Mushrooms, Health and Self-Care

paul stamets with a giant mushroom

Before I dive too far into this post, I want to point out that plucking up random mushrooms from your backyard and eating them is a really dumb idea. There are a growing number of known health benefits associated with our fungal friends, but there are plenty of reasons to exercise caution, the most obvious of which being death.

This evening I attended a talk given by Paul Stamets, a world renowned mushroom expert (and famed astromycologist in the upcoming Star Trek movie), at the Moore Theater in Seattle. The program was entitled “Mushrooms and the Mycology of Consciousness,” and it did indeed blow my mind.

I’ve been fascinated recently by research pointing to mushrooms being a significant source of vitamin D. Like humans, mushrooms use sunlight to manufacture the fat-soluble vitamin, and since there are few natural food sources for this essential nutrient, it’s quite intriguing.

But while this particular talk didn’t cover that aspect of mushrooms, the fact that it didn’t simply points to the enormous impact fungi has on human health, and we’re only just beginning to understand its synergistic roles.

Before Paul took the stage wearing a hat made of Amadou mushroom fiber, it was hard not to notice the small table next to the podium, on top of which was a bulging mass hidden beneath a dark cloth.

We all knew what it was, though.

It was a giant Agarikon mushroom, a variety that has fascinated Stamets for decades, and one that he often poses with in photos.

“How can you not spend your entire life studying this?” he said of it as he held it high above his head.

But it isn’t the largest by a long shot.

To date, the biggest known mushroom spans roughly 2,200 acres atop the Blue Mountains in Oregon. The Honey mushroom’s expansive mycelial network lives mostly below ground (there’s approximately one mile of mycelium per cubic inch…say what?), and Paul hypothesizes that its role is one of a “meadow maker,” since the ground above the network contains almost no trees. To get an aerial photograph, Stamets chartered a plane, which had to climb to 14,000 feet (roughly the elevation of Mt. Rainier) in order to capture the entire site.

It’s jaw-dropping when you consider the fact that this is a single organism.

The amount of information that was covered in just a couple of hours could have easily consumed two full days, and I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for Stamets, who has devoted his entire life to this subject so that we may have a deeper understanding of the world around us.

So, what does a mushroom expert’s personal collection look like? His culture library includes no less than 700 strains. (I had no idea until today so many even existed.)

From eyebrow-raising topics such as LSD microdosing to stimulate creativity, to mushrooms playing a role in treating cancer, it was hard not to look at fungi in a new way. (And I certainly had no idea that mycelium could break down rocks!)

The real focus of the evenings’s discussion, though, was around the relationship between fungi and bees. And if you’re not concerned about the disturbing reality that we’re losing significant populations of bees (and, incidentally, the cause is pointing directly to our irresponsible use of pesticides), then you should be:

No bees = no food.

As it turns out, the powerful immune boosting properties of mushrooms play a significant role in bee health, and it’s clear we’ll be hearing a lot more about this as time goes on.

But I left the talk feeling a mixture of hope and concern–not just for the plight of the bees, but also for what will likely follow these new research findings: an upturn in the manufacture of single-substance products.

This ongoing obsession with the distillation of nature into single ingredients and compounds is alarming to me. It’s clear that our relationship with the natural world isn’t linear. There aren’t single cause-and-effect outcomes that can be fully understood, yet we continue to extract and distill and reduce our food into substances that later get itemized in food journals. We dissect food and then reassemble it into a nutrient slurry that we deem more suitable.

And we’ve been seeing more and more of this kind of thinking within the supplement industry, which, in my opinion, has become as problematic as big pharma…but that’s a topic for another time.

Our interconnectedness with nature is complex, to say the least. But what if we were meant to nourish our bodies with foods as they exist in the natural world? In all of its complexity? With its thousands of phytochemicals and nutrients (some known, some still unknown)? And with all of its synergistic properties?

Nature is our greatest teacher when it comes to self-care.

But as the clock ticks toward midnight, I’ll have to contemplate all of this later. For now, I think it’s time for a slightly different state of consciousness…sleep.

Building an Artificial Pancreas: An Interview with Dana Lewis

pink diabetes supply kit

When most of us think about patient empowerment, we think about choosing a health care provider or researching treatment options. But Dana Lewis took patient empowerment to a whole new level in 2013, when she set out to find a solution for a small problem: the alarm on her insulin monitor wasn’t waking her up at night to alert her of severely low blood sugars.

Initially, she brought her concerns directly to the industry, but to her dismay they responded with comments like, “It’s loud enough” and “Most people wake up to it.” Fortunately for her, and for many others around the globe who are struggling to manage diabetes, she didn’t accept those answers.

I first met Dana while attending a Meetup on Health Care Design in Seattle. She was a panelist who shared her personal journey–specifically, how she co-created the DIY Artifical Pancreas System when no one was able to deliver one. As I listened to her story, I remember thinking to myself this is the most powerful example of self-care I’ve ever heard!

How exactly did she do it?

She reached out to other smart people who had the answers she needed, and with a “design and build” mindset, they promptly got to work. And after months of testing and tweaking, the OpenAPS solution was born.

The cost? About $150 USD on average.

As you might imagine there are a few risks involved with building Do-It-Yourself medical devices. There’s no FDA stamp of approval, no experts standing by to make updates or repairs, and device failures could result in complications. Still, it’s easy to see why the idea is so compelling: often, the alternative isn’t much better. For example, not awakening to a low blood sugar alarm can be fatal. Suffice it to say that managing complex medical conditions like diabetes is anything but easy, even with today’s modern technology.

Lewis admits this project has been “a gradual awakening,” or a process, rather than something she simply decided to do. It certainly didn’t go from idea to reality overnight.

“It was a realization that we don’t have to be passive recipients of care as patients.”

Indeed, we are the owners of our health just as much as we are recipients of care.

Her mantra, we’re not waiting, tells the story quite clearly. And she certainly isn’t waiting. Neither are the more than 200 others around the globe who are now using a DIYOpenAPS system to not only manage their chronic condition, but also to improve their quality of life.

For Dana, self-care involves getting enough sleep, spending time with family, and reading. Like so many of us, she understands that when she doesn’t get what she needs, it impacts everything else.

Empowerment lies at the heart of self-care. It’s taking ownership of what we need and then experimenting until we get it right.
Design thinking can be applied to an endless number of life’s challenges. If you’re feeling particularly empowered by this story, you can learn more about the Open Loop Artificial Pancreas System by contacting Dana directly or exploring these links:

Dana Lewis
dana@openAPS.org
@danamlewis #werenotwaiting #DIYPS #OpenAPS
www.OpenAPS.org
Background and details on how Dana built her OpenAPS: https://diyps.org/2016/05/12/how-i-designed-a-diy-closed-loop-artificial-pancreas/
Why DIY-ing #OpenAPS is important: https://diyps.org/2015/03/31/why-the-diy-part-of-openaps-is-important/

Please Note: The Artificial Pancreas System, like other DIY devices, is not FDA approved, which means individuals assume any and all risks associated with its use. Please talk with your doctor before undertaking a DIY project like this, and be sure to keep them informed of your progress.

Other Exciting News: This hybrid closed loop technology is the future of treatment for diabetes, and several versions of it are currently in the commercial development pipeline. It’s expected that an FDA approved product will be be available in 2017.

Self-Care Idea List: 366 Activities for a Beautiful Life

8 Dimensions of Self-Care

Having trouble coming up with fun and interesting self-care ideas?

Last year, I took on a self-care challenge. For each of the 366 days in 2016, I experimented with a new self-care activity and then blogged about it.

What would you add to the list? Be creative and come up with your own bucket list of activities that reflect your personal style, needs and priorities.

  1. Enjoy a fermented food (or learn to ferment something yourself)
  2. Set intentions for the next day, week, month or year
  3. Express gratitude
  4. Take a walk in the woods
  5. Bake whole grain bread
  6. Include strength training exercises at least 2 days each week
  7. Get a haircut
  8. Get vaccinated
  9. Give blood
  10. Buy nothing (give something instead)
  11. Use a pressure cooker
  12. Get equipped for fitness
  13. Tidy up
  14. Drink enough water
  15. Get a pedicure
  16. Travel (without stress)
  17. Enjoy a sunset
  18. Listen to the ocean
  19. Go fishing
  20. Visit a fruit stand
  21. Meet new people
  22. Enjoy the sunshine (and then apply sunscreen)
  23. Overcome a fear
  24. Give yourself a break
  25. Sleep in
  26. Get a massage
  27. Cook with garlic
  28. Journal
  29. Walk and work
  30. Pay taxes
  31. Do “The Work”
  32. Relax by a fire
  33. Peruse the bookstore
  34. Fold laundry
  35. Drink tea
  36. Write a haiku
  37. Take a road trip
  38. Play in the snow
  39. Spend time with friends
  40. Floss
  41. Join (or start) a book club
  42. Eat local
  43. Meditate
  44. Continue education
  45. Use affirmations
  46. Receive gifts
  47. Relax with aromatherapy
  48. Eat colorfully
  49. Accept what is
  50. Volunteer at the food bank
  51. Snuggle with pets
  52. Taste
  53. Shop for groceries
  54. Zentangle
  55. Learn CPR
  56. Reminisce
  57. Garden
  58. Explore new possibilities
  59. Go out for breakfast
  60. Define your “enough”
  61. Change your mind
  62. Chase good weather
  63. Love the middle seat
  64. Cool off with shave ice
  65. Explore new places
  66. Smell the roses
  67. Go to the beach
  68. See the bigger picture
  69. Be a tourist
  70. Think in traffic
  71. Get a mammogram
  72. Read scripture
  73. Make a contribution
  74. Lounge
  75. Be part of a community
  76. Cry
  77. Practice good skin care
  78. Get certified
  79. Prune what’s no longer useful
  80. Press the pause button
  81. Listen
  82. Be quiet
  83. Eat green
  84. Celebrate
  85. Meander
  86. Notice nature
  87. Make the holidays healthier
  88. Plan
  89. Go cycling
  90. Reflect
  91. Recover
  92. Try fermented dairy
  93. Walk the dog
  94. Take a nap
  95. Build a support system
  96. Write a book
  97. Calm down
  98. Be vulnerable
  99. Set boundaries
  100. Laugh
  101. Play games
  102. Dine alone
  103. Walk (in the airport or elsewhere)
  104. Plan a menu
  105. Ask for help
  106. Cook for yourself
  107. Hug a pet
  108. Give gifts of gratitude
  109. Find inspiring spaces
  110. Talk yourself into fitness
  111. Listen to an audio book
  112. Be inspired
  113. Stay in
  114. Understand your impact
  115. Set weekly goals
  116. Use an iron skillet
  117. Stay in touch with friends
  118. Do the dishes
  119. Forgive yourself
  120. Let the oven do it
  121. Go to the doctor
  122. Work in the yard
  123. Savor something
  124. Make new friends
  125. Plant some herbs
  126. Build new skills
  127. Assemble (or reassemble) a first-aid kit
  128. Make a toast to a memory
  129. Shop the farmers’ market
  130. Say thank you
  131. Give feedback
  132. Hug a tree
  133. Take a hike
  134. Read the (entire) Affordable Care Act
  135. Make broth cubes
  136. Bake a cheesecake
  137. Make a breakfast bowl
  138. Use a foam roller
  139. Change your sheets
  140. Eat 5 (to 9) servings of fruits and vegetables each day
  141. Network
  142. Entertain
  143. Sit in stillness
  144. Think positively
  145. Make chicken noodle soup
  146. Do something you don’t want to do
  147. Don’t worry (be happy)
  148. Self-direct your care
  149. Admire art
  150. Eat some cherries (or another in season fruit)
  151. Watch a game
  152. Love lentils
  153. Cultivate awareness
  154. Review your finances
  155. Fuel up for a workout
  156. Celebrate success
  157. Work to physical exhaustion
  158. Take the day off
  159. Eat a big salad
  160. Apologize
  161. Spend time with family
  162. Go sightseeing
  163. Visit a museum
  164. Marvel
  165. Color
  166. Start a bullet journal
  167. Count your blessings
  168. Bake a spaghetti squash
  169. Work in bursts
  170. Drink coffee
  171. Go to the gym
  172. Pick berries
  173. Go to the dentist
  174. Take a yoga class
  175. Track your goals
  176. Lean into discomfort
  177. Stretch
  178. Give gifts
  179. Make yourself a bouquet
  180. Take shorter showers
  181. Test your day for flow
  182. Buy new exercise clothes
  183. Get an eye exam
  184. Set boundaries
  185. Clean your yoga mat
  186. Blend a smoothie bowl
  187. Ferment pickles
  188. Volunteer at a community garden
  189. Take a home-canning class
  190. Bake zucchini bread
  191. Get (and stay) connected
  192. Learn self-defense
  193. Attend a virtual retreat
  194. Envision
  195. Care for your feet
  196. Breathe deeply
  197. Make chicken salad
  198. Go camping
  199. Listen to music
  200. Use a sugar scrub
  201. Window shop
  202. Buy yourself a gift
  203. Make a Thai salad
  204. Organize your recipes
  205. Bake blueberry muffins
  206. Make a (healthy) Waldorf salad
  207. Study
  208. Try a new recipe
  209. Organize your mind
  210. Eat lunch at the park
  211. Do some gratitude journaling
  212. Be proactive
  213. Try again
  214. Brew beer
  215. Rest
  216. Learn from others
  217. Research
  218. Get a scalp massage
  219. Stop
  220. Stargaze
  221. Go floating
  222. Take a moment
  223. Get a manicure
  224. Weigh the pros and cons
  225. Share your story
  226. Travel back in time
  227. Snack
  228. Walk with a friend
  229. Savor salmon
  230. Admire apples
  231. Enjoy a mocktail
  232. Go meatless
  233. Ask for a Box
  234. Indulge in an Acai Bowl
  235. Understand the Science of Happiness
  236. Rediscover Old Recipes
  237. Experiment with Eggplant
  238. Eat (or at least try) Sushi
  239. Carry an EpiPen (if you have been advised to)
  240. Work Outside
  241. Crack Fresh Eggs
  242. Eat Tomatoes (off the vine)
  243. Say No
  244. Buy a New Pillow
  245. Talk About Ideas
  246. Monitor Your Performance
  247. Clean Your Refrigerator
  248. Treat a Minor Injury
  249. Change the Air Filter
  250. Make Moroccan Meatballs
  251. Choose My Circles Wisely
  252. Begin Again
  253. Get Acupuncture
  254. Plan a Vacation
  255. Remember
  256. Try Matcha Tea
  257. Get New Socks
  258. Commit
  259. Speak Up
  260. Prepare a Snack Board
  261. Update Your Wardrobe
  262. Sort & Purge
  263. Tour a Food Forest
  264. Be True To Yourself
  265. Donate to Charity
  266. Coordinate a Walking Meeting
  267. Ask Questions
  268. Get Your Hands Dirty
  269. Pack a Mobile Emergency Kit
  270. Plant a Tribute
  271. Enjoy a Sweet Treat
  272. Connect Dots
  273. Sip Bubbles
  274. Eat Fresh Figs
  275. Celebrate
  276. Melt
  277. Moisturize
  278. Catch Up
  279. Evaluate Your Social Media Activity
  280. Be Negative
  281. Understand Your Personality
  282. Hire a Coach
  283. Read a Book
  284. Spend Quality Time
  285. Create a Manifestation Space
  286. Reconnect with a Friend
  287. Stay Open
  288. Prepare for Emergencies
  289. Set a Deadline
  290. Do Something for Love
  291. Make Space
  292. Cook with rosemary (or other culinary herbs)
  293. Arrive (rather than impose)
  294. Buy coffee for a stranger
  295. Make a vegan dish
  296. Learn more about your body
  297. Just be
  298. Establish a morning ritual
  299. Give a random gift
  300. Try reflexology
  301. Try new exercises
  302. Vote
  303. Experiment with a sourdough starter (or other cultured food)
  304. Organize your personal space
  305. Collaborate
  306. Write down your soul
  307. Learn bonsai
  308. Create an afternoon of self-care
  309. Island (s)hop with a friend
  310. Crochet (or create something)
  311. Rake leaves
  312. Live vicariously
  313. Sit with ambivalence
  314. Gain an understanding of politics
  315. Evaluate what’s essential
  316. Clear your calendar
  317. Ask for what you need
  318. Practice something that’s difficult for you
  319. Maintain financial harmony
  320. Have a kind disagreement
  321. Support a friend
  322. Brainstorm
  323. Learn something new
  324. Rearrange furniture
  325. Decorate
  326. See your favorite band live
  327. Try reiki
  328. Bake a pie
  329. Prepare a special meal
  330. Watch a funny movie
  331. Look up
  332. Do chores early
  333. Make a list
  334. Email yourself ideas
  335. Arrive early
  336. Warm up
  337. Learn to knit (or some other form of art)
  338. Notice the little things
  339. Watch it snow
  340. Drive slowly
  341. Choose theme words
  342. Stay open
  343. Move forward
  344. Have faith
  345. Don’t make plans
  346. Stay in your jammies
  347. Stay in touch with mentors
  348. Relax at the spa
  349. Learn about gun safety
  350. Get a fluoride treatment
  351. Call in a professional
  352. Go to the symphony
  353. Challenge yourself
  354. Listen to an inspiring audio book
  355. Read old journals
  356. Be a caregiver
  357. Have coffee with a friend
  358. Find a “plan B”
  359. Enjoy a holiday tradition
  360. Feel grateful
  361. Binge watch a series
  362. Have breakfast in bed
  363. Discover your core desired feelings
  364. Go Snowshoeing
  365. Whiten your teeth
  366. Reflect on your year

Ready to start your own challenge? Download a free self-care planning worksheet here.

Need some help developing your own self-care practice?

Start Here

Self-Care Challenge (Day 364): Snowshoeing

orange and black snow shoes

Snowshoes are just plain awkward. They’re big, bulky–and Lord help you if you have to turn around or back up. Everything about them makes laughing inevitable. I’ve only been shoeing twice in my life, and both times I ended up giggling like a little kid while traipsing around in them. But, hey, at least they make walking possible when the snow is deep.

For Christmas this year, my husband bought each of us a pair of show shoes. (I’ve been resistive to the idea of learning to ski or snowboard since I prefer that my bones stay intact.)

Snow is just a quick 30-minute drive away, and yesterday seemed like a great day to try them out. Plus, a little bit of physical activity sounded like a nice self-care choice after a few days of gorging on holiday leftovers.

The week between Christmas and New Year is always busy in the greater Seattle area, no matter where you go. Hiking trails are full, restaurants and stores are full, ski slopes are full–so being an early bird is your only hope (though early is relative). Even at 9 AM the parking area was full, but we managed to find a spot.

As we walked up the trail, we passed hordes of families sledding and playing in the snow. Kids were still wearing their seasonal smiles, and a few parents were sipping on adult beverages (clearly unwinding from all of the festivities). It felt great to stretch my legs and gaze in amazement at the snow-covered trees. Once again I was reminded that I’m just one of the many living things tromping around the woods.

What a great way to send a little gratitude into the universe.

Self-Care Challenge (Day 362): Having Breakfast in Bed

Iron skillet breakfast

Breakfast may very well be my favorite meal. (I guess it’s convenient that we have chickens, isn’t it?)

Yesterday, my self-care activity for the day was to enjoy breakfast in bed.

On weekends, my husband and I often take turns fixing breakfast, which means we also get to take turns sleeping in and having breakfast and coffee hand-delivered to our pillow.

While this activity does require the loving assistance of another person (hence, not entirely self-care), it still produces the same effect. And taking turns implies giving and receiving. It’s a total win-win if you ask me.

Breakfast in bed doesn’t have to be relegated to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, something that’s only thought of on special occasions.

Why not make it a regular practice?

Self-Care Challenge (Day 350): Getting a Fluoride Treatment

Purple toothbrush

Yesterday my self-care activity involved receiving a fluoride treatment during my semi-annual visit to the dentist.

I’ve declined the treatments in the past because the product they use absolutely nauseates me. But then it dawned on me that our well water isn’t fluoridated–and the current toothpaste I’ve been using isn’t either. (If you only drink bottled water, then you could be at risk too.)

As a nutritionist, I understand that these seemingly insignificant micronutrients often carry serious (and sometimes elusive) heath consequences. And that prompted me not to refuse it this time around. Sure, it tasted terrible, but the benefits outweighed the inconvenience of flavor in my opinion.

Fluoride offers health benefits both when ingested and when applied topically, which is why most dentists offer fluoride treatments as part of their preventive care protocols. One benefit is that it makes the surface of our teeth less prone to decay, but it also plays a protective role in bone health as well.

The reality is that sometimes taking proper care of ourselves isn’t pleasant. Going back to the gym after a hiatus can be painful. Eating vegetables that you don’t find to be particularly delicious isn’t easy. And some preventive treatments are uncomfortable to say the least.

In the end, we must simply weigh the risks and benefits, and make a decision that best aligns with what we feel is right for us.

Self-Care Challenge (Day 348): Relaxing at the Spa

Christmas Tree at The Salish Lodge in 2016

Yesterday morning I spent a couple of hours at the Salish Spa. It’s just a short drive from my house, making it a convenient destination for a spa treatment every once in a while. I’ve visited many spas over the years, some while vacationing and some in the various cities that I’ve lived, but only a few of them really stand out. What makes them distinct is the overall feeling of the place: the layout of the space, the decor, the location, the energy of the people who work there.

The Salish Spa is one of those places, and it certainly didn’t hurt that their holiday decorations were in full grandeur.

After a much-needed moisturizing facial, I headed over to the saltwater hot bath to soak and relax for a bit. As I sat there surrounded by steam, I peered out the windows at the snow-covered trees blowing in the distance. And I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

I could feel my tension dissipate, floating away with the circulating water. With no distractions left to steal my attention, I had to face the truth that most of my worries are self-created. Sometimes it’s moments like these that we find the most clarity and perspective.

Surprisingly, this little excursion wasn’t as expensive as you might thing. Early morning appointments during the week are much cheaper than evenings and weekends, which also means it’s less busy. (Being the only person in the sauna made my visit even more blissful.)

By simply trading in the cost of a $5 coffee every work-day, you could easily afford an experience like this every month.

 

How do you make time for relaxation?

Self-Care Challenge (Day 329): Preparing a Holiday Meal

Cranberries and raspberries with lemon zest

No matter whether you’re a family of one or 100, the holidays are a time for gathering and celebration.

Because our families live more than 2,000 miles away, it’s hard to get together for the holidays. This year it was just my husband and l, but we didn’t cut any corners with the holiday spread. Ample amounts of turkey, noodles and other fixins showed up on our table, and we’ll have leftovers for days to come (yet another reason to give thanks). I even made myself a personal batch raspberry-cranberry sauce.

But I get that not everyone loves to prepare large holiday meals. Cooking happens to be a lot of fun for me, which is why I consider it self-care. But if cooking isn’t therapeutic for you, then it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to include it in your repertoire.

My kitchen is something between an art studio and a science lab. Sometimes I’m never sure until the very end how an experiment will go, but that’s all part of the fun.

Between prepping various ingredients, I read a book, worked on a crochet project, and watched a movie with my husband. I couldn’t have asked for a better holiday actually.

I hope you enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving with your family and friends, and whether or not you prepared the holiday feast, I hope your cheeks were filled with homemade goodness, your belly was filled with laughter, and your heart was filled with love!

Keeping Safe Food with Mary Angela Miller

keepsafe food logo

When it comes to protecting your plate from food-borne illnesses, Mary Angela Miller is the authority. I first met her back in the early 2000’s, when I was just beginning my career in dietetics. Suffice it to say that she’s one of those people you can’t help but remember. Her enthusiasm and light-hearted personality just sort of draw you in.

Fork and knife earringsAnd, as it turns out, not only is she a talented dietitian, but she’s also a gifted jewelry-maker. One year at a fundraising event I bought a cute pair of knife and fork earrings (the envy of every dietitian), and little did I know she was the creative artist behind them. I still wear them today.

Since 1990, she has been ensuring the safety of patients and their loved ones at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, where she oversees food service operations, first as the Foodservice Director and then as its Administrator.

While most of us tend to focus our concerns on the practices of food suppliers–growers, harvesters, manufacturers, transporters, and other retail food handlers–we forget that we can take action in our own kitchens as well to reduce our risks.

Food handling practices are typically handed down from generation to generation. Chances are, you probably store and prepare food the way your parents and grandparents did. And while that’s not inherently a bad thing, there may be a few adjustments that you could make to reduce the likelihood of you or your loved ones getting sick.

Safe food handling is an important skill to add to your self-care toolbox.

Q: How common are Food-borne illnesses (FBIs)?

Mary Angela: 1 in 6 Americans contract an FBI every year. You, or someone you have dined with, have probably suffered from one. Most often, symptoms are relatively minor. They may put you out of commission for a few days due to nausea and gastrointestinal upset. But over 125,000 people require hospitalization–and what’s perhaps even more disturbing is that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention attributed 3,000 deaths to food-borne diseases.

Q: What are the top 4 things you wish more people knew about safe food handling?

Mary Angela: This is my favorite question because there are so many myths and assumptions related to FBIs.

  1. If you think you have contracted an FBI, it may not have been from your most recent meal. FBIs can take from a few hours to over 10 days to create their misery. That’s because FBIs are caused by different organisms, which are present in different concentrations, and grow or multiply at different rates. For that reason, it’s easy to see how symptoms become apparent on varied timelines.
  2. Food, especially fresh foods (think farm fresh produce) are nutritionally beneficial, taste great and are good for us. But food is not sterile. Our bodies have defense mechanisms in place to protect us from becoming ill from eating, but these normal protections can be impacted by age or illness, or overcome by a food that has become contaminated at any contact point before it enters your mouth. Be aware of this when preparing food, especially “ready to eat” foods that won’t be cooked before eaten.
  3. It’s not all about the food. People sharing a meal can eat four different entrees, but if a cutting board, utensil, or the person who prepared the food was the source of the infection, all diners can be affected.
  4. When someone suspects they have an FBI, they tend to think the culprit was their last restaurant meal. Of course that’s possible, as managing the logistics of serving multiple meals by multiple chefs and servers is a daunting task. But retail restaurants are licensed and inspected, and staff must have food safety training, which means some preventive measures are in place. I encourage people to look closer to home and make sure they have the basic 4 measures in place:

Clean        Hands & everything else food touches (forks, spoons, serving plates, etc.).
Separate   Raw, cooked & ready to eat foods when shopping, storing & preparing food.
Cook         To a safe temperature. Use a thermometer to be sure.
Chill          After 2 hours at room temperature, refrigerate or discard food.

Q: What does the latest evidence say about which material is best for cutting boards? (Wood or plastic?)

Mary Angela: That’s an important issue because using clean or separate cutting boards or chopping mats when preparing food is a key tool to preventing cross contamination. The simple answer is, as long as cutting surfaces are cleaned appropriately, all materials are safe to use. This prevents bacteria or other harmful organisms from one food being unintentionally transferred to another, and eventually transferred to your mouth.

Chopping mats can be used in addition to, or in place of, cutting boards. They are less expensive to buy, and easier to clean and store. I use a combination of my favorite cutting boards and several mats in this way:

  • Set a sturdy cutting board on the counter as a base.
  • Place one chopping mat on top of it. Stack the rest next to it.
  • Slice, dice or chop the 1st ingredient in your recipe.
  • Place the used mat in the sink or dishwasher.
  • Use a clean mat for each additional item.
  • Be sure to wash your hands and knife or use a clean knife in between each item.

Q: How long can leftovers be safely kept?

Mary Angela: In general, leftovers can be safely stored for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. This is a question I am frequently asked so I’ve developed a handy guide that can be printed and attached right to your fridge with a magnet. It provides details for safe storage of common foods in the refrigerator and freezer. You can download a free copy from www.KeepSafeFood.com

Q: Where can people learn more about how to keep food safe?

Mary Angela: For more information about food safety, visit my Facebook page and website. I guarantee you’ll learn one helpful or interesting fact each week on how to Protect your Plate. I’ve listed 4 more resources with extensive food safety information:

Feeling inspired to make some changes? Tell us about it at share@livingupp.com!

Living Upp Members: Don’t forget to check the partner directory for details about discounts on KeepSafeFood products!

Self-Care Challenge (Day 303): Picking Up My Mother

sourdough starter in a plastic container

What, no resemblance?

My self-care activity for the day was to procure a sourdough starter, sometimes called a “mother,” from a friend who recently divided hers. (Thanks again, Maran!)

The weekend workshop I took recently on the Human Gut Microbiome inspired me to experiment a bit more with some new fermented foods. Bread seemed like a good place to start. Since the beginning of 2016, I’ve been trying out different recipes for fermented sauerkraut and pickles. Some of the batches turned out well; others not so well. But I’ve been learning a little bit more each time.

That willingness to keep trying is the secret to achieving just about everything when you really think about it. Here’s the process I often use:

  1. Try (very awkwardly…and then clean up a somewhat large mess)
  2. Try again (slightly less awkwardly…with less of a mess)
  3. Try again (I might be able to convince someone I know what I’m doing)
  4. Try again (pretty darn good if I do say so myself!)
  5. Try again (How can this be so easy, and why was I ever intimidated in the first place?!?!)

I tend to over-research every new project or experiment I try, but even then I still can’t help but goof up sometimes. The fact that I know (and accept) that I’m going to goof has freed me up to try a whole lot of different things over the years.

I haven’t yet put my mother to work, but I’m looking forward to baking some bread soon. In the meantime, I’ll be researching and conducting some small experiments…and probably making a hellacious mess in the process.

What is your favorite sourdough recipe?