Focus on One: Fun in the Sun

Summer is upon us: time spent outdoors, picnics, barbecues, vacations to the beach or the mountains, or just a day at a water park, it all leads up to fun in the sun. Why is it that I always feel so good, exhausted sometimes, but that good exhausted, after spending the day in the garden, or at the beach? Why do I sleep so well on those nights, in a house without air-conditioning, even if it only goes down to 75?

My first idea was that it was a response to the physical activity. But the thing is, I am pretty active – I garden, I walk our dogs, I clean house, I preserve food. After a little research, I found out that the beach has many restorative powers, like the iodine present in sea-water that helps thyroid function, and the salt in the water that has cleansing properties. But I realized that it wasn’t just on beach days. In fact, I feel much better in the warmer months, when I can get outside. I still walk the dogs, no matter the weather, we are out there, rain, snow, sub-zero (we don’t get much of that in NJ, but a rainy 33 can be more menacing of a walk than a dry -2), but I don’t sleep as well, and just don’t feel as well in the winter months.

I continued my research and I stumbled on some interesting facts about Vitamin D, and how varying levels can have a huge effect on how I am feeling. Vitamin D is photosynthesized by our skin, and we can reach an intake level adequate to meet our daily needs with 10 to 20 minutes of sun exposure, depending upon where you live and you skin tone. Yes, you can take a supplement, but the sun is free, and no, 10 – 20 minutes of exposure is not going to cause skin cancer. Of course, if you are photosensitive, or you’re taking medication that makes you photosensitive, you should avoid exposure.

I also came across an article about the benefits of sunlight that gave me some food for thought: while the extensive use of sunscreen has reduced incidents skin cancer, there has also been an increase in musculo-skeletal disorders and autoimmune diseases, two things that are connected to Vitamin D photosynthesis. It will be interesting to see how bone health issues play out in the future, if we continue to use so much sunscreen and limit that amount of time we spend outdoors.

Sun exposure also improves serotonin levels, which helps melatonin levels. These things help people fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and get better sleep. I have two insomniac friends that vacation at the Jersey shore every summer and they always say that they sleep better that week than any other week of the year. OK, so you say, “Well, they are on vacation. No stress.” I beg to differ – even if the vacation is to a place you really want to visit, as a parent/mom, there is tremendous pressure to ensure everyone is having a good time, that everyone is taken care of. But they are in the beach all day, everyday, breathing in the salt air, sitting in the sun.

I’m not saying throw the sunscreen in the trash – if you are going to be on the beach all day, or you’re coaching at soccer camp for 8 hours, by all means, slather up with the sunscreen. But if you are just going for a walk at lunch time, and you will only be outdoors for 15 or 20 minutes, forget the sunscreen and let the Vitamin D do its wonders. Focus on One for July? Get outside every day, even for just 10 minutes, and have a little fun in the sun!

Milk 1: Why we drink Grass-fed

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMilk has been an important part of this journey for my family and our impetus for change.  It began with the birth of my daughter.  She was a very healthy newborn and I was breastfeeding her.  Then she got colicky.  We tried the gas drops.  They worked a little, but she was still colicky.  We tried infant massage, but she was still colicky. We tried spacing out her feedings, but she was still colicky.  We tried feedings that were closer together, but she was still colicky.  If you are getting a “Very Hungry Caterpillar” kind of feeling, you are right on target.  The child seemed to cry, cry, and cry, and that was all.  Sleep? Not much.  My favorite breakfast was a grapefruit, peeled like an orange.  Nothing was a better wake-up for me than the aroma of grapefruit.  One morning, we were out of grapefruits, so I had oatmeal instead.  And she was less colicky.  When I mentioned this to one of my friends, she told me that when she was nursing one of her children, if she ate broccoli, her son would spit up.  I began experimenting.  In the end, I avoided onions, garlic, broccoli, and cabbage, and gave up my precious grapefruits and my beloved chocolate.  The colic improved dramatically.  However, she still never wanted to go to sleep, and ten years later, still wants to stay up for “just a little longer…”

            One mournful, chocolate-less night, after rocking my daughter for what felt like going halfway to the Mississippi River, I had an epiphany.  I ran down the steps to share my revelation with my husband:  if what I eat passes through my milk to my daughter, wouldn’t the same hold true for the cows from whom we get our milk?  If what I ate had such an immediate and detrimental effect on our daughter, would the dairy products we consume have a detrimental effect on us?  And what if, because we had been consuming these tainted products for so long, all of this built up in our systems so that we wouldn’t notice enough to make a connection between the dairy and feeling poorly.  He considered; we discussed, and I began researching.

Commercially-produced milk comes from a number of dairies whose main goal is to make money.  The cows eat feed, which may contain genetically modified corn and/or soy and sometimes chicken waste. They are given antibiotics.  In order to increase production, many dairies injected the cows with rBGH, a genetically engineered growth hormone.  How much of this genetically modified material passes through the milk?  What effect will it have on me?  On my growing and developing children?  There were no longitudinal studies done to test the safety and long-term effects of this updated version of milk production.

Who cares, right?  I mean if the cow is getting enough to eat what difference does it make?  But that’s just it!  It makes all of the difference! If what and how we eat affects our health, then what a cow eats is going to affect her health.  If the things that I eat affect the quality of the milk I produced for my children, wouldn’t what the cow eats do the same for us?  What is a cow supposed to eat in order to be healthy?  Easy answer: Grass.  Why don’t commercial dairies feed their cows 100% grass to make them 100% healthier?  Because the expense would be too great.  Feeding cows corn and corn by-products, and the by-products of commercial chicken production is far less expensive.

And so ends my first rant about milk: we drink milk from 100% grass-fed cows.  If you look in the grocery store, you can find it.  Read the labels!  If your store doesn’t carry it, ask the dairy manager to get it.  Also, do a little research in your area.  You may be surprised to find a local dairy raising 100% grass-fed dairy.  Some still do home delivery.  I wish I was so lucky!