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Is Raw Kale Good For Me?

Dr. Susan BlumAt least once a day I am asked by one of my patients whether or not they can eat raw cruciferous vegetables.  They are concerned that fresh pressed juice for breakfast or a raw kale salad for lunch will damage their thyroid gland.  I decided to write this newsletter to address this topic, once and for all! Especially because now is the time for spring cleanses and when everyone wants to eat raw veggies!

Is Kale Bad?  Kale and other cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, broccolini, cauliflower, mustard greens, turnips, and collards contain a compound called isothiocyanates, which like soy isoflavones, appear to block an enzyme in the thyroid called TPO.  This enzyme is responsible for attaching iodine to the thyroid hormones to make them active.  Basically, these vegetables are thought to block your body from using the iodine that it needs.  If the thyroid doesn’t have enough iodine, the cells start overgrowing and the thyroid gets bigger–this is called a ‘goiter’.  That’s why these foods are often called ‘goitrogens’, because they make the thyroid swell as it is trying harder to make your thyroid hormones with limited raw materials.

Kale and other cruciferous vegetables are only considered to be goitrogens when they are eaten raw.  When these vegetables are cooked or lightly steamed, this issue goes away. Does this mean you should never eat raw vegetables?  Absolutely not!  Life after all, is about balance, and nature would not have given us these bountiful plant foods if they weren’t good for us.  If you always avoid all of these foods your diet will be very restricted, and you would miss a lot of important nutrients.  But on the flip side, I do not advocate eating raw cruciferous vegetables at every meal, every day.  Either extreme is not a good idea.  But eating them daily at 1 or 2 meals is okay, and periodically doing a medically sound liquid cleanse or detox program is fine, too, as long as you are getting enough iodine in your diet. At Blum Center for Health we have several medically supervised individual and group detoxes to choose from. I also created the Juice Cleanse + detox programs at Organic Pharmer , with or without food.

Focusing on increasing your iodine intake will help you supply your thyroid with what it needs, and this can offset the goitrogen effect from these foods. Now you can see why the main strategy to preventing a goiter from occurring due to eating raw foods, is to make sure you are getting enough iodine every day!   How should you do this?  Read on and Mary will focus on this in our nutrition section below.

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Finding the Balance

Mary GockeThe following Brassica, or cruciferous, vegetables contain isothiocyanates and, as Dr. Blum suggested, when eaten RAW and in LARGE amounts, may interfere with your thyroid function, especially if your diet is low in iodine.

To be sure you are getting enough iodine to counteract this effect, I suggest taking a multi-mineral or, alternatively, increase your intake of foods rich in iodine like iodized sea salt, seaweed (kelp, nori, dulse, kombu), saltwater fish, and shellfish.  Sprinkling kelp, dulse or nori flakes on your food, or adding a strip of kombu when cooking soups, stews, beans, pasta, rice or quinoa will also provide iodine.  Remove the kombu when finished cooking and the minerals will remain in the food.

* Arugula
* Bok choy
* Broccoflower
* Broccoli
* Broccoli rabe * Broccoli * sprouts * Brussels sprouts * Cabbage
* Cauliflower * Collard greens * Kale * Kohlrabi
* Mustard greens * Napa Cabbage * Radish * Swiss chard
* Turnip
* Watercress

You can also do a juice or food/juice cleanse for several days, and not worry about hurting your thyroid.  The minerals and antioxidants in the foods and drinks will offset this, and you should continue to take a multi-mineral while you do this.  After the cleanse, go back to your iodine-rich diet with limited use of the raw foods (not every meal) for your daily routine.

Remember, we are talking about LARGE amounts of RAW cruciferous vegetables! When you lightly steam these foods, the issue goes away.  Isothiocyanates are very important for detoxification and elimination of carcinogens, therefore, we still recommend eating at least one cup of cruciferous vegetables daily, whether cooked or raw.

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Sesame Kelp Gomasio

Sesame seeds are excellent for healing the thyroid. To boost its potency, we’ve added the sea vegetable kelp to our gomasio recipe for added minerals and thyroid support!  Try this salty condiment on your raw cruciferous vegetables, or as a garnish on salads, soups, noodles, and other vegetables.

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Walk in Nature

Elizabeth GreigAs we slowly come out from the cold, dark winter season of hibernation and turning inward, we are now moving into a lighter, more expansive season. This is a good time to consider an open-eyed meditation practice such as taking a walk in nature. To make this a meditative practice, simply pay attention to what’s coming in through your senses: aromas, sights, chirping birds, the rhythmic sound of your feet on the ground.  Keep your mind focused on the beauty that surrounds you without letting it wander into your “To Do” list or the conversation you just had with your teenager/boss/friend. You can actually find yourself in a meditative state: mind, body and spirit all centered in the present. At the end of your walk you will have the added benefits of breathing fresh air and moving your body to clear your mind.  And don’t forget to take time to smell the flowers!

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Mercury and Your Health

Dr. Susan BlumAre you concerned about your exposure to mercury from the food you are eating?  If you eat fish at all, then you should be. This can be confusing, but is very important because mercury can cause autoimmune disease and other health-related problems.  That is why I decided to dedicate our April newsletter to this topic…to shed some light on this issue and to help you decide what to eat, and what to do to protect yourself from this environmental toxin.

Where do you find mercury and what is it?

Mercury is part of a group of compounds called heavy metals. There are ‘good’ heavy metals like iron, cobalt, copper, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc.  They are good because humans require these metals to function properly.  However, keep in mind that these too can be toxic at excessive levels.

On the other hand, heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and plutonium are ‘bad’ toxic metals and if they accumulate in the body over time, can cause serious illness.   For our purpose today, I will focus on mercury because there is plenty of data that explains what it does in the body and how we are exposed.

Where does Mercury come from?

There are 2 main sources of mercury that we are exposed to.  First, mercury is released into the air from coal burning power plants and from volcanoes.  After it settles in the oceans and soil, we end up eating it from the fish or plants or animals that grow and live in these places. The big fish eat the little fish, and the mercury bio accumulates, which means it gets more concentrated in the bigger fish.  For a list of the worst fish with the highest level of mercury and those you should avoid, CLICK HERE.

The other main source of mercury is the vapor released from silver fillings.  While this is somewhat controversial, there is enough evidence suggesting this is a real issue, and why I recommend replacing your fillings if possible.  For more information on how to do this properly, CLICK HERE.

There are also other places you can be exposed to mercury, like in the preservative of some vaccines, and old thermometers.  But fish and silver fillings are the biggest problem.

How does mercury accumulate in your body and make you sick?

Your body was created with multiple detox systems in place to clear out the mercury you are exposed to.  One of these, called the glutathione system, is very active in your liver and also in all the cells in your body.  If you are exposed to more mercury than this system can handle, the mercury can build up in your body and cause damage to your nerves, thyroid, immune system (autoimmune disease, for example), and all the cells in your body by causing something we call oxidative stress.  This simply means that you run out of the important antioxidants that your body needs to protect itself, resulting in free radicalscreated by the mercury that can then damage the tissues.

To protect your cells and tissues, it is critical that you keep your liver detox system in tip-top shape by eating lots of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables with plenty of color.  In addition, you can take specific antioxidant supplements to boost your glutathione.  Our favorite and most convenient way to do this is by taking our BlumBox Immune & Antioxidant Support Packets, created for just this purpose CLICK HERE.

What can you do to help your body release the stored mercury?

Our approach to lowering your mercury level begins with finding and removing all of your exposures.  In our Nutrition@Blum section below, Mary will review how to find the mercury in your diet, and recommend foods that will help pull it out, and foods that will help support your body’s detox systems.

The next step is to support your liver and its ability to clear this metal out of your system. The best strategy is to do a liver detox program once or twice/year, and to make sure you are eating foods with selenium, sulfur (onions), cruciferous veggies, and lots of antioxidants. Our nutritionist can help you with a personalized program, or you can join one of our signature Detox Groups.  If you eat a lot of fish or suspect you have too much mercury already, both of these are good options.  For more information or to join our next detox group, CLICK HERE.

Lastly, we do not recommend doing a treatment program yourself, because removing mercury should be medically supervised.

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Food is Your Best Medicine

Mary GockeWe know that most of the mercury ingested in your body comes from seafood, which is why we recommend decreasing your fish intake to 1-2 times/week from the safe list above. Instead of eating lots of fish, eating more plant-based sources of omega-3s from hemp, flax and chia is a great way to get the nutrients you need. Also, there are certain foods that, when paired with fish, will actually help remove the mercury from your body.  These include Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, cilantro, garlic, chlorella and turmeric, which all contain chelating agents that bind to mercury in the gut and in the tissues to safely remove these toxins.

I also recommend adding deeply colored fruits and vegetables to your diet.  Berries, pomegranates, tomatoes, prunes, and pink/red grapefruit provide flavonoids that protect your body from the damage mercury can cause while also providing antioxidants to assist the liver in detoxification. And don’t forget about cruciferous and allium vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, mustard greens, radishes, arugula, watercress, onion, garlic, leeks, and scallions! These are all sulfur-containing powerhouses that prevent the build up of mercury and are critical for your liver detoxification pathways to safely remove this toxin. Incorporating all of these foods into your diet is the perfect example of how food really isyour best medicine.

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Finding the Balance

Elizabeth GreigHeavy metals, and toxins in general, can be a trigger for brain fog and mental dullness.  If this is something you are experiencing, there are different ways to detoxify your mind. One of the most effective tools is to be mindful about the information you take into your mind: bad news, fear-inducing news, gossip, and useless information can all clutter your mind.

So what can you do? Be proactive and turn off the radio or television when you listen to things that make you feel anxious, angry, or bored.   Ask your friends and family to stop telling you the juicy, but destructive, gossip and tell them that you are being kind to your mind by making a choice about what’s really important for it to hear.

I recently heard about a study that showed that the people who are the happiest are those whose thoughts are about what or who are right in front of them–meaning present time.  So keep your mind centered on what you are doing right now in the present, and don’t let it wander off looking for worries or troubles.  The secret to happiness is a happy mind that is enjoying the moment!