To Be or Not To Be Gluten-Free #2

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I had no idea that wheat was such a controversial topic until I began doing research in preparation for writing this blog series. After much reading and sifting through articles, I believe that, to really get to the heart of whether a gluten-free diet is appropriate for those of us that don’t have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, the discussion must become global and include some history as well as a few details on farming, biotechnology, and economic trading. There is a multitude of information on the Internet and, in my opinion, more to this issue than simply considering whether to include gluten in your diet. I have done my best to present all sides (in the following three parts) and provide, well, food for thought. Read the first part of the series here.

Part 2 – Your Wheat is Not Your Grandmother’s Wheat

You may be surpWheat Pic1rised to know that other parts of the world are way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to gluten-free eating. Celiac disease is common in the Scandinavian countries as well as Italy, Canada, and Australia. Every packaged food item in Brazil is labeled gluten-free or not and, in the United Kingdom, people with celiac disease receive gluten-free products as part of their health plan benefits.

Even though celiac disease has been around for centuries, it was once considered very rare in the U.S. Joseph Murray, MD, a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic, saw frequent cases of celiac disease as a medical student in Ireland during the 1970s. When he moved to the U.S. in 1988, Dr. Murray saw one patient per year with gluten intolerance and by 1997, his celiac cases numbered 100 annually. He decided to investigate the phenomenon and compared celiac incidence in blood samples taken from 50 Air Force recruits in the 1950s with blood taken from young men living in Minnesota. The present-day men were 4.5 times more likely to have celiac disease, which means something in the environment has changed.

Enter wheat. No one really knows why celiac disease is affecting more people, but many believe that the transformation of wheat is to blame. Wheat products sold today are very different than wheat that was consumed in the early 20th century all the way back to Biblical times and, indeed, it seems that the incidence of celiac disease increased at about the same time as the changes in wheat.

So how has wheat transformed? And why? In the 1950s, Norman Borlaug, an American biologist, took an agricultural research position in Mexico and cross-bred wheat that resulted in high-yield, disease-resistant varieties that were cheaper to grow. By 1963, Mexico not only fed its own growing population but was also exporting wheat. At this time, large numbers of people were starving in both India and Pakistan; however, by 1970, thanks to the new cross-bred variety, wheat yields nearly doubled in these countries. Borlaug also gave China and parts of South America the ability to feed their burgeoning populations and is often credited with saving hundreds of millions people across the globe from starvation. (He is one of three Americans who won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal.)

Plant researchers have discovered, however, that Borlaug’s wheat had fewer nutrients than before and became a refined wheat that raised blood sugar leOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAvels very quickly. Additionally, bread preparation is not at all similar to what it was at the turn of the century. Grains “…were soaked, sprouted, and fermented, and bread was baked using a slow-rise yeast.” Today, manufacturers bleach flour with agents like benzoyl peroxide (typically used to treat acne) and bake bread with quick-rise yeast, which results in bread with little nutritional value.

It turns out that Grandma’s bread was baked with more than love!

Please consult your doctor if you suspect that you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy, or before making significant changes to your diet.

UP NEXT – Part 3 – What Really Causes Celiac Disease and is Genetically Modified Wheat to Blame?

- Holly Hough, PhD

References: Eating Well; Mayo Clinic; Celebrating 100 Years of Norman Borlaug; The Washington Times; Authority Nutrition; Discovery News

Images from Flickr users Dace Kirspile and kochtopf, via CC

A Piglet Moment

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The following post is offered by Spirited Life Wellness Advocate, Lisa MacKenzie.

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“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind; ‘Pooh?’ he whispered.
‘Yes, Piglet?’
‘Nothing,’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.’”
- Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. MilneHand Reaching

Sometimes we all need to be sure that we’re not alone and that someone cares and is paying us some attention– especially when we’re feeling vulnerable. Some of us might even be having a “Piglet moment” right now.

I recently read an essay entitled Practicing a Life of Prayer by Sam Portaro,* in which he describes a spiritual practice of paying attention. Portaro says: “When I pay attention, I don’t have to remind myself of God’s presence in my life; God is nearly always present and manifest and recognizable in the other, the one in whom and to whom I have paid my attention.”

It takes practice to pay attention and to be aware in the present moment. Sometimes we don’t stop to think about our child who looks at us with longing while we’re racing off to a meeting, or the clerk who has been standing behind a counter for hours and sighs deeply as she bags groceries, or the pastor who has just moved his family to a new town this summer. Paying attention is one of the greatest gifts we’re given by God because it leads us to not only care for others but for ourselves as well.

When I was a young nurse, I’ll never forget a middle aged man with cancer who I cared for on the night shift. It was back in the day when patients had to wait for an injection of pain medication until the 4 or 6 hours were up. This patient was very uncomfortable, and I was in a hurry to request an order from his doctor to administer the pain medication sooner. As I hurried from his bedside, he reached for my hand and said, “don’t leave, please.” In that moment, my patient taught me one of the most important lessons I have ever learned- pay attention. He was scared and alone and needed someone to be present– to touch him, to hold his hand. And when I did that, for a moment his pain eased.

In his book Out of Solitude, Henri Nouwen wrote a meditation on care saying that we tend to look at caring as an attitude of the strong toward the weak, the powerful toward the powerless; yet the word “care” is rooted in the Germanic “kara,” which means to lament, to grieve, to cry out with. It seems that being present is the foundation of care, but to really be present we have to pay attention. We have to stop so that we, like Portaro writes, can recognize the presence of God in the other. Pooh understood this and willingly offered this gift to Piglet without giving advice or finding a solution– because sometimes we just need to be sure that someone is present with us.

*Sam Portaro’s article can be found in William S. Craddock’s All Shall Be Well: An Approach to Wellness.

-Lisa MacKenzieLisa-MacKenzie-90x120

 

To Be or Not to Be Gluten-Free #1

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If you have had a Spirited Life/CHI health screening in the past year, you have likely interacted with me at some point. In both the spring and fall of 2013, I counseled screening participants on their results at many churches across the state and, as of April of this year, I am now coordinating the screenings. The blog below is the first in a series of nutritional topics that arose during my discussions with many of you. Thus, I am responding to your questions. Upcoming topics include the lowdown on eggs, sorting through sweeteners and sugars, and the perils of trans fats. Stay tuned!

Part I – What is Gluten and How Can it Affect Me?

Gluten-free eating has become very trendy and the market for gluten-free products is booming. Many grocery stores now stock gluten-free products, some restaurants provide gluten-free items in addition to their standard fare, and celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jenny McCarthy, and Oprah Winfrey have touted the benefits of gluten-less diets. However, is eliminating gluten from your diet the way to go? If you have celiac disease, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. If you are not gluten sensitive, the answer may not be straightforward and information populating the Internet can be confusing. Thus, let’s start with what is clear-cut.

What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains, such as rye and barley, which gives bread its sponge-like Wheat Pic3texture. When individuals with celiac disease ingest gluten, the immune system attacks the small intestine. Over time, the small intestine loses its ability to absorb nutrients, such as calcium and iron, and severe nutritional deficiencies can develop. Even small amounts of gluten can cause a lot of damage and the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet.

Common symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea and weight loss, although many people experience little, if any, digestive distress. Some people have a sensitivity to gluten without having celiac disease, which means that they cannot metabolize gluten, and may have symptoms as severe as those of celiac disease. Still others have a wheat allergy, which is one of the most common allergies in the United States. Simply inhaling wheat flour can trigger an allergic reaction for some.

People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity must eat a gluten-free diet to feel better. Many foods are naturally gluten-free, such as fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, beans, legumes, nuts, and dairy products. A number of grains like rice, corn, potatoes, quinoa, and nut flours are also gluten-free.

While many commercial products are labeled ‘gluten-free,’ some are not. However, as of August 5th, 2014, all foods labeled gluten-free must meet the requirements of gluten-free labeling (you can read more here at the Food and Drug Administration website). It is important to read labels and remember that ‘wheat-free’ does not necessarily mean ‘gluten-free’. Soups and sauces, for example, are one of the largest sources of gluten since many manufacturers use gluten as a thickener. (For a complete listing of foods that comprise a gluten-free diet, please visit the Celiac Disease Foundation website here.)

Individuals with a wheat allergy should, of course, avoid foods that contain wheat. In addition to gluten, wheat contains other proteins that include albumin, globulin, and gliadin. Most people are allergic to only one of these. Again, it is extremely important to read labels and, in this case, ‘gluten-free’ does not necessarily mean ‘wheat-free’. In Europe, for example, foods may be labeled gluten-free but contain wheat starch, the powder remaining after gluten removal from wheat flour. Wheat starch is often used as a thickening agent in gravies and processed foods. Some unexpected sources of wheat may be ice cream, potato chips, hot dogs, candy, salad dressings, soy sauce, marinara sauce, and beer. (For more information on wheat allergy and foods to avoid, visit the Food Allergy Research and Education website here.)

Please consult with your doctor if you suspect that you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, or before making any dietary changes.

UP NEXT – Part 2 – Your Wheat is Not Your Grandmother’s Wheat

-Holly Hough, PhD

References:  Providence Health and Services; Mayo Clinic: Symptoms; Mayo Clinic: Wheat Allergy; Internet Symposium on Food Allergens: Identification of Wheat Allergens; Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: Wheat Allergy; CeliAct: Is Modified Food Starch Safe for Celiacs?

Image from Flickr user Martin LaBar, via CC

The Daily Examen

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The spiritual practice of the daily examen has 16th century origins in Ignatius of Loyola yet offers a framework for prayer that continues to resonate even more than 500 years later.  The focus of the daily examen is on finding God’s presence in your life so that you can be grateful and so that you can listen for His guidance.

There is no designated way to go through the prayer or even length of time needed to complete it; in fact, just 10 minutes should be enough time.  In the approach outlined below, the daily examen is practiced at the end of the day.candlelight

  1. Prepare your heart and mind. Center yourself by lighting a candle or taking a few deep breaths.  Allow yourself to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.  Think back through the events of your day, noting the joys and delights.  Think about the people you interacted with and what you shared with each other.  Don’t forget the little pleasures!  Then, thank God for these experiences.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.  Notice the points in your day where you felt strongly. What is God telling you through your feelings?  Feelings of frustration may indicate that you need to change course on a certain project.  Feelings of worry about a friend’s situation might later prompt you to send a comforting note.
  4. Select a part of your day to pray over.  What one part of your day stands out most to you?  It can be positive or negative.  Lift up a prayer of gratitude, intercession, repentance, whatever the case may be.
  5. Pray for tomorrow.  Ask God to guide you through tomorrow’s challenges.  Turn your anxieties over to God and pray for hope.

A simple prayer card listing the steps of the examen can be found here.  Other approaches to praying the examen can be found at Ignatian Spirituality (from Loyola Press) and Alive Now.

-Katie Huffman

Photo from Pixabay user foulline, via CC.

Healthy Boundaries

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“A boundary for a ministry leader or a pastor is like a property line around your yard; only rope boundaryin this case, that yard is your soul. Healthy boundaries make for healthy souls. Unhealthy boundaries make for unhealthy souls.”  So says Charles Stone of Stonewall Ministries, who published a great blog post about why it’s hard for pastors to set healthy boundaries, and he offers a few solutions.

  • First, he says, pastors are called to help people, and this takes an infinite amount of time. Solution: Remember that Jesus did not heal every person he came into contact with, and there are many examples in the Bible where he goes off to be alone.
  • Second, our 24/7 culture makes it hard for anyone to disconnect. Solution: Agree that after 6pm, you will not answer any work-related emails. Also, when you are read for sleep, place the phone on the other side of the room rather than next to your bed.
  • Third, we are wired to be social and to please others (therefore, it’s hard to tell someone, “no”). Solution: Just know that it’s normal to feel uncomfortable or awkward when you enforce one of your boundaries. Give it an hour, and the discomfort will fade.
  • Fourth, humans (maybe caregivers in particular) desire to feel needed, to feel that we are doing “good.” You can literally become addicted to affirmation and accomplishment. Solution: Ask yourself if you can truly take time away from helping others (for example, on your day off).

If you struggle with that last question, and for anyone who is interested in reading more about setting boundaries, Rev. Stone recommends these 2 books by Henry Cloud: Boundaries: When to say yes, how to say no to take control of your life and Boundaries for Leaders.

MeQuilibrium, the online stress program Spirited Life introduced to pastors, offers these tips for setting healthy work/life boundaries:

  • Rethink the structure of your day. Instead of looking at your schedule as “before lunch” and “after lunch” or “at work” and “at home,” consider 1 ½- or 2- hour chunks. Then, take a 15-minute break before switching to the next “chunk” of work.
  • Move around. When you are taking a break from work, try to be active, even if it’s just standing up and stretching.
  • Reserve night time for yourself and your family. Select a cutoff time in the evening for checking email and stick to it.

What are your techniques for setting and adhering to healthy boundaries?

-Katie Huffman

Post inspired by: 4 Obstacles Pastors Face in Setting Boundaries and Why you Need to Separate Work and Leisure

Image by Lumix G user Larterman, via CC

Low Back Pain Explained

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Clearly, I’ve been in the car too much lately because I’ve come across another NPR nugget to share.  This story features a primary care physician who “prescribed” a YouTube video for a patient complaining of low back pain.  The video is from Dr. Mike Evans, famous for his whiteboard drawings about many different health topics (and featured on this blog before).

Dr. Evans begins the video by saying that low back pain is extremely common; in fact, it is one of the top 2 reasons why people go to the doctor, and it accounts for 40% of all missed work days.  He goes on to describe a variety of low back pain conditions and ultimately suggests how you can create a “Back Resilience Plan” to prevent recurrence.  Summed up in three words, Dr. Evans’ conclusion is that in most cases, “Movement is Medicine.”  Check the video out here:

In the NPR story, the patient who viewed this video at her doctor’s recommendation returned to the office for her next appointment with a success story of her own.

-Katie Huffman

Click here for another post from The Connection on improving low back pain.

Too Much

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This poem was written by Beth Richardson, a UMC pastor in the Rocky Mountain Conference (Colorado), and is posted on her blog, All the Wonders.  It provides beautiful language for the thoughts I’ve been having about the many sad news stories of late.

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Too Much

Some days
It seems like
Too much to bear

Too much sickness
Too much dying
Too many stories of terror and sadness

How can I bear it.
These people I love
Are crazy with grief and fear.
This world I love
Has lost all sense and reason

I watch, I weep, I wait.
I wait for you to show up
With your healing,
Your comfort,
Your wisdom

Come quickly.
Please,
Come, soon.
Come

by Beth A. Richardson

NPR: How Americans Really Experience Stress

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During the month of July, as I’ve been traveling from here to there, I have caught bits and pieces of NPR’s latest series on stress.  There have been some really interesting stories, and I’m sharing a few of my favorite highlights below.

For starters, there’s a piece on the overall picture of stress in America.  NPR teamed up with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health to conduct a survey of 2,500 Americans.  They found that 49% of respondents had experienced a major NPR stress image_Josh Neufeldlife stress within the last year, with the most frequent type of stressor being health-related.

When broken down by demographics, there were some interesting findings.  For example, young adults were more likely to name “too many responsibilities” as their primary stressor, whereas older adults named health problems.  Looking at income, people making below $20,000 named (perhaps unsurprisingly) finances and work problems as their biggest worries.  People making over $50,000 named work problems and too many responsibilities.  The most common response to stress? Seventy percent of people reported sleeping less than usual.  For more on these statistics, click here.

Another segment focused on the connection between food and stress.  A Harvard University researcher says, “When we feel stressed we seek foods that are going to comfort us immediately, but often times those foods lead to surges and crashes in hormones and blood sugar that increase our susceptibility to new stresses.”  Other researchers are looking into foods that make us more resilient in the face of stress.  For example, foods that are nutrient rich, specifically those that are high in omega-3s, help bolster against stress.  Some good stress-busting foods include:

  • Eggs
  • Dark, leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like sardines, salmon or canned tuna
  • Flaxseed
  • Dark chocolate

For more on the food-mind connection, click here.

One of the more upbeat and fun segments was about how Americans deal with stress.  Seventy-one percent of respondents said that connecting with friends or family is their go-to form of stress relief.  In terms of what works for people, turning to hobbies and time outdoors were reported as being most effective.  Click here for the article.  Actually, just watching this short video, put together using animations and live interviews of people talking about their favorite stress-relieving activities, sent me into a state of relaxation!

Other articles and radio pieces in the NPR series include:

-Katie Huffman

Top Image by Josh Neufeld for NPR

Seminar Opportunity: “True Resiliency”

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seminarThe Davidson Clergy Center will be offering a professional development seminar called “True Resiliency: Transforming Pastoral Stress into Ministry Success” on August 12 or September 18, 2014 (1:30 to 5:30 p.m.).

Success in ministry is one thing; achieving a clergy identity that is personally satisfying may be something else altogether. In place of a diatribe about clergy’s near legendary high levels of impairment and distress, relative to other occupations, this interactive seminar adopts a decidedly positive stance: how holistic health—including the often undernourished emotional and spiritual dimensions—is garnered in spite of the stressors unique to ministry professionals.Key concepts from the contemporary behavioral science of positive psychology include:

  • Chronicity- the role of timing in career stress, success, and well-being
  • Personality- how the so-called “clergy personality” aids (or hinders) career success and life satisfaction
  • Resiliency- three components of resiliency counteract common clergy-life stress points
  • Spirituality- the contribution of spiritual vitality to the wellness of contemporary clergy.

Participants will leave with several self-assessment checklists, each containing core elements promoting the psychological and vocational well-being of today’s emotionally and spiritually healthy minister.

About your Faculty:
Michael E. Hall (Ph.D, Counseling Psychology-Penn State University) has been a part of the “helping professions” as a psychologist-executive coach, and professional development trainer for over three decades. Service to the faith community spans the mid-West/Atlantic regions to Nevada in the US, to the West Indies.

This seminar will be held at the Davidson Clergy Center, 455 S Main Street, Suite 200, Davidson, NC 28036 with a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 12 participants. The cost for the seminar is $350.

To register, please provide the following information to Gordon Jacobs–gordonjacobs@davcp.com or (704) 895-6487–  Name, email address, phone number, and seminar date selection (pick one) – August 12 or September 18.

CHI Tour of the Tarheel State

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The Clergy Health Initiative health screening staff took to the highways in April and May.  From the mountains to the coast and everywhere in between, they got to meet lots of Group 1 and Group 3 Spirited Life pastors, and they also had the chance to experience some of North Carolina’s finest treasures!   Below are a few examples from their adventures.  For more pictures, click here: Spring 2014 CHI Tarheel Tour Slideshow. 

Looks like fun!  Did you see your part of the state represented?