfway point. I felt her stare as I effortlessly slipped by her. She remained faceless.

Now I was really alone, the only woman in a sea of male runners. Doubt began to creep in again. Can I hold on? I had never run a marathon having held this pace through the half and with these conditions. I turned inside: legs—check, stomach—check, toes—check, leg turnover—check. Overall body control—check. All systems were go! It was now mind over matter, my greatest nemesis being the elements. The instructions from command central--relax and focus. It’s simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. It’s simply a matter of… This chant became my constant companion.

Mile 15 came quickly, my 6:37 pace still holding. My next check point was mile 18. In 3 miles, I could cramp up, hit a bad headwind or doubt could overtake me. Suddenly, the 18 mile marker appeared. Miles 15 – 18 were just inches apart. The words blazed in my mind’s eye as they passed over my lips; “I’ve got it in the bag. Nothing is going to stop me now.”

I came to appreciate the gradual change in terrain. It allowed me to switch muscle groups which was critical given the conditions. As I approached mile 20, I grew a little concerned. Dave had said that the last 6 miles were flat. I wasn’t sure if that single muscle group could withstand 6 miles of pounding. As it turned out, it didn’t flatten out until mile 22 or 23. Miles 20 and 21 were a blur.

Miles 23 and 24 were mentally the toughest. They are far enough from the finish that if something happened I couldn’t crawl, limp or hobble to a descent finish. A slight feeling of muscle fatigue had set in. The miles were appearing slightly longer. I continued to chant, “Nothing is going to stop me now. I’ve got it in the bag.” My legs were on automatic pilot.

The scenery had begun to change or maybe it’s just that I had begun to notice. Spectators were clapping and shouting, “Alright #235.” “Looking great.” “You’re in the top 10.” I knew if I could get to mile 25, nothing would stop me. I kept my eyes dead ahead.

The crowd thickened. The cheers became more fervent and frequent. My body struggled as I fought to suppress the emotions welling up inside.

The straight away came to an abrupt stop. “Woman to left” I heard someone say. I made a sharp left turn. I could see the clock. My eyes locked on the numbers—2:54.18. A wave rippled through my body. I through my arms up and beat the air with my fists as the announcer announced, “and here comes Frances O’Neil of Seal Beach another top 10 woman and she looks pretty happy.” “Good job, good job,” were the last words that I remember.

The minutes spent in the shoot are fleeting but are the most long-awaited for and welcomed. Warm hands and friendly smiles reach out trying to bring life back into your tired body. I was caringly wrapped in a foil blanket. Finally, warmth and shelter from the elements, but what I really needed was a private place to unleash my tears. My lips quivered and my body jerked as I tried to control my sobs. So many times I had strained my stinging, sweat-caked eyes trying to make out the numbers on the clock wishing that time would stand still long enough for me to capture a 2:59.99, but the clock would keep ticking; 2:59.99, 3:00.00

You see, the story told of an eagle found eating with the chickens. The farmer loved having the eagle around and did everything he could to encourage the chicken-like behavior. One day, someone came along and said, "this bird is an eagle and should soar like an eagle." The eagle was taken to a mountaintop over and over in hopes that it would take to the skies, but every time it went back to the chicken coop. Finally, one day, the eagle, perched on outstretched arm, spread his wings and soared into the sun never to look back.

Unto this day, doubt still creeps in and I lose my way. I fall prey to the insecurities of others and their inferior chicken ways. Inspiration eludes me and I become content with the status quo. Is this what I want? By no means. Instead, I fight the inertia and set out in search of the mountaintop. There I find no limits, no labels, only the horizon and my eagle wings.

bottom of page