Category Archives: Nutrition


Remind yourself to take your herbs - set an alarm on your phoneAs an oriental medicine provider I often prescribe herbs and supplements for my clients to help them continue the good work we do together when I give them acupuncture and/or Reiki. Ideally herbs and supplements should be consumed in a manner that keeps a therapeutic dose in the body in order to keep the good changes rolling. Clients often tell me that they get busy in the middle of the day and find they are unintentionally skipping the 2nd dose in the middle of the day. I generally smile indulgently and tell them well, that happens to a lot of people and to split the middle dose between morning and night and take them that way.

Now time for a little confession: not only do I forget the middle doses of my own herbs and supplements, I often forget to take them the entire day! You would think that an intelligent woman such as myself would thing to set up some kind of timer to jog my memory, but I only started doing that four days ago. As a matter of fact, I started using my smart phone alerts to remind me to do all kinds of things: wake up in the morning, take my herbs, do stretches periodically, take more herbs in the middle of the day and again at night, and even to go to bed at a timely hour. Since I started doing this I find that I am taking much better care of myself and am actually getting enough sleep for a change. 

I’m referring to this new use of my smart phone as my “iMom.” She is the electronic mom I need right when I need her! It just took a couple of minutes to set up the alerts. It’s just the push I need to remind myself that I am my number one relationship and that if I can’t care for myself I can’t care for anyone else either.

If you are like me and can’t remember to do self-care of whatever kind, I encourage you to set up your own “iMom!”


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Filed under Herbs, Nutrition, Self-care

Ain’t life sweet?

The Sweet Life

I often ask my patients if they have any particular food cravings. Most of the people I’ve asked tell me they crave sweets. What’s that all about? Is it an evil plot to make you gain weight? Actually, no. Biologically, it’s just how we were designed to roll.

The Biology

Sugar is a very basic form of energy. Our bodies live off of this fuel source. Yet, too much sugar in the blood stream is toxic, so we as a species have also gotten very good at converting excess sugar in the blood stream into fat, another excellent energy source that is used when food is scarce. These things were once vital for survival and rarely would you find a fat aboriginal being of any kind. However, as we as humans stopped beating each other to death for food and started working together, we were able to form town and an urban lifestyle. Relative peace over time has led to trade agreements and the ability to exchange goods or money for the food we need to eat which is now grown and gathered by someone else. Prosperity, which is also rather pleasant, has reduced our need to struggle for food and allows most of us to get food relatively easily.

And this brings us to a couple of problems:

  1. In America we are rarely lacking in food. Without trying particularly hard I can think of 12 restaurants and two grocery stores within a 5 minutes drive of my house. A quick Google search on “fast food restaurants in Austin Texas” yields 536 different restaurants. Yelp has reviews for more than 2500 eateries and 415 grocery stores. That’s a lot of food.
  2. The huge bulk of all that food is processed and full of high fructose corn syrup, a bunch of sugary chemicals ending in -ose, and a dazzling array of toxic materials used as artificial sweeteners. If you are trying to get healthy you may get advice from your health care provider (not me, mind you, but others) may suggest you eat low-fat alternatives to your favorite foods. Fat is what makes flavor stick to your tongue. When you take out or reduce the fat in a food it gets pretty boring, so manufacturers use high quantities sugars and sugar derivatives hidden by their chemical names to please your taste buds and prompt you to buy the product again.
  3. Excess sugar in your blood stream is toxic. If you don’t burn it up with activity, you store it as fat. You can blame simple carbohydrates if you want to (white bread, mashed potatoes, white rice, corn products, donuts, etc.), but they convert to sugar very quickly in the blood stream, so it still comes down to excess sugar in the blood.

And so, America is fat. And the predominant reason is excess sugar.

The Spirit

The pundits say, “Just make better choices.” But that’s about as effective as “Just say no.” But that’s a band-aid fix and isn’t particularly effective especially when there’s a reason other than lack of will-power that is pushing those cravings. Ok, so there are a lot of biological reasons someone might crave sugar. But ponder this one. Perhaps the reason we crave sugar in the first place is because of a deficiency in our spirits.

In Chinese Medicine there are five major organ systems in the body: Liver, Heart, Spleen/Stomach (the digestive system), Lung, and Kidney. A quick overview of the digestive system in both Chinese and Western medicine looks like this.

  1. Your digestive organs prompt a hunger pang. You eat.
  2. The food you ingest passes to the stomach where it is ground into a liquid that then moves to the small intestine.
  3. The small intestine soaks up the nutrients out of the liquid and passes on anything that it can’t use to other organs in your body for processing. Your liver takes a look at anything that is soaked up from the small intestine and makes sure it’s safe. If it’s not it is filtered out. If it is it is moved the blood stream for distribution.
  4. The stuff that isn’t absorbed in the small intestine is passed to the large intestine for further processing and elimination.

Joy in LifeChinese medicine take the process a step further than just the physical body. The energy of the Spleen and Stomach take anything you ingest and process it. This includes the energy of the friends and co-workers you hang out with, the television you watch, the movies you go to, the conversations you have. These too are taken in and processed. The system tries to filter out the crud and only keep the good stuff, but just like in the physical world, toxins can get through to the energetic an emotional system. Things that might seem sweet can turn out to be poison.

So that brings us to crux of the matter. What if the physical sweet cravings are echoes of the emotional and spiritual need for sweetness in our lives? What if we are substituting processed sugars in an attempt to fill the void for the true sweetness of life? Can you find other ways to bring sweetness and joy into your life?

I challenge you today to find ways to make your life sweet and joyful. Don’t depend on others to do it: nurture yourself, take time to give yourself something that makes you joyful, give love to your own soul. Indulge in all of that sweetness you want – it’s calorie free.



Twenty Way to Add Sweetness to Life

The Sweetness of Life: Joy as a Practice

Evolution’s Sweet Tooth

Kids’ Sugar Cravings Might Be Biological

Aspartame Poisoning


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Filed under Mental and emotional health, Nutrition, Processed foods, Stress, Uncategorized

Why our grandparents weren’t gluten intolerant

Austin Texas, where I live, is famous for allergies. We joke in a not-so-funny manner that if you don’t have allergies when you arrive, you will once you’ve been here for a couple of years. Seems like Austinites are allergic to everything. Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems like the gluten allergy or gluten intolerance is the “flavor of the week,” outpacing even the mold and cedar allergies in the list of top complaints. This has bothered me. My grandparents were farmers, grew wheat, and ate bread with every meal. Why didn’t they have a problem with grains?

It’s not a bad question, actually. Grains have been the ‘staff of life’ for a very long time. There is better than decent evidence to support the belief that people have been eating grains since the Middle Paleolithic age some 100,000 years ago. Literate ancient cultures across the world have consumed grains and yet no one can find hieroglyphics or written text suggesting Celiac’s disease, gluten intolerance, or “Wheat Belly.” In Chinese Medicine the digestive system is referred to as “The Sea of Grain and Water.” So when did grains become the bad guy?

If you take a high-speed tour through agricultural history you will note that human-kind has been messing with the genetics of plants and animals for a very long time. Even though there is a lot of talk about GMO’s, it is not a new concept or practice. The ancient peoples of Meso-america selectively bred strains of grass into corn over the span of thousands of years. The hundreds of breeds of dogs you see on the Westminster Dog Shows were selectively bred from wolves over huge spans of time as well. Seems we are always trying to find a better way to produce the things we want. Wheat and other glutinous grains (rye, barley, spelt, couscous, and bulgar for instance), have been modified by selective breeding and more recently by more direct genetic modifications such as gene splicing.

As a matter of fact, we are in the thick of an agricultural revolution with which our genes cannot keep pace. We are hominids, descendants of tree-dwelling primates. For the bulk of our history on earth we have not been a primarily grain eating species. True, our ancestors probably did eat grains, they just didn’t eat them as extensively as we do now. The top modern-day food crops are overwhelmingly grains: corn, rice, wheat, barley, oats, rye and sorghum. These grains make up over half of the food energy in the world and half of the protein consumed. That’s an awful lot of grain feeding an awful lot of people. And that’s why there has been an awful lot of genetic modification. Genetic modification makes it more disease-resistant, more pest-resistant, faster growing and higher yield. This great for the producers, but is it good for us?

Not so much. The problem isn’t the grain itself. The problem is what has been done to the grain coupled with our increasing dependence on it to the exclusion of other and more nutritious sources of food. Basically, if our grandparents ate like we do today, they might be gluten intolerant too.

So what is gluten? And what does gluten intolerance look like? - glutinous foods

Glutinous foods

Gluten is a protein complex made up of gliadin and glutelin. Gluten is found in many grains, most breads and cereals, and an astonishing number of foods. Chicken breasts you find in places like Chik-Fil-A, for instance, are not solid pieces of chicken breast, but bits of chicken that are “glued” together with a glutinous substance which makes it look like the real thing. Ditto for chicken nuggets. You’re not safe by avoiding meat either, as many vegan and vegetarian foods are also heavily dependent upon glutens – wheat roast, tempeh, and most of the meat substitute products contain it. And those “natural flavors” you listed on packaged foods? A lot of those are glutinous. There are even a lot of herbal supplements that are prepared with gluten containing flours. The upshot of all this is you probably consume far more grain and gluten on a daily basis than you realize.

Systemic responses to this gluten overload (and that’s probably a better term than gluten intolerance) vary, but some of the more common responses are:

  • Respiratory problems
    These include runny nose, nasal congestion, coughing, itching eyes, and even snoring.
  • Digestive difficulties
    Bloating and stomach pains, excess gas, and diarrhea are common complaints. Gluten overload can irritate the stomach lining and even cause an inflammatory response in the small intestine that can damage the small villi that absorb your food. Celiac’s disease, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system reacts to gliadin (a component of the gluten protein complex) causes an extreme amount of pain in the body.
  • And even more…
    Gluten reactions has even been linked to depression, fatigue, insomnia, foggy mind, lethargy after eating, certain GI cancers, and ADHD. An astonishing 80% of your immune system is in your digestive system, so it’s not surprising that gluten has also been implicated in a number of autoimmune disorders besides Celiac’s.

Should you totally give it up? Maybe. Maybe not. If you have symptoms like those above that are impacting your life or if you’ve been diagnosed with or have signs of Celiac’s Disease then it would be worth your while to feel better. There is certainly a strong argument for avoiding GMO’s no matter what the immediate symptoms.

Gluten, however, proves to be a very hard thing to give up. It has addictive properties because it mimics the effects of opiods. Even the smell of glutinous foods triggers the internal happy chemicals. (That’s why savvy realtors who are trying to sell a house will sometimes have cookies or bread baking when they show a home.) Conversely, when you try to give it up, your body goes into a withdrawal-like craving when you are without it for a period of time.

Unless you have a severe dysfunction associated with glutens, it might be more advisable to simply cut down on them and see how you feel. As with anything healthy you do about your diet, you are probably going to have to prepare your own food rather than going out to eat. Try substituting rice, amaranth, buckwheat (which isn’t truly a wheat), millet, or quinoa for the more glutinous options. As with any diet change, be clear on why you are changing your eating.

Personally, I find that I have more energy, sleep better, have far less congestion and asthma-like symptoms, and digest my food better when I reduce the amount of highly processed grains I consume. I think my grandparents would approve.

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Picky Eaters Unite!

juicing Calhoun Acupuncture

I don’t like vegetables. There. I’ve said it. I don’t know how or why this is true for me, but I have detested everything vegetable since I was a small child. This has led to some long-term difficulties for me, not the least of which was my mother’s exasperation with me a the dinner table in my childhood years!

I know intellectually that I should eat veggies. Green leafy vegetables protect you from diseases such as cancer and diverticulitis, many of them have more calcium than dairy, they have trace minerals and vitamins we need for optimal health, and on and on and on. But I just can’t stand them. I don’t even like the orange or red ones like carrots, beets, squashes, or pumpkins. And I don’t mean I just don’t like them. They gross me out and trigger a gag reflex that just isn’t pretty, especially at a holiday table set with candied yams, green beans, and buttered brussel sprouts. I can appreciate these things on a photographic, esthetic level, but then I need to leave the room!

Unfortunately, a life-long avoidance of vegetables has led to some life-long problems. For many years my diet was high in animal proteins, nuts, starches, and sugars. (And Diet Dr. Pepper. There was a lot of that too.) That diet triggered a lot of inflammation which showed up in my body as asthma, allergies, joint pain, weight gain, and what my polite Southern upbringing has taught me to refer to as “digestive dysfunction.”

So what’s the solution? If you don’t like vegetables either or if you have a picky eater at home, I have a couple of suggestions for you to help increase consumption of greens and other vegetables.

  • Disguise them. Put vegetables in a soup, puree them, chop them small and hide them in other foods. Speaking personally, put vegetables into anything you call “potato soup” and I’ll probably eat it.
  • Blend them. I’m a big fan of green smoothies. Blend 60% fruit with about 40% spinach or kale and drink up. There are a million recipes online to try. This is a great way to consume fruits and vegetables if you are a picky eater or have one in your life.
  • Juice them! This is my current favorite option. There are a lot of juicers on the market and a huge online contingent of Juice Geeks touting their favorite juicer and why this one is better than that one. But the important part is getting those veggies in your system when and how you can. I juice 3-4 carrots and an apple together several times a week and the results are amazing. The down-side of juicing is the compost that’s created, so get your compost going if you haven’t already.

The important thing here is to ingest those veggies. Get them fresh, get them organic. No amount of herbs or pharmaceuticals or supplements can take the place of these.

Cat Calhoun, L.Ac.

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Water, water everywhere and….and don’t drink from that plastic bottle!

Here we are in the throes of the annual hotter-than-Hades Texas summer when staying hydrated is more important than any other time of the year. I think we all know the dangers of poor hydration by now: increased fatigue, yawning and sleepiness despite getting enough sleep, increased risk of kidney stones and urinary tract infections, headaches, poor concentration, etc. Severe dehydration can even lead to a chemical imbalance in the body that can cascade all the way to death.

So what do the vast majority of Americans do when they feel the need to hydrate? They stop by the store for a bottle of water. We’ve all gotten the commercial message that bottled water is superior to tap water, a message that is largely untrue, but is nonetheless heeded.

Then along comes an e-mail or Facebook post about the dangers of bottled water. Have you seen one yet? There’s probably one in your inbox right now. The one that is making the rounds again this summer warns women not to leave their plastic water bottles in the car as this will release dioxin, a toxin which causes cancer. Sometimes this is advice is attributed to a doctor, sometimes there is a quote from Sheryl Crow allegedly from the Ellen Degeneres show about how drinking bottled water caused her breast cancer.

While a quick trip to will show you that this is an urban myth, there is some truth in the claim too. Plastics folks say plastic water bottles are safe, many scientists say no they aren’t. I’m not here to referee this debate, so I will point out that there are enough scary facts that are undisputed to make you think twice about buying bottled water.

  1. Heated plastics leach out chemicals.
    Plastics, when heated, can release some of the many chemicals that are used to create them. Dr. Rolf Halden from Johns Hopkins School of Public health says there are no dioxins in plastics, but confirms that plastics release chemicals when heated – this might be heating foods in plastic in the microwave or drinking hot liquids from straws that are not designed for exposure to heat. Both cause a heat extraction of chemicals which then transfer to your food or beverages.

    Any time you heat something the likelihood of pulling something out of what is heated increases. That’s why when you want a cup of tea you heat the water then pour it over the bag. Have you ever made “sun tea?” You put a whole bunch of tea bags in a jar you can seal, fill it with water and sit it out in the sun all day. That jar generally doesn’t get as hot as a plastic water bottle sitting in your car, yet out comes the tea.

  2. Cancer, endocrine dysfunction, and depression, oh my!
    Phthalates, often used to make plastic bottles less brittle, are contaminants which function much like hormones do. These can disrupt your endocrine system. This is dangerous for anyone, but in women it can promote the growth of hormone related tumors such as breast cancers.

    Antimony, which is found in PET plastic bottles, even in very small doses can cause depression and dizziness. In larger doses it can cause nausea, vomiting, and death.

  3. Plastic bottles are wildly inefficient.
    It takes 17 million barrels of oil to make the water bottles used in the US alone each year. For the record, that would fill up 1.3 million cars for a year.

    If you drink the recommended 8 glasses of water per day, filling up a glass at the tap in your kitchen you will drink about 49 cents worth of water. But if you buy it all in bottles? $1400 a year!Most sources agree that when you buy a liter of water it took 3 more liters to get the stuff into the bottle. You are in essence, wasting 75% of the water you used by purchasing water in a bottle.

So what is the solution?

  • Get a water filter and filter the water out of your tap.
    This improves the taste and pulls out contaminants that might be lurking in the tap water. Options abound – you can use a Britta type  pitcher to filter a liter or so at a time, or you can go for an under-sink filter. All of these do a respectable job of keeping your water clean and good tasting.
  • Tote your own!
    Spend a little bit to save a whole lot. Ideally, you want to get a stainless steel or glass bottle. Neither is as expensive as buying a weeks’ worth of bottled water, both clean up easily, and both are free of taste and smell.Stainless steel will set you back about $20. I carry a Kleen Kanteen stainless steel bottle that serves me well. You can get flip tops for them now that are far easier than unscrewing the bottle each time you want a drink. This makes it more likely that you will hydrate yourself and stay healthier.

    Glass is more fragile, but you can now get bottles with silicone sleeves that help protect against bumps and breaks. Lifefactory makes a bottle like this which is currently available at Whole Foods.

  • Get a filtered water bottle
    Spend a lot of time away from your house and need to be able to drink more than you can carry? Camelbak now makes a stainless steel Eddy bottle with a built-in changeable filter that sells for about $25.

Even if you have to spend a little to ditch the plastic bottle habit, you’re about to save more than $1300 per year. That’s like getting a $100/month raise!

Now that I have just saved you a ton of money and maybe even your health, why not schedule an appointment to come see me, improve your health, your energy, and your ability to get back out there with your new water bottle and have fun!

Call 512-619-5549 for an appointment or book online!

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Filed under Hormones, Nutrition, Processed foods

The Great Agave Nectar Debate

Last Thursday afternoon in the sweeteners aisle at Whole Foods a mighty heated debate raged over the angelic and demonic qualities of pure cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, and stevia. It was a near argument and very entertaining. I walked away from it smiling and shaking my head over the “hipsterness” of the whole conversation because, seriously, you probably wouldn’t hear anything like this in Randalls, Kroger, or Safeway. Yet the conversation did get me thinking about my own relationship to sweeteners and what might really be the best choice.

I think we’re all clear by now that excess sugar in your diet is bad for you, causing all sorts of health problems ranging from dental decay to obesity and diabetes. So seriously…what can you indulge in once in a while that isn’t horrible for you? What’s life without sweetness after all?

I have been a dedicated agave fan for a number of years because it’s sweet like honey without the honey flavor and because of it’s low glycemic qualities, but some people think it’s awful stuff. This prompted me to educate myself. I started by looking at the label on my bottle of agave syrup, shown left. I can see the words “wholesome,” “organic,” “raw,” “low glycemic,” and “gluten free.” No wonder I bought it. But that’s just labeling and I don’t trust labels: they are mostly about getting you to reach for the product rather than telling you the truth. That’s a harsh reality, but it’s largely true.

So what about agave nectar? I knew it was made from the agave plant which has long been associated with healing properties. I knew it came from Mexico. I assumed it was healthy and an old school native sweetener. Well, as it turns out all of that is kind of true….kind of. There’s more to the story though.

Here is what is true:

  • Agave nectar does indeed come from the blue agave plant.
  • Blue agave really is grown in Mexico in volcanic soil or in the southwestern U.S.

Now the story starts falling apart. Here’s the bad stuff that isn’t publicized

  • There really is a sweetener made from the agave plant, but it’s not agave nectar
    The blue agave plant leaves are cut away from the central core, called a piña. The piñas are baked or steamed to get the sweet liquid out of the core. This sweet goo is indeed a sweetener that is native to the region of Tequila, Mexico. It called miel de agave, or agave honey. But this is not agave nectar.
  • Agave nectar is made from the root bulb which is high in a complex carbohydrate called inulin – basically a whole lot of fructose molecules. The sweet stuff isn’t as easy to get to here as it is in the piña. Agave nectar producers use a chemical soup to extract the sweet stuff out. When was the last time you went to the grocery store to purchase cationic or ionic resins, sulfuric or hydrofluoric acid, dicalite, clarimex, inulin enzymes, or fructozyme? What is this stuff? These are just some of the chemicals that are used to make agave nectar.

Much to my disappointment, I found that this is a highly processed sweetener. According to Dr. Ingrid Kohlstadt, from the American College of Nutrition (also an associate faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health), “Agave is almost all fructose, a highly processed sugar with great marketing.” What a bummer. Another bummer is that it’s just not great for your health. Putting aside that the consumption of sugars and fructose is what is causing our teeth to rot, our bellies to get fat, and giving us type 2 diabetes at an alarming rate, the consumption of processed food is a killer as well.

So what do you do? Pick a sweetener that isn’t highly processed. This would be a food you could reasonably grow, harvest, and process yourself without chemicals, enzymes, or expensive specialized machinery. I’ll give you a list of better alternatives, but you’ve got to use your head about this – even the items listed below can be heavily processed. Make your choices wisely, read the labels knowing that the truth is often hidden from you in favor of getting into your pocket, and research the companies you buy from well.

Better sweetener alternatives that you could make in your kitchen if you wanted to and therefore better than processed anythings:

  • Stevia
    This one comes with a caveat. The white powdered stuff you buy in the store? That’s been super processed. Stay away from it. I’m talking about growing your own stevia plant on your patio or in your garden or getting it from the farmer’s market. Stevia is sweet to the tongue, but no sugar molecules are transferred into your system. Win! Use fresh or dried leaves in your tea. You can also make your own stevia extract using vodka and you can use that in your beverages, chocolate milk, coffee, even barbecue sauce. Good stuff.
  • Coconut palm sugar
    Minimally processed and you can use it where you would use granulated sugar.
  • Maple syrup
    Not the processed stuff, the organic tapped out of the tree stuff.
  • Miel de agave
    Hard to find unless you are in the Southwest, but it can be done.
  • Honey
    Make sure it’s raw and local for the best benefit. Supposed to be great to help you build up immunity to local allergies, but it has to be sourced pretty close to where you live.
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Sucunat or Muscovado
    This is granulated and works well as a sugar replacement in recipes too.

You’ll note that there is no mention of turbinado sugar, truvia, xylitol or erythritol above. All of these are processed, some more heavily than others. Stay far away if you can. You’ll also notice that the theme here is that less processed is better. Make your choices wisely. Mother Nature’s kitchen always trumps the processing plant when it comes to your health.

Wishing you happiness and health,

Cat Calhoun, L.Ac.

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Filed under Nutrition, Processed foods