Monday, May 30, 2011

Holiday Breakfast: Bananas Foster French Toast

I know that I desperately need to update my Recipes page, and I told myself that I wouldn't post any more recipes until I did so...but this was so amazing that I had to share it with you.

What do you do when you have 2.5 dozen eggs, milk that is going to go bad, and a whole bunch of bananas? Healthier bloggers would made smoothies...maybe banana soft serve....egg white sandwiches on whole wheat bread. Not this blogger. She had something more devious in mind...but still containing whole wheat bread (hey, it's all I had!).

Blog world, please meet Bananas Foster French Toast. The most amazing thing I have ever made to eat.

"Doc, you mean it's better than maple roasted brussels sprouts and cranberries?" 

Yes. No contest.

"Even better than spaghetti with red clam sauce?"

A favorite go-to meal, but definitely can't touch this.

"Would you go so far as to say you'd never eat another crispy almond cookie again if you had this french toast?" 

Friends, I would never NEED a cookie if I always had this toast. This toast is freaking amazing.

In fact, the fiance declared upon taking a bite of this meal that he would have proposed at this instant if he had not done so already. It's my engagement french toast. Move over Glamour Engagement Chicken, a new girl (recipe) is in town. ;)

To make your own Bananas Foster French Toast, this is what you'll need:.

Bananas Foster French Toast
4-5 slices good bread
1 banana
3 eggs
1/4-1/2 c milk
dash cinnamon
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla, seperated
1/4 c smart balance spread
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 oz bourbon, cognac, or grand marnier
 cool whip or real whipped cream to top
First, you're going to make your french toast base. This is honestly how we normally make french toast around here, so whatever recipe you have up your sleeve should work. In my mix: 3 eggs, 1/4 c milk, 1 tbsp sugar (I use really heavy wheat breads, and I find the sugar helps them taste less bitter), 1 tsp vanilla, dash cinnamon. 

Mix it up.

Dip your toast and start them cooking. I prefer medium heat and cooking them nice and slow, but you can do whatever works. If you're cooking for a crowd, you could also preheat your oven to 'low' and store the french toast in there to keep them warm. I did this yesterday. Yes, I ate this two mornings in a row. I'll tell you how I worked off most of the calories on my recap on Wednesday.

Ok, so you're cooking your toast. In another pan, melt the SB and sugar together. 
When it gets all liquidy, throw in your bananas. I like mine quartered (for 2 servings), but you can do whatever you like.
You see the bubbles? When you get the bubbles, you know it's time for the next stage. You'll want to add your vanilla (1 tsp) and your bourbon to the pan. Swirl it around. If you have a fancy gas stove, you can set it aflame. Or you can be lame like me and give it a couple minutes of cook time to get out most of the alcohol.

Contrary to popular myth, you aren't cooking all the alcohol out when you do this, so think twice before serving to children, elderly, or people on medications that don't mix well with alcohol. 

The bubbles will have gone away for a while, but when they return it's go-time. Plate your toast. Place the banana on your toast and drizzle some syrup over it. Top with whipped cream. Drool. 

Then go figure out what you're going to do with your excess energy and sugar high. I'm off for a bike ride and then to the waterpark. Enjoy your memorial day holiday, for those who have it off!

Sorry about the blurry pics...I misplaced my good camera in my house...and these are taken with an Ipod Touch. They are pretty good pictures, but I need to find my camera ASAP. PS Those who might be related to me: You can be mad at me for misplacing the camera you gave me, but just be happy I took that Ipod out of its packaging and call it even. Everything is in my apt somewhere, I swear !

Friday, May 27, 2011

Stop the Presses: Meat from a test-tube

Miss the previous "Stop the presses" posts? Here they are for your viewing pleasure: 

So...for you non-vegetarians out there, where do you get your meat? Do you get it from the grocery store? The local butcher? Maybe straight from the farm or the farmer's market? In any case, westerners eat a lot of it. Cow, chicken, pig, lamb, even fish are the main protein components of the western diet. 
What if we had another protein source...and it looked a little more like this: 


I try to talk to people about this possibility, and almost everyone I speak to has the same look of horror on their faces. Even other scientists are in a state of disbelief or disgust regarding the possibility of cultured, or test-tube, meat products.There is a lot of fear-mongering about how evil scientists make unnatural food in the lab and it's going to lead to human diseases like cancer or make us mutants. Some people are in denial that we need to be looking into culture meat products. Some just don't think it will taste good. I'm here to discuss and debunk these items using science. 

1) What is cultured meat? I heard it was protein from bacteria and that it might make us sick...

Cultured meat is made from muscle cells that are grown in the lab. These cells started out as stem cells from the food-source of choice (i.e. cow gets you beef, pig gets you pork) and then were treated with a variety of biological signals in order to cause them to become muscle fibers. This is just like what happens in a cow's body, only it happens in a test tube or a culture dish, with scientists applying the correct signals at the correct time.

While it's not protein FROM bacteria, one popular method suggested for making large quantities of this protein source is to grow it in cyanobacterial culture as its nutrient source. This is kind of crazy and brilliant at the same time...and this is why (cue really awful cartoons that long-time readers should be used to by now!): 

Cyanobacteria are special in that they act kind of like plants...they grow photosynthetically (using light for energy and capturing carbon from the environment). They make their energy from the sun and from carbon dioxide (CO2) that we exhale, so cyanobacterial culture is great to lowering the carbon footprint of humans...and they can provide the mammalian 'meat' cell everything it needs to be happy.

On that same note, sometimes some people do eat yeast in yeast breads, beer, and kombucha....molds and bacteria in cheeses...but microorganisms are also been grown in bulk and have their proteins extracted to make food products like Quorn. Quorn is a vegetarian protein source (it uses egg as a binder, so it's not vegan) that is made from a fungus that is extracted, processed, and flavored to make a chicken-like protein.

The fiance and I have tried Quorn, and we like it. It's expensive, and we prefer to eat whole foods. We are also not vegetarian and neither of us require an exceptionally high protein diet, so we don't think its completely necessary.

So, if you're familliar with Quorn, do you like it? Does it bother you that it's from a large culture of fungus grown in a lab? How about this....the fungus used to provide the protein for Quorn is from the same family of fungi that release toxins into our grain supply (i.e mycotoxins) that can lead to illness and death. I don't tell you this to scare you...just to open your eyes to the possibilities.

This is a commonly consumed food product, created in the lab, from a fungus that could easily evolve to make us sick...and no one has gotten sick yet. Just a thought.

2) How will the meat taste? Will it be more like hamburger...or steak?

So, by all accounts I've read (and these are just press releases), fish culture grown from fish tastes like fish, beef like beef, and chicken like chicken. They have a little trouble with pork, but that will come in time, I'm sure.

Texture is another matter. At first, they could culture the cells and get them to multiply and create large pieces of meat-like mush, but that wasn't appetizing. With the exception of liver pate, all meat products have a texture or resistance when you bite into them, and this has to be built. Naturally, this happens in animals because muscle cells are strung on a skeleton, like a lattice. This lends natural resistance, which get the cells to grow into muscles with some tension. Then, when the animal moves around, those cells continue to grow and develop, which creates different girth and tension for different parts of the animal.

This has proven difficult to do in the laboratory, but the scientists working on it have come up with some amazing ideas.First, they grow the cells in a dish or tube, which makes them form into this glob of tissue.

This glob of tissue has no tension. It is like a doesn't have the skeleton that would give it structure to grow and get a form. So, scientists give it that tension by attaching it to different connection points and stressing and straining the blob.

This is just like weightlifting. You stress and strain your muscles, making tiny tears. Upon repair, the muscle grows and takes shape. The scientists can increase the weight or strain and grow the tissues into edible muscle-like tissues.

Using this method takes a lot of time and space. which makes it costly. Scientists have found a quicker method for making the tissues grow and gain strength, and it uses shock therapy.

When you tell your body to move, it sends electrical impulses along your nerves to trigger such movement. This can also be mimiced in the laboratory, where they can shock the tissues into contracting and relaxing (like a police taser?). This is much quicker and gets larger yields of cells.

Then one day, you come into the lab and find a steak where your blob used to be.

Well, not really. But you would find something that looked increasingly like meat. When I imagine it, it looks more like a pork loin...long and cylindrical.

The reality is that people have pretty strong asthetic requirements for what their meat products look like - be it a steak, a chicken breast, or a pork loin - and laboratory meat has a long way to go before it can replicate those. It's far more likely that laboratory meat will take the form of ground products like hamburger, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, and sausage. Those can be heavily flavored to replicate the foods we are used to.

3) Ok, so when is this product going to be available in my meat case? Will it even get that far? 

This is the question that I don't have the answer to right now. I have several ideas and concerns, but I'd love to hear your ideas and concerns about this product as well.

My immediate thoughts are:

A) Short of an epic disaster, laboratory meat products aren't going to enter the US, Canada, or the EU for a long time. The backlash against GMO foods has been too strong and there is too much fear. However, these are relatively wealthy countries. Most of the country doesn't know hunger. I could see laboratory meats being fast-tracked in war-torn or impoverished countries to meet the growing need for food.

B) I am nervous about our lack of understanding of some of the basic science here. Those scientists are applying growth hormones and factors to the meat product. No one that I can find reference to has ever studied the effects of eating or applying those factors to humans or other creatures. I would like to see studies that indicate that they are safe, and to do that we need to return to funding basic science. The scientists on this study only get paid to 'make the product'. We need other, probably public, funds to determine its safety.

C) On the other hand, this has the capability to revolutionize the agricultural market and allow the Earth to support a larger population than previously predicted. Especially since breakthroughs have been made in stem cell research allowing for the production of stem cells from other cells (link to recap at top of page), we would be able to culture meat in a clean, safe, and animal-friendly environment that reduces the emissions of greenhouse gases and prevents things like environmental contaminants and illnesses from interfering with our food source.

The scientists and funding groups that are in charge of this project say that we might see laboratory meats available in the next year, but I'm pretty convinced that we won't see them for 5-10 years as we overcome the financial, medical, and ethical hurdles that will be met as this technology grows.

Hope you learned something. If you have questions, please ask them!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

100 pushup challenge

As part of my Summer Fitness Goals (original post here), I want to do a modified 100 push-up challenge so I can work on my 'guns'!

Just kidding. Pushups are really great full body exercises, strengthening the arms, chest, back, and abs. I really don't know why I want to be able to do 100 of them, but it seems like a challenging goal. Actually, a few weeks ago in (this) Bodyrock workout, I did about 80 pushups, only 10 on my knees. I think I'm really close, but I definitely have to work to achieve this goal.

I noted in the original fitness goal post that this will be a modified challenge. I will not even be trying to do 100 pushups in a row, and I feel that I should tell you why. I have had two cycling accidents while living in Iowa.
The first one occurred 4 years ago, and it was really stupid and completely my fault. I was biking the 0.25 miles from my apartment to the pool (why I didn't just walk, I am still lamenting!) and my shoulder bag fell into the spokes on the front of my bike. I went over the handlebars and tore up the ligament that connects my clavicle to my shoulder blade. It healed pretty quickly in terms of daily activities, but anything where I bear my bodyweight on my shoulders (i.e. pushups, dips) feels weird like it could tear anytime.

A year later, I was biking to work at 8:30 in the morning. I had recently moved across town and was excited to live on a bike trail that took me directly to work. That trail intersected roads several times along the route, and at one particular crossing, a woman stopped at a red light, looked right at me, and turned right on the red light directly into my bike. I flew into the crossing and landed on my head and my right shoulder - the same one that had suffered from the previous fall. I was lucky in that I must have instinctively braced myself for the fall, because the next day revealed how sore the muscles in my arms were. I was back to square 1 on pushups, and I was just recently able to do a dip without feeling like I am going to tear my clavicle out of my body - my first one in 4 years!

I feel lucky that I can even do pushups and dips and that I didn't damage myself to the point of losing my active lifestyle, but I can't put too much pressure on my shoulders. I don't believe it would be smart for me to try to stay in the pushup position for 100 reps. Some day I will be able to do it, but I have to work with what I can do right now.

This is my plan for the 100 pushup challenge. Feel free to follow along OR modify it to make your own goal.

1) 1 day per week will be devoted to the 100 pushup challenge. This doesn't mean that I will only do pushups 1x per week, but it leaves me the freedom to swim, do yoga, Group Power (like Body Pump), or Bodyrock on other days.

2) I will do the pushups in reps of 10, it will be like an extended burpee or squat thrust. I will go down on the ground, do 10 pushups, jump my legs in, and jump up. Repeat.

3) When I can no longer do my push-ups on my toes, I'll drop to my knees and continue.

4) Every week, I'll report the toe-pushups and the knee-pushups. I hope to improve the ratio to the point where I'm doing my pushups on my toes every week.

5) God forbid this becomes to easy, I will move to reps of 20, and so on.

All right, I know you can't resist....who wants to do the 100 pushup challenge with me?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Summer Goals Update

Ok, it's time for the first summer goals update!

It was really inspiring to hear about your personal goals for the summer, whether it was to  move more, do your first 5k, or try some longer cycling events. Does anyone have any new goals or updates this week?

1) Run 60 miles per month for the months of May, June, and July. 

2) Build towards, and ride, one 50 mile bike ride before the end of August. 

3) Swim 5x per month for the months of May, June, and July. 

4) 100 pushup challenge, modified.

For the month of May, I'm doing ok. I need to step it up in some arenas, but I'm ready to roll in others. 

So far, I have: 

1) 50.25 miles run for the month.

2) Longest ride: 30 miles. I've been building +5 miles per week all month. 

3) 2x (hmmmm....gonna be tough to get them all in before the 31st!)

4) 70 up/30 knees. More explanation later. 
Off to a good I have some interesting science to share with ya'll later this week. Tell me your updates! I'd love to hear!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

New recipes!

I know I went MIA on ya'll this week. I don't have any excuses...just feeling uninspired. Luckily, a relaxing weekend has cured that and I have some fun ideas for post this week. And I'll do my summer goals update and pushup challenge post ASAP. Promise.

 What have I been doing? Well...I made the cookies I donated to Tina's blogger bake sale. They sold for $35.00, but the donation that the winner sent was $100.00. That officially makes these the most expensive cookies I've ever made!

Since I know you also want to make yourself some $100.00 cookies, I thought I'd share the recipe.

Crispy Almond Wafer Cookies
2 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1.25 cups almond flour

With an electric beater (or really strong arm), beat the sugar and egg whites together until they form small, soft peaks. You can also add a little cream of tartar to make it easier. When they form loose, glossy peaks, mix in the almond flour (or equivalent amount of crushed almonds for a crunchier texture).

If you like the plain flavor (which is delicious, really) you can spoon or pipe the cookies into small mounds on parchment paper and bake at 400 for 10 minutes...but you can also flavor these and they turn out so amazing, so delicious, that you may not be able to keep your fingers out of them. 

Our favorite flavorings: 
Mocha: 2 tsp dutched cocoa, 1/2 tsp espresso powder
Lavendar: use 1/2 tsp lavendar buds (organic if you can get them)...that's it. It's amazing. 
Rosemary/Lemon: zest of 1/2 a lemon, 2 tsp rosemary 

Once cooked, they will be flat, crispy on the outside, chewy in the center. You can cool them and make sandwich cookies by filling them with chocolate ganache or buttercream frosting. Both are really good, I swear!

I also tried out a salad recipe that was sent to me via one of the Women's Health e-mail services. They had some summer salad recipes, and this one caught my eye: Curry-Lime Biryani Salad. Highlights are that it's vegetarian, can be either a meal or a side, is COLD (good for hot days), and high protein.

Also, for all you doubtful folks, the fiance raved about the mouthfeel, the flavor, and the substance of this salad, so it's not just my crazy tastebuds!

As you can see, I made some substitutions. Here they are, in list format:

Black quinoa for plain
1.5 c garbanzos for 1 tbsp of olive oil in the quinoa
Key limes (10) for regular limes (2)
extra 1/4 c almonds for 1 tbsp olive oil in the dressing
Added shredded green pepper for extra crunch

The substitutions keep the calories in the dish about the same, but just cuts the fat and builds up the protein and fiber. I don't like to consume tbsps of olive oil that I won't enjoy when I can get more beans/almonds for the same nutritional "price".

Also, this is a standard soup bowl and it contains about 1/6 of the recipe, which is under 300 calories. Not bad. It made a nice snack...and it's suprisingly filling. I need to push back my run another half hour...oooff.

Finally, I made some bread to go with our cabbage rolls (recipe here) on Friday night.

This is beer bread. That's right: Two of our favorite food groups - beer and carbohydrates - in one amazing mixture. It's delicious, soooooo easy, and quick.

The recipe comes from this book, which is one of my favorite food nerd books every (paired with its prequel of the same name). It's written for people with minimal science education, and there are some recipes interspersed for fun. I highly recommend it.

The beer bread was a recipe that followed a discussion on leavening agents - baking soda, baking powder, yeast, etc. It's so simple: beer, self-rising flour, and sugar. No rising time, bakes for an hour, slightly sweet, and goes well with saucy foods. Yummmm.

Ok, I'm almost done. We should have a new recipe later this week. It's inspired by the fiance's dish at The Cheesecake Factory - Shrimp Franchese....very good, very simple. We're going to try to recreate it in the kitchen this week.

I won't be gone long this time. Enjoy your Sunday, everyone!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Read me!

Due to Blogger's snafu's last week (many of you know, but they were essentially down Wednesday night-Friday morning), I have a lot of half written blogs that didn't get finished. I had some Italian cousins in town, which was wayyyyy more important than writing, you know?

Another important thing: Tina at carrotsncake is having another blogger bake sale today (link). You should go peruse and possibly purchase a treat. She is raising money for another charity run - this time the NYC marathon - and needs our help. Also, yours truly might have donated the pretty little sandwich cookies pictured above...with your choice of flavors: Lavendar, Rosemary/Lemon, Almond, Mocha, Cocoa with orange, etc.

Have a good day!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

When did it get hot? (And Drake Relays race recap)

Suddenly, Iowa decided to skip Spring (yeah...did you get Spring? I think we might've gotten a couple of days of it...) and go right into Summer. Like, July.
Don't you love how it's 93 and sunny today (nice breeze, btw) and by Saturday our weather completely deteriorates to chilly and rainy? That's Iowa. Actually, the weather people in the midwest get it wrong A LOT so it'll probably still be 93 and sunny on Saturday. One can hope, right?

Anyway, I'm chilling in the AC on the couch, catching up on my blogging, while I wait for the temp to come down a couple degrees. I plan to go for a short, hot run around 8pm. Hopefully it feels good and I don't die. I'm thinking a coconut water bribe might be in store.

Since it's inevitably going to be a miserably hot run, let's think backward towards a beautiful 13.1 miles I ran two weekends ago: Drake Relays On-the-Roads 1/2 marathon.

Drake Relays is an Iowa classic. It's fast, it's flat, and it's super cheap. I think I registered for $30.00 ahead of time.

The race started and finished on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines.

It's a beautiful campus, but it borders on a pretty bad part of town. When I went down for packet pickup, I found out that all the parking lots were $8.00 to park in, so I went in search of a street-side parking spot. I got one around 0.5 miles away in the ghetttttoooooo (or as ghetto as Iowa gets). So, I walked 0.5 miles to pick up my packet and 0.5 miles back. I think I spent nearly double the amount of time walking as I did actually picking anything up.

But I digress...I went home, surveyed my supplies, and laid out my stuff for the next morning. It was supposed to be rainy and 60ish, so I planned to layer, layer, layer.

Wicking jacket, crops with pants to wear over them, bra top, wicking t-shirt, hat, and ipod.

And the ugliest pair of running shoes I've ever owned. I only buy one brand/model (Nike Air Pegasus), and I usually buy a few pairs at a time and then 'retire' them into my work shoes for a cycle after I reach 500 miles. These are really ugly and WILL NOT make it to their work shoe rotation. A little bright for my taste, you know? But, it's what's inside that counts, right?

I went to bed and actually slept really well beforehand, and I set out to get ready for the race. Drake Relays is nice because it starts at 8am and you can park on-site, so I didn't need to leave for the race until about 6:30.
It wasn't raining when I left, so I just wore the crops and left the pants at home. Sorry for the filthy mirror!

This is where the pictures end and the problems begin. I got to the race site and realized my first mistake. I left my timing chip at home! What a newbie mistake! This is what happened...I picked up both my own packet and a friend's packet. He wasn't going to run the race, but he had signed up and wanted his t-shirt (injured...not weirdly into race shirts or anything). When I picked up my packet, I threw my chip into his bag...where it was hanging on my closet door until Monday morning. Ugh! 

I talked to the registration people and after a huge, unneccesary hullabaloo, they said I could run the race and if I didn't care about my official time, they didn't care. Unfortunately it took 25 minutes and three people to get that answer. I mean, I know I screwed up, but I feel like this probably happens all the time and there should be a canned answer for it. Either yes, you can run, or no, go home. Either way was fine, I just needed to know!

Ok,  so I get that figured out, ditch my jacket, and get to the start line on time. This was when my second mistake occurred. I brought a 10 oz water bottle and planned to rely on the race course for the rest of my water and nutrients. WHY DID I THINK THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA?!?! I totally know better. But, I've been spoiled lately with races that provided gatorade at every water stop, so I thought I wouldn't need it.

The race started, and the course was beautiful. The sun came out, it was nice and cool, and they had us running through these nice neighborhoods with rolling hills. Course support was awesome, and they managed to keep many roads clear for us. I was great until about mile 8, when I knew I made a mistake not carrying any Gu's or gels or gatorade, but I had no choice but to finish, so I trudged along. I alternated walking/running and kept my head up. I knew I would finish, but my time was pretty slow for me. I got in at approximately 2:10, and my knee, which had really bothered me during the St. Louis 1/2 a few weeks earlier, really only reared its ugly head starting at mile 10.

I walked to the car, and on my way home I stopped and got something really unhealthy. A real Coca-cola. I figure if they serve it on the Ironman courses, it was good enough for me! I have never tasted a better soda!

Second 1/2 marathon of the year done. Almost to my 3 x 1/2 marathon goal, and since I just set new summer fitness goals, I'm super excited to get started working on them.

If you want to work towards summer fitness goals together, just leave your goals in the comments section and I'll be happy to be your cheering squad!

Ok, coconut water is in the fridge and it's almost time to go brave the heat for a few miles. Back with a post on the 100 pushup challenge soon!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Summer Fitness Goals

Thanks to my awesome friends (! and you! and you!), I have new fitness goals for the summer. 

(In case you missed why this was necessary, explanation here)

You all had a zillion really good ideas, but I needed to be sure to pick goals that were achievable, cheap, and just challenging enough. 

These are my goals: 

1) Run 60 miles per month for the months of May, June, and July. 

2) Build towards, and ride, one 50 mile bike ride before the end of August. 

3) Swim 5x per month for the months of May, June, and July. 

4) 100 pushup challenge, modified. 

Before I go into any more details, I want to invite you to participate in my challenge, or build you own. One of the best ways to achieve your goals is to be accountable to someone else, or a community of people. We can build that community. Plus, I'll cheer lead for you every week!

In fact, I think this seems like such a good idea that I think I'll also offer a small prize to people who participate all summer long. You don't even have to completely reach your goal - you just have to work towards it. 

So, this is how it's going to work for me: 

I log my own exercise in Google calendar already, so once each week I will report (sometimes confess...) how the week went for me. I know myself well enough to know that sometimes I won't be perfect. I'll tell you about it. I plan to report until August 31. I will give one final report in the beginning of September, where I will also brag about how well anyone else who participates does.

In the comments section of those weekly reports, you are welcome to report your own progress. I would ask that at the beginning of the summer, you set your goals, and in the first line of your check-in, you remind us of your goals. Alternately, you can e-mail me at thehealthydoc at gmail dot com. You can send pictures, too. I'm happy to make my friends "famous on the internets!". I'll recap your successes as well as my own. 

Why not start right now -- 

Goals: 60mpm run, 50mi bike ride, 5xm swim, 100 pushup challenge. 

This week: 15.6 miles May, 20 mile long ride, no swimming, misc pushups.

See? I'm not perfect. Next week I'm going to start the pushup challenge (it gets its own post - it's kind of complicated) and make an effort to get to the pool. In the meantime, I feel like I'm right on track with my other goals.

What are you summer fitness goals? It can be ANYTHING: a 5k, walking your dog, learning to canoe, getting to the gym X times per week, biking to work, ANYTHING. Let's move together!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Food Fears: Toxins

During my recent detox (recap here), I spent a lot of time thinking about what exactly I was removing from my body.

I mean, detox implies toxins, right? You are removing toxins from your body. That seems obvious...but how did those toxins get into my body? And what exactly do I need to do to remove them?

As many of you know, I am a trained biochemist. I understand many aspects of how organisms work at the chemical level, and I dabble in immunology and food science, but I'm by no means an expert. So, when it doubt, I looked up some info.

First, I looked up the definition of toxin:

toxin: a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism and is usually very unstable, notably toxic when introduced into the tissues...

(Thank you Merriam-Webster). 
So, when we're talking about toxins, we're talking about something produced by an organism that is somehow harmful to my body. I have to ingest, be infected by, or somehow come in contact with such things to have a toxin in my body to remove. 
Some really common toxins: 
  Botulinum Toxin: 
Clostridium botulinum is the bacteria responsible for making the botulinum toxin, which has recently re-emerged as a popular chemical for cosmetic manipulation (Commercial name Botox). 

Besides its use as a popular cosmetic injectable, botulinum toxin is a rare, but deadly food poisoning agent. Early in the development of commercial methods for preservation, it would contaminate canned goods. This is because Clostridium botulinum grows anaerobically (i.e. an = without, aerobic = air; anaerobic = without air) and can grow easily in sealed cans provided that the contents provide enough nutrients and are at the right pH. During its growth, the bacteria produces botulinum toxin, which remains in the food even after the bacteria is killed. 

Botulinum toxin is a toxin that effects your nerves and brain, which is defined as a neurotoxin. It causes your muscles to fail by blocking the release of specific chemicals that signal movement to your muscles. It binds irreversibly, which means that the damage is done permanently - or until your body recycles that machinery and builds new machinery. Botulinum toxin is also extremely toxic. There are several forms of it, and the most potent form is lethal to a 200 lb human in concentrations of 0.0000001 gram. Try to imagine that tiny, tiny amount!

While much of canning technology has improved and contamination by botulinum toxin is now rare, a serious outbreak occurred a few years ago in Bolthouse Farms carrot juice. Because Clostridium botulinum is an environmental bacteria that exists in a lot of soils, consuming improperly stored raw foods can lead to poisoning. In our community of healthy living, I am consistenly worried about people who cold press and store juices, especially root veggies like ginger, carrot, and beet. Be very careful, and I would encourage you to not store juices for more than a couple days, and always in the fridge! 


Lets switch gears and talk about another kind of common poisoning - more classical food poisoning - which can be caused by a variety of bacteria, but basically uses the same mechanism. This mechanism is dependent on enterotoxins, which are usually bacterial proteins that are released to wreck havoc on your intestines. 

The common causes of enterotoxin-based food poisoning are the following: 

Escherichia coli 
Clostridium perfringens
Salmonella sp. (variety of species)

Other non-food based diseases with similar mechanisms include: 
Dysentery (Shigella dysenteriae)
Cholera (Vibrio cholerae)
Montezuma's revenge (variety of bacteria causes, sometimes parasites like Giardia lamblia)

Each of these bacteria have slightly different toxins, but they all have similar mechanisms and symptoms. Classical food poisoning manifests as diarrhea and abdominal cramps, and this is due to the toxin produced by the bacteria. 

To understand how it works, we have to go back to some basic biology and talk about tonicity. 

In, our bodies, every organ and tissue is made from cells. 

Those cells have water and electrolytes (like sodium and potassium) on the inside of the cell and on the outside of the cell: (raindrops = water, green dots = electrolytes). 

In a normal cell, there is a balance between the inside and the outside of the cell. This keeps the cell hydrated and round. However, if there is a lot of electrolytes outside the cell (or too little water), water will flow from inside to outside: 

This make the cell collapse (it's called being hypertonic).

Alternately, if the cell has too many electrolytes inside (or too little water), water flows into the cell from outside. 

This makes the cells enlarge (called hypotonic):
Having this happen all the time would be really annoying. Our bodies would have to be very elastic, as we get hydrated and dehydrated many times over the course of the day. Instead, our bodies have mechanisms to minimize this activity. 

Cells have ion channels. These proteins allow for ions like electrolytes to move into and out of the cell in a controlled manner. Often, they are energy dependent, and that makes them tightly controlled by our bodies. In our intestines, we have very highly controlled ion channels that have a regulating protein that is controlled by another chemical. 

If the ions (in this case, Chlorine (Cl-)) needs to be moved outside the cell to balance the water, the purple signalling molecule binds to the orange regulatory molecule, and the channel opens to move the ions out. If they need to be moved in, ion channels can also do that.

As you can imagine, this is a really a complex and highly regulated operation that happens everyday in our bodies. 

When we have food poisoning via a toxin mediated infection (like E.coli, V.cholerae, or S.dysenteriae), the bacteria makes a toxin that binds to a protein that produces the purple regulatory molecule. The purple regulatory molecule (cAMP for all of you super-nerds out there) then turns on the ion channel and won't let it turn off. The ions go outside the cell. Then there is the kicker: The water in your intestines follows them outside the cell. You become dehydrated as your body freaks out trying to get your intestines to balance their tonicity. 

The danger with these enterotoxins comes from dehydration and the stress caused by diarrhea to your body (i.e. tears and blood). Sometimes ruptures occur and then the bacteria spread outside the gut and into the blood. This is incredibly dangerous and should be treated immediately. 

Shellfish poisoning
Let's switch gears one last time. Let's talk about these guys: 

Shellfish from contaminated environments can be very dangerous to humans, in that it causes a variety of paralytic, diarrheal, and neuronal symptoms. 

Bivalves like mussels, clams, scallops, etc feed by filtering through smaller organisms and using their nutrients. However, these smaller organisms are very susceptible to environmental toxins and stresses that cause the production of small molecules for defense. It turns out that paralytic shellfish poisoning isn't actually caused by the shellfish, but algal blooms (sidenote: Jill, maybe you should've seen if certain committee members had a softspot for bivalves and pitched your bloom-reducing research with that in mind ;)). These algal blooms contaminate the water with saxitoxin, which is then filtered into the small organisms that the oysters eat. The oysters and clams can clear the toxin from their bodies, but it takes anywhere from weeks to years. 

How does it work? For those of you who were wondering about the science lesson associated with enterotoxins (above), yes, it is useful again. 

So, enterotoxins cause our ion channels to be more overactive by causing overproduction of cAMP, the small molecule that activates the ion channels. Saxitoxin, the toxin responsible for paralytic shellfish poisoning ALSO uses our ion channels, but in a different way. 

Saxitoxin causes paralysis by blocking our sodium/potassium ion channels, which are really important for our neurons. Blocking neuron function effectively blocks movement at a very global scale. This results in the paralysis in the name.


Normal neuronal synapses can send signals to eachother using either chemical or electrical means. They can release chemicals from one neuron, which can then be received by receptors at another neuron, or they can build up an electrical charge and then 'zap' the next neuron and create a signal. 

In order to build up that electrical current, the ion channels need to be involved. Much like in cellular tonicity, the ions want to balance across the membrane. Instead of allowing the ions to balance across the membrane, the ion channels block their exit from the neuron. This causes an electrical potential to build up across the membrane, since one side will have a lot of positive charges of sodium and potassium, and the other will have much fewer positive charges because the sodium and potassium aren't being released. This occurs until a critical charge, when the electrical potential is released: ZAP!

In order to get ready for the next signal, the ions have to be controlled. Saxitoxin prevents control of the ions by blocking the ion channels, and preventing them from recycling to a neutral state post-electrical output. This makes the synapse unable to carry the next signal that comes along.

Paralytic shellfish poisoning is controlled by monitoring the waters that the fish are grown in. Since much of our shellfish is farmed, those waters are treated to prevent algal blooms. Fishermen try to use responsible harvesting techniques to prevent such events in wild populations, but as the climate changes and the ocean environment changes over time, this may turn out to be a huge problem in the future.

Obviously, I wasn't suffering from these types of toxins during my recent detox. So what was I removing from my body? Stay tuned for another science overview in the near future that highlights toxic chemicals and minerals in our daily diets and how they can be removed from our bodies!