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Jedi for Real Food

The struggle against the Dark Side of the grocery store continues in this outrageous Star Wars-themed battle of the foods.

Nutrition and the Brain: Quick Tips

Nowhere is the body-mind relationship more important or more ignored than in the relationship between the brain and the food we eat. We often don’t realise how much our mental state has to do with the chemical state of our body, which in turn is affected heavily by the food we eat. We’ve already covered the all-important relationship between senility and poor diet. Patrick Holdford’s book Optimum Nutrition for the Mind looks at some other brain problems related to nutrition and what you can do about them.



There are a few important things to know about your diet if you suffer from anxiety. One is that your blood sugar balance is extremely important. A dip in blood sugar caused by an overactive insulin response can bring on hyperventilation and increase lactic acid in the body, which is a contributing factor to anxiety attacks. In general, balancing out your blood sugar is a very good idea for mood disorders. High copper levels, often the result of drinking water in buildings with new copper pipes, depress histamine levels, associated with extreme fears. You may need to increase your level of zinc if high copper levels are an issue.

On the other hand, dark green leafy vegetables and nuts provide magnesium, a mineral that helps both the mind and the muscles to relax. Other important micronutrients for anxiety sufferers include Vitamin B12 and folic acid.

The neurotransmitter we look to to govern anxiety, reduce adrenaline and promote a calm mood is known by the abbreviation GABA. Drugs like alcohol stimulate brief GABA releases, making us feel momentarily good, but the more we drink, the more our GABA levels fall. Tranquilisers work by making the body more receptive to GABA. Unfortunately, tranquiliser addiction is rampant throughout Western society. Benzodiazepine tranquilisers are more addictive than heroin and are associated with extreme withdrawal symptoms. There are natural alternatives with less risk, such as valerian root, which performs the same function, and hops (yes, the same hops found in beer) which act to calm the central nervous system.


There are a few major ways to improve your diet to address depression, the most important of which is to make sure you take in omega 3 fat and B-series vitamins. Together, these help the brain build up receptor sites for neurotransmitters and promote neurotransmitter production, especially serotonin. In clinical studies, major improvements in depression have been linked to omega 3 intake. Folic acid, a B vitamin, has an important effect on neurotransmitter levels.

Long-term depression, as opposed to a momentary low, is primarily a chemical state of a brain that either does not know how or does not have the materials to change that state. Antidepressant drugs are notorious for their side effects, but there is a natural alternative, St. John’s Wort, which has far fewer side effects at recommended doses (despite frequent attempts to scare people with any side-effect stories that come up). Its success rate is comparable, and more patients stick with it due to the reduced side effects.

Learning Disorders

Learning problems such as ADHD, dyslexia and so on are heavily linked to nutritional deficiencies. This has been heavily studied. Studies from MIT and California State University have shown that the fewer refined foods children ate, the better their learning, mainly due to the lack of micronutrients in processed food. Other studies have explored the effect of nutritional supplements and dietary changes on learning, with often dramatic results, including leaps of years in reading level and jumps in intelligence test scores. In one study by Dr. Michael Cogan, a group of children on vitamin and mineral supplements showed an average improvement of 1.1 years in reading level and 8.4 I.Q. points over 22 weeks, while a group which also had changes to their diet improved 1.8 years in reading level and gained 17.9 I.Q. points.

(As an aside, one of the most noxious elements of intelligence testing has been the role of its proponents in arguing that intelligence level is innate to the individual, and that because intelligence level is a predictor of success, people are somehow innately destined for their lot in life. The huge difference made by a change in nutrition calls this sharply into question, especially where impoverished populations are concerned.)

The important factors here are antioxidants, which help to reduce the detrimental effect of free radicals on the brain, and the building materials such as omega 3, B vitamins and amino acids that are essential building blocks of the brain and neurotransmitter system. The effects of increasing healthy fats in the diets of dyslexic children have been shown repeatedly. Increasing vitamin and mineral sources and healthy fats while decreasing high-carb processed foods is the essential formula for healthy learning, although heavy metal contamination and other issues may enter into it.

Hyperactivity, as we all know, can be partly attributed to sugars, but also to deficiency in the nutrients the body needs in order to calm down, such as magnesium and Vitamin B6. Studies by Dr. Bernard Rimland compared the effects of Ritalin against B6 and magnesium supplements, and found the latter to be ten times more effective.

(The same dramatic improvement has been shown in a California State University Study on the behaviour of young offenders. Correcting vitamin and mineral deficiency greatly improved behaviour.)

Bottom Line

The food we eat effects our brains, neurotransmitters, nervous systems and therefore our moods, our fears, our mental capabilities. The conditions discussed here are only the tip of the iceberg. Mental and psychiatric disorders that we often regard as chronic and irreversible are strongly linked to nutritional deficiencies. The complex interconnectivity of the body-mind organism is a major key to addressing what may seem to be mysterious or intractable problems. We need to optimise the whole organism, rather than just a part.

The general lessons we can draw from these particular conditions are straightforward:

1. Make sure that you eat a good amount of Omega 3 fats

2. Make sure you eat enough fresh produce and leafy greens

3. Supplement as necessary to compensate for the poor state of micronutrients in our food chain- the B and C Vitamins as well as magnesium are particularly important for brain health


Let’s Put an End to the Agricultural Con Game

Over the past few decades, global agribusiness has been pushing the idea that the combination of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, mechanisation and genetically modified food found in industrial farming is the only way to end hunger. This is an argument that greatly affects not only your own nutritional resilience, but our collective resilience as a species.


The Seven Keys to Cracking the Food System

Here are just a few key things you need to know to understand how the way your food is grown affects your health individually and the resilience of our society.

EROI (Energy Return on Energy Invested): It’s really not as complicated as it sounds. Does the energy in the food we produce outweigh the energy we use to produce it? Does the energy needed to produce the fertiliser, the pesticides, the genetically modified crops, the energy needed to power the tractors and combines, the trucks that move the food, the factories that process them, the irrigation systems and so on exceed the energy we get out of the food? For industrial agriculture, the answer is nearly always yes. This would have been inconceivable even a hundred years ago. We are expending more energy to grow the food than we get out of it.

Soil Erosion and Depletion: The soil that grows industrially-farmed crops often doesn’t get the benefit of a crop rotation system and the chance it affords to replenish micronutrients and binding elements- the vitamins, minerals and so on we need to stay healthy, and the things the soil needs to hold together. Chemical fertilisers keep the crops growing, but without many of the nutrients we need. And the soil itself erodes. The world is losing topsoil at an alarming rate.

Aquifer Depletion: In order to farm in ways and in places that probably shouldn’t be farmed, we irrigate many crops using water from underground aquifers. These aquifers replenish themselves at a much slower rate than we’re taking from them. Loss of ground water has also been linked to sinkholes.

Factory Farming: If meat and dairy are significant parts of your diet and you live on the products of modern farming, chances are you’re taking in a lot of hormones and antibiotics that were given to the poor beasts, who were raised indoors with a minimum of movement and living on corn or soy products rather than their natural diet of forage. That means that they are starting with nutritional deficiencies which they then pass on to YOU. The antibiotics are there to keep them alive while malnourished and confined, long enough to make it to your table. Hungry yet?

The Monoculture Crops: By far and away the most-grown crops in the Western Hemisphere are wheat, corn and soy. We don’t necessarily know that we’re eating them- they’re fed to factory-farmed animals, or turned into processed-food additives. We’ve talked about the nutritional repercussions before. Something else to consider is that many farms grow only these crops, and only a handful of varieties of the thousands once available are widely grown. This focus on fewer and fewer crops in fewer and fewer varieties is quite literally a threat to the resilience of our species. We’ve already seen vast swathes of crops devastated by unexpectedly resistant pests, diseases and climatic shifts.

Food Waste: Our civilisation produces a staggering amount of food waste– one third of production globally and forty percent for the United States. And these nutrients are not being recycled back into the food system- we don’t have pigs out back eating what we won’t, as so many people in traditional societies still do. There are many reasons contributing to that waste, but one thing is clear: we don’t need more food. We need to better use the food that we have.

Chemicals: All those chemical fertilisers, pesticides and antibiotics don’t magically disappear. We eat a large number of them on a daily basis. The rest stays in the soil or runs off into the ground water, lakes and rivers. The spread of pesticides helps to create more resilient pests, and the spread of fertiliser leads to catastrophic consequences for aquatic ecosystems. The massive animal waste from factory farmed animals (Lord knows it would make too much sense to use that as fertiliser) is a particular problem.

Who Can Feed the World?

Between soil erosion and depletion, aquifer depletion, pest buildup from monoculture farming and malnourishment of factory-farmed animals, industrial agriculture is a system designed to add more and more inputs to prop up an increasingly vulnerable system with fewer and fewer nutrients in play. Because most of those inputs depend on fossil fuels and petrochemicals, they will become increasingly unsustainable over time, not to mention their contribution to carbon emissions.

By contrast, traditional organic farming methods are designed as carefully-balanced systems of mutually-reinforcing parts, maximising the sustainable output of nutrients for little outside input.

Let’s take a peek at the agricultural calendar to get the idea. You grew wheat in a field last year, so this year you plant peas and barley. The peas re-nitrogenate the soil, and you get more of the two crops together than you would have with either alone. You harvest the peas and give the stalks to the animals as hay. Each time you harvest anything, you send in the pigs to eat the fallen grain or fruit, which helps to fertilise the field. You milk the cows and make butter and cheese. The pigs get the buttermilk and the whey. What’s pasture this year gets nicely fertilised and can be planted again next year.

There are literally thousands of efficiencies like that built in to these systems. They may be slightly more labour-intensive- but on the other hand, farm labour is going to be an essential source of employment for the world’s growing population. This kind of farming can be done perfectly well with horse-drawn equipment, perfected in the early twentieth century, rather than fossil-fuel powered tractors and combines. We easily forget just how developed that pre-tractor equipment became before we abandoned it, just as we forget that there used to be thousands of specialised crop varieties bred to thrive in particular environments long before standardised GMO crops came along.

Instead of constantly trying to push up unsustainable yields of food that take more out of us than they give, require unsustainable inputs, and end up going to waste anyway, why not try for a system that’s sustainable in the long-term and designed to prevent waste?

Who Can Nourish the World?

We have created a food system in which it is possible to have a full belly, think that one has eaten a delicious and nutritious meal, and still be malnourished. Neither the grain nor the meat nor the dairy products we encounter have the nutritional value they did a hundred years ago. On top of that, the nutrients that once were once managed by traditional farming in the soil and the food supply are now being wasted at an incredible rate. It is getting more and more difficult to ensure the quality of food we take in.

This same problem is already affecting the developing world on a catastrophic scale. People who once grew a wide variety of subsistence crops are now growing cash crops and filling up on white bread. And for them, the nutritional catastrophe is even harder to reverse.

Whenever agribusiness companies try to push the industrial farming model as a solution to the world’s problems, remember- it’s neither the customer nor the farmer who really benefits. Just “follow the money” and you’ll know who’s benefitting…

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Got a Health Challenge? Time to Start JUICING!

As you may have seen in our smoothie-making video, smoothies are a great, versatile delivery system for many kinds of nutrients, from vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to healthy fats and proteins.

Juicing is a little different…

Where a smoothie is essentially mulched solid food, a juicer extracts the liquid component of fruits and vegetables. Its main health function is to extract and deliver the living vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and enzymes of vegetables in a form that is very accessible and easy to digest for the body. It’s a great way of getting a healthy amount of vegetable nutrients in your diet. Many people juice every day.

But there are also other uses for juicing. Cleansing diets using only juices can have tremendous health benefits if done properly. The simplicity and accessibility of the diet means that the body gets a rest from processing complex foods, while still getting direct access to the nutrients it most needs to regenerate itself and build the immune system. The length of a juice diet varies enormously, from up to one year in medically-supervised treatment of extreme health challenges to one to two week juice fasts to intermittent one or two day fasts.

Juicing can help boost your immune system by ensuring it gets all the trace elements and vitamins it needs to function effectively. It can help your digestive system by giving it a bit of a rest and delivering plenty of plant enzymes. Juicing extracts many nutrients and delivers them directly, important when so many of us have compromised digestive systems. Juicing naturally alkalises your system, making your body a less hospitable environment for disease. As you get more vegetable nutrients, your energy level will improve, and your brain health in the long term will be much improved.

Juicing can not only help us reach a healthy level of vegetable consumption, but broaden our diet as well. For those of us who tend to eat the same vegetables every week, juicing is an opportunity to change things up and get a wider variety of nutrients.


If done improperly, juicing can cause you problems, so it’s a good idea to get some competent guidance before setting out on long-term juicing. Some of the key things to watch out for include:

– Sugar level: You don’t want to juice only or even primarily fruits, because pulpless fruit juice is an efficient delivery system of sugar to your blood – too efficient! Not only diabetics but anyone who has problems with blood sugar or energy levels should avoid this. Some fruit may be added to make vegetable juices more palatable. Root vegetables like carrots and beets also have high sugar levels.

– Sticking with the wrong vegetable: Some vegetables contain elements that the body has trouble dealing with in large amounts. Spinach, for example, contains oxalates, which inhibit iron absorption and can cause kidney stones and have negative impact on people with arthritis or gout. For most people, switching ingredients periodically should address this problem.

– Green juice is icky: Leafy greens are among the best vegetables you can juice in terms of nutrient content. Start with your everyday salad greens flavoured with some fruit and perhaps ginger or lemon juice before tackling some of the more strongly-flavoured greens such as chard or kale.

– Getting the right stuff: Premade juices and juices using non-organic produce are to be avoided as much as possible. Artificial fertilisers mask soil exhaustion, and vegetables grown with them will lack many of the trace nutrients we’re looking for. Juicing pesticide-treated veggies, washed or not, isn’t a great idea either.

– Listen to your body: Some of us react badly to particular vegetables, and if you notice digestive distress after juicing, that may be the signal to change what you juice.

– Nutritional typing: If your notice that you often have difficulty digesting vegetables, especially leafy greens, you may have to approach juicing differently, with more focus on non-leafy vegetables and sources of healthy fat, such as avocadoes.

No juice is a perfect balanced food or even a meal replacement. Short-term juice fasts based on rotating different vegetables are a good way to boost your health, but in the long term, juicing is part of a complete diet, not a replacement for it.

Juicing is one of the easiest ways modern technology has given us to balance our diet and help our bodies by delivering accessible, living nutrients on a regular basis.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Understand the Diet Fads: A Reasoned Approach to Nutritional Resilience


Eat what cave-men ate.  Eat local.  Eat raw.  Cut out carbs.  We live in an era of unlimited dietary choice, and every magazine promises the perfect recipe for a healthy diet.  If, like most people, you have trouble making heads or tails of the dietary fads in circulation, this is the post for you.  We’ll review the principles behind a few of the current favourites and what they’re designed to achieve… and then we’ll give you some tips on a balanced plan to reach your dietary goals.


The Ancestral Diet

The Paleo Diet, raw food diets and, to an extent, the Eat Local movement all follow a sort of dietary regression to what (they think) our ancestors ate at a certain time period.  Thus the question, what did our ancestors eat, and was it really healthier?

Well, that’s a loaded question, because people in different climates have always eaten different diets.  The Inuit of northern Canada have such an ancestral history of subsisting on meat protein that it is difficult if not impossible for most of them to adapt to anything else.  Arctic explorers similarly found that a high-fat high-protein diet was essential to maintain energy in that environment.

The diets of peoples living a little farther south, including my Celtic ancestors, ate diets rich in both protein and carbohydrates (no, not as rich or the same kinds as the standard Western diet now) as a hedge against winter scarcity.  When the US Army found itself fighting in tropical climates in World War II, it discovered that its soldiers rapidly fell prey to vitamin deficiency on rations intended for temperate climates.  After the war, American food was introduced to tropical Hawaii on a wide scale, causing an ongoing obesity epidemic.  This is one argument in favour of Eat Local as a dietary principle: you are better off (with some big caveats) eating what people in your climactic area historically ate, in the seasons in which they ate them.

Eat Local, however, is mainly a political movement against the current global food system, and, laudable as it is, it requires at the very least some readjustment of expectations to work well, and preferably an understanding of when to give in.  Every climate zone has its particular nutritional deficiencies, and it’s best to find out what they are before you start.

Paleo and raw food diets both refer back to our hunter-gatherer prehistory, albeit not always accurately.  Likewise, low-carb, high-protein diets like Atkins and South Beach tend to refer back to this primordial period as evidence that humans were built to eat protein more than carbohydrates.


A History of Carbs

Unless your ancestors lived in the far north, it is very likely that most of their staple foods were starches, not protein, even before the advent of large-scale farming.  This is the “gathering” part of hunter-gathering.  Gathering was generally the specialty of women.  If your prehistoric ancestors lived in Britain, they probably depended on foods like acorns, grass seeds, nuts, berries and cattail roots as their major sources of energy.  For indigenous peoples living in the Amazon today, the staples include tapioca bread and heart of palm.  For the hunters, being able to find carbohydrates to sustain them on the hunt was and is a valuable skill.  The fact is that there was no time in history when the majority of the human population subsisted primarily on protein.  Those who did so without a climate-based necessity did so for social reasons (“plants are poor people’s food”), as in medieval Europe and some North American aboriginal groups.

This is why low-carb diets fall down, particularly when used for more than short-term weight loss.  Long-term dependence on animal protein for energy is very taxing to digestive systems that weren’t designed for it, and if the meat in question isn’t organic, you’re inviting health problems down the road.

 However, the Paleo Diet does have a point in that grains were a small component of the hunter-gatherer diet relative to roots, nuts, pulses and fruits.  This is where gluten-free diets come in. 


Gluten intolerance or gluten allergy is acknowledged to affect about one in thirty-three people in at-risk populations, but in truth this is only the most severe manifestation of gluten-caused digestive disorder.  Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley among other grains, is the substance that makes your pastry and your bread dough stick together.  It also interferes with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and promotes constipation.

Undigested gluten causes your immune system to attack your intestines.  Over time, gluten causes a number of nutrient deficiencies, unpleasant physical symptoms and degenerative effects.  Gluten allergy is simply the most pronounced level of your body’s revolt against this interloper.

Research has shown that gluten-intolerance is on the rise relative to past generations, partly because we have created varieties of grain with much higher gluten content, and partly because of the use of high-gluten white flour and the decline of whole-grain and mixed-grain flours.  If you do have the symptoms of gluten allergy, looking at a gluten-free diet is probably a good idea, but reducing grain consumption, and moving to whole grains when you do eat grains, is recommended for everyone.

This is where the Mediterranean Diet fails in the modern world, as all European Mediterranean cultures depend heavily on bread, and have throughout recorded history.  A Roman legion once mutinied because it was given too much meat and too little bread.  ‘Too little’ was a loaf a day!


“Our Ancestors Ate Raw and Didn’t Process their Food”

Believe it or not, humans have had fire for awhile.  The kernel of truth in the raw food and whole food movements is that there are nutrients, particularly in vegetables but also in meat, that are lost when exposed to heat or otherwise processed.  This is a good reason to eat raw fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.

However, a healthy diet does not have to mean an exclusively raw diet- Indian cuisine cooks a great deal of its food, but can still be extremely healthy in its native forms.  Even hunter-gatherers cook their meat, and they processed it to last into the future, just as they processed starch and fruit.  “Processed” doesn’t automatically mean bad.  A number of world staple foods like tapioca root are actually poisonous before processing.  The preserved foods of our ancestors may have fewer nutrients than the fresh variety, but they also last longer.  Pickles, preserves and dried foods allowed fruit and vegetable nutrients to be extended through the winter.  Dried and smoked meat allowed a perishable resource to be extended for weeks or months.  What these methods lack are the chemical preservatives, pasteurization an irradiation that make modern methods of preservation so pernicious. 

So long as you reduce your dependence on packaged foods and increase your raw produce intake, there’s no reason why a cooked meal is bad for you unless you put something bad in it.



Low-fat diets were all the rage a few decades ago, but the truth is that it matters more what kinds of fats you eat than whether you eat them (and your body does need them).  Historically, most diets around the world have incorporated a significant fat component, whether it was coconut or yak butter or, in much of North America, just plain animal fat.

The low-carb diets do have a point- most of your body’s stored fat is unused carbohydrate being saved up for famine or winter, rather than anything you ingested as fat.  What matters is that you have the right Omega-3 to Omega-6 balance (which means giving up vegetable oil and incorporating Omega-3 sources into your diet), that you avoid transfats and reduce animal fat sources, particularly non-organic ones.  We discussed this last week, so we’ll move along.



Vegetarianism or veganism is a dietary choice that in and of itself could mean anything health-wise.  Many people adopt these lifestyles for moral or religious reasons, and there’s nothing wrong with that, provided you do it right.  It is true that many people are predisposed to eat meat, and some will suffer malnutrition without it regardless of substitutes, morally inconvenient as that might be.  There are many people who can successfully live on these diets, but the key question is how.  If you make up for a reduction in protein with more carbs, you aren’t doing your health any favors. 

Substitutes are everywhere in vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, but be very careful of the ingredients.  Large amounts of soy are pernicious, as the Taoists discovered long ago, and many other additives can make substitute foods downright bad for you.  Going in, you need to be conscious of every aspect of your nutritional plan, and the more you can do outside the vegetarian-specific section of the grocery store (or the bread section or the pasta section) the better off you’ll be.  Expert guidance and awareness of your individual nutritional type (one size certainly doesn’t fit all) is recommended.

Most of us could do with eating less meat, and certainly the factory-farmed, hormone and antibiotic-fed varieties, but some of the thick rhetoric that attempts to paint moral vegetarianism as a cure for global food inequality deserves a sharp kick in the truth.  Some meat is and always has been a key efficiency in food production, as any traditional Chinese farmer with a pig in the yard will tell you.  There are always things that humans can’t digest that animals can turn into protein and fertilizer.  Animals make otherwise-unlivable climates livable and act as a nutrient recycling system in organic farming economies.  Moral vegetarianism will have to stand on its own.


We’ve probably flogged this horse to death by now, but if meat is a significant part of your diet and you live in North America, chances are you’re taking in a lot of hormones and antibiotics that were given to the poor beasts, and that they were raised indoors with a minimum of movement and living on corn or soy products rather than their natural diet of forage.  That means that they are starting with nutritional deficiencies which they then pass on to you.  The antibiotics are there to keep them alive while malnourished and confined long enough to make it to your table.  Hungry yet?

Similarly, non-organic produce is grown from nutrient-depleted soil and sustained only by artificial fertilizers, which may be enough to grow the plant, but not to give it a healthy vitamin and mineral content.

If you’re of the food activist persuasion, this is the key pressure point.   All this said, be sure to do your research and balance your budgets – organic food is not always cheap, and not everything labelled organic is created equal.


Balancing for You

 Here’s a quick video from Dr. Joseph Mercola with a few suggestions about how to navigate the diet / nutrition maze and find what’s right for YOU:



How you build your diet depends on a number of factors- your nutritional type, your native (and adoptive) climate and your dietary goals.

If you want to lose weight, calorie-counting and low-carb diets do work in the short term, but the long term question for most people is “How can I find a healthy, balanced diet that keeps me at a healthy weight and that I can live with in the long term?”  (And that’s not even broaching the subject of the emotional component so frequent in weight problems).

The answer of course will vary from person to person, and chances are you won’t find the perfect formula in a book.  But that’s why starting from general principles and working toward the specific is so helpful.  Let’s recap:

  • Eating local and eating seasonally are good ideas, within reason
  • Organic food and especially organic, free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free meat is a good idea.  Reducing factory farmed, chemically contaminated meat is a good idea, as is fresh organic local produce in the summer
  • Whole, non-processed foods, and foods processed in non-pernicious ways are encouraged; packaged foods are discouraged
  • Raw fruits and vegetables are good for you (what a surprise)
  • Reduce (or eliminate) grain intake, and move toward whole grain (or gluten-free) sources
  • Be smart with your fat sources
  • Reduce refined sugar, sodium, cholesterol, etc.- we’ve covered all this before


By following these simple steps, you:

  • boost your immune system,
  • reduce your vulnerability to chronic disease and improve your health and vitality

…if you’re eating appropriately for your nutritional type and balancing your caloric intake with your lifestyle, that is.

If you live in a Western country, chances are your government publishes a nutritional guide of some sort.  Ignore it completely!  If it’s anything like the Canada Food Guide, it was written by the agribusiness lobbies, includes too much carbohydrate, dairy and protein and not enough fruit and vegetables.  There is no substitute for educating yourself and experimenting to find a diet that is right for you.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger








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