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04 Oct 2011

Yacon ~ Fruit of the Earth

Ingredients, Nutrition, Superfoods, Travel 1 Comment

Back in 2004 I first came across what I would later learn to be yacon. The name I originally learned,  ¨Apple of the Earth,¨ was one of many terms used for this product.  This tuber grows from Costa Rica all the way down to northern Argentina and Chile.  Being that many different groups live within the massive geographical space this plant naturally inhabits, it is no wonder how it came to acquire different names from the many different peoples whom encountered it.  The second thing about the tuber to catch my attention was the description of a novelty approach to ¨extracting the honey¨ from it.   I knew of honeys from flowers, but never had I heard of honey from a tuber!  My interest grew even greater when it was described that this ¨honey¨ was apt for diabetics.   From working in the health food and supplement industry, I had already been told of many extraordinary and exaggerated claims and this one sounded no different.  Regardless of my skepticism, I did not want to jump to conclusions and discredit the product before I knew more about it.

This was around the time Darin started Darin’s Naturals and asked me to work with him.  He and I would get together to brainstorm ideas for the future of the company.  During one of those exciting, early sessions, I mentioned to Darin what I had heard about yacon.  Needless to say, Darin, being the visionary that he is, was also instantly intrigued and we began to investigate these miraculous claims further.  I believe it was less than six months later that Darin and I were on a plane bound for Peru.  Darin, along with some of Peru’s most prestigious and respected experts in the field of Andean crop management, essentially introduced yacon as a functional food of interest in the United States.  Oddly enough, the interest of pursuing the development of this crop brought about a surprising turn of events for yacon, as we were later told that this crop had been in fast decline as a crop of interest in its native Peru.  Most yacon was being grown in small family patches and there were no commercial-scale plantations anywhere in the country.  At maximum,  between two and three hectares had been planted experimentally by universities and local farmers to supply local consumers who were quickly beginning to consume cheaper, more convenient products, such as artificial juices and candies.   While in Peru, we were told that in the past yacon was grown around the edge of the main crops like potatoes, corn, and quinoa.  During the day’s intense work hours farmers would pluck one of the plants, often nearly five feet tall with large green leaves, and clean it before allowing it to lay briefly in the sun.   At that point they would continue to peel the skin and consume the fresh root.  The farmers would lay it in the sun to allow for its sweetness to be potentiated.  The taste resembles a combination of a pear and a raw potato.   The texture is crisp and crunchy and it is very refreshing, as it is mostly made up of water.   Peru’s declining interest in yacon at the time of our visit was surprising considering that at one point after European colonization it was grown across the entire Incan empire.  During the 1940′s, Italian agronomist Mario Calvino discovered the tuber while working in the Dominican Republic.  He took some tubers and planted them in the northern part Italy with the intention of using the exuberant vegetation as fodder and for converting into alcohol for fuel.  Most, if not all of the yacon in southern Europe currently used for research purposes or, to a lesser degree, for consumption comes from Calvino’s original fields.  Unfortunately the events of WWII completely halted Calvino’s plans for the yacon, after which his work was mostly forgotten.  Interest in Calvin’s studies has only been revived in the past five to ten years, primarily in the Czech republic.

So I’m fairly certain you are still wondering, “Can you really extract a honey from this tuber which is suitable for diabetics?” In reality it is not honey per se, but rather a molasses-like syrup which is obtained from the condensation of the fresh juice of the root. After the government dismantled a number of terrorist groups in Peru during the 1990′s, most of the communities were faced with the challenging task of rebuilding anew.   Groups like the International Potato Center and other international agencies have been working on projects to develop crops which can provide a source of income and self-esteem for the people and their communities, cultures, and environment.  It was at the end of the 1990′s, amidst these changes, that the investigation towards yacon honey began.  The process of obtaining the honey is quite simple.  There is a reduction of the fresh yacon juice at a certain temperature until you generate the desired consistency.   This is an interesting idea, though it does not completely satisfy our criteria for a holistic product given that the product must be cooked for a period of time and afterward pasteurized, as required by law. The sweet FOS (Fructooligosaccharides) obtained from Yacon, has been popular as a dietary fiber supplement in Japan since the early 1990′s due to the fact that FOS is more soluble than inulin.  Though we must clarify that inulin is the predecessor of FOS, once inulin is converted to FOS, this final structure is more useful for industrial purposes such as for adding to yogurts and drinks.  Also, it must be clarified that there is a wide spread interest in molecules like FOS, because of the benefits it can have on our health, yet not everything containing FOS is healthy for you.  We at Darin’s Naturals like to respect and revere the wisdom of nature and we do so by not isolating components, but rather by acknowledging that there is still much to learn in regards to biochemistry of both plants and the human body.  For this reason we acknowledge that the whole product contains other components which play a key role in health, even if we have yet to identify them. Generally speaking, yacon is not really appreciated beyond its sweet, low caloric, prebiotic, low glycemic attributes.  By working in the field and in the lab we now are learning many more exiting things about the plant, such as the fact that yacon is rich in the amino acid tryptophan.  Tryptophan is found more evidently in the leaves of the plant, but it is also present in the root.  A wide range of phenolic compounds are also being discovered as more and more interest is directed towards the growing and processing of this tuber.  Phenolic compounds play a primary defensive role in the plants and potentially work as an antioxidant in the body when consumed.   Some of the most well known and popular phenolic compounds are compounds such as silymarin, resveratrol, and quercetin.  Analysts have concluded that yacon contains the phenolic acids gallic acid, caffeic acid, and octulosonic acid, just to name a few of the ever-growing list of compounds found in the root.  There is still much work to be done with yacon, though we are already thrilled with our findings.  Listening to experts and those who have worked the land and the product for generations has been tremendously helpful.  We will continue to update you as we learn more about the various uses and benefits of powerful yacon!

REFERENCES J. Seminario, M. Valderrama & I. Manrique (2003). El yacón: fundamentos para el aprovechamiento de un recurso promisorio. International Potato Center, Universidad Nacional de Cajamarca, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Lima, Perú.

60 p. I. Manrique & M. Hermann (2004). “El potencial del yacón en la salud y la nutrición”. XI Congreso Internacional de Cultivos Andinos, Cochabamba, Bolivia.

I. Manrique, M. Hermann, T. Bernet (2004) (PDF). Yacon – Fact Sheet. International Potato Center. ISBN 92-9060-244-9.   (Also available in Spanish.)

A. Grau, J. Rea (1997). M. Hermann and J. Heller (eds). ed. Yacon. Smallanthus sonchifolius. 21. Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Gatersleben/International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, Rome, Italy. pp. 199–242.

S. Graefe, M. Hermann, I. Manrique, S. Golombek & A. Buerkert (2004). “Effects of post-harvest treatments on the carbohydrate composition of yacon roots in the Peruvian Andes” (PDF). Field Crops Research 86: 156–165. doi:10.1016/j.fcr.2003.08.003.

Berrin, Katherine (1997). The Spirit of Ancient Peru:Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. Larco Museum New York: Thames and Hudson K. Valentova K, L Cvak, A Muck, J lrichova, V Simanek (January 2003).

“Antioxidant activity of extracts from the leaves of Smallanthus sonchifolius”. Eur J Nutr. 42 (1): 61–62. doi:10.1007/s00394-003-0

04 Oct 2011

Indispensible Kitchen Utensil 3: Music System

Kitchen Utensils, Quality of Life, Superfoods No Comments

We continue with a multi-part series that you will find in this and many issues to come.  Each newsletter we will discuss another tool that can help you to grow, clean, cook, and prepare healthy treats in your own kitchen.  Some of these items will sound familiar, while others you may be hearing about for the first time.  There is no need to be intimidated! Gathering all the necessary components of a healthy kitchen can take time.  What is most important is that you make an effort to fully learn how each new product can assist you in generating nutrient-rich, life-giving meals for yourself and your family!

Indispensable Kitchen Utensil 3: Music System

We live in a universe of energies and frequencies, noticed and unnoticed, which affect us throughout our lives.  I believe that this extends into the cooking and preparation of our food.  The mood we are in when we cook affects the foods we choose, prepare, and eventually eat.  Some of us are familiar with the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto, as explained in the movie What the Bleep Do We Know and through many other media outlets.  Dr. Emoto works with water and the design of water molecules when influenced by various external stimuli, including sound, touch, words, music, emotions, and even thoughts.  Through his work he has shown how water takes on beautiful shapes when exposed to positive energies, such as prayers and words like “love,” “beauty,” and “gratitude.” Fittingly, water takes on completely distorted shapes when exposed to abrasive, violent music.  The shape of water was also distorted when exposed to words like “hate,” “rage,” or “kill.”  While Dr. Emoto’s discoveries are too extensive to cover in this article, let us borrow his ideas and apply them to our kitchens.  Considering that water is a primary component of the foods we eat, if we think of Dr. Emoto’s studies, we can assume that the energy surrounding our food has the power to alter its molecular structure.

Cue the music!  Music is one of humankind’s greatest contributions to the world.  It has the power of changing our mood and our perception of time.  For centuries farmers and fieldworkers have sang songs while planting, harvesting, and preparing food.  Important ceremonies in ancient times were often accompanied both by food and by music.  In modern times, the relationship between music and food is not acknowledged as strongly as in the past.  We associate music with working out, driving, and meditating, but rarely do we think of music as an essential ingredient in our lunches and dinners.

If music has the power to energize, de-stress, and entertain us, it makes perfect sense to bring that energy into the kitchen.  Next time you are cooking, play some joyful tunes to pass the time and keep the mood light and joyful!

04 Oct 2011

Amazing Avocado Superfood ~ the Benefits of Avocado

Nutrition, Optimum Health, Recipe, Superfoods No Comments

Benefits of Avocado

How many of you have heard of the infamous ¨prairie oysters?”  For those who are unfamiliar with this term, “prairie oysters,” simply put, it means bull’s testicles.  Allow me to explain what all of this has to do with the title of this article.  I imagine that only a very daring or a very hungry person would like the idea of consuming testicles, yet most of us consume them more often than we think!  I am not referring to those who eat fast food or sausages and patties with “mystery meats” as you may have assumed.  Quite oppositely, I am thinking of vegans, vegetarians, and avocado lovers everywhere.  Of course these “testicles” are not really testicles, but rather this is ancient anthropomorphism at its finest!

I am of the opinion that our ancestors were wiser than we are today, primarily because they had a different relationship to their environment.  The ancients were wise to observe and deduce from their environment which products would serve them as food or as medicine.   They generally considered the shapes in nature to be homologous to the parts of the human body that would be benefited when consumed or applied.  Avocado was no different!  The reason why I began this article by referencing testicles is for the simple reason that the name derives from the Nahuatl word for the very same organ.  Avocado derives from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl, which translates to the word aguacate in Spanish, which later was adapted to the English word, avocado.  The first nations of the past keenly observed the round, oval-shaped dark fruit hanging from trees.  It is not difficult to understand why the analogy between the fruit and the body part was made.  Furthermore, the mesoamerican nations considered the Avocado tree to be the ¨tree or fruit of fertility,¨ thus, one of the benefits of avocado.

In ancient times, everyone was allowed to enjoy the benefits of avocado.

Spanish conquistadors encountered an avocado tree growing in the yards of every household in these first nation’s villages.  In the larger cities like Tikal and Palenque it was also common to see the large avocado trees supplying fruit when in season.  In these cultures, tribute was paid to the emperor through a myriad of gifts, including mushrooms, birds, reptiles, insects, mammals, fruits, nuts and seeds etc.  Stories continue to circulate of parades of 300 young men carrying baskets to the emperor, filled with riches from every corner of the empire.  Some of these plants and fruits were revered throughout history.  Similarly, we honor those products today when we refer to them as “superfoods,” due to their peculiar nutritional/medicinal benefits. Among the many gifts that one might find in the ancient gift baskets would be familiar superfoods, such as chia, cacao, vanilla, amaranth, and of course, avocado.

At the point in history when Europeans arrived in the “new world,” three empires, the Aztec, Inca, and Maya, ruled much of the land.  The large populations, advanced technologies, complex social structures, and great wealth of these societies was tremendously impressive to the Europeans.  The agricultural achievements they had accomplished were nothing short of outstanding.  At the time, avocado was consumed by all of society, from the commoners to the emperor and ruling classes.  The fruit was widely believed to have potent medicinal and mystical power (the beginning of understanding the benefits of avocado).  This was quite rare, considering that usually the most powerful foods, including cacao, vanilla, and spirulina were reserved mostly for the higher classes.  The avocado was also appreciated for its beautifying effect and fertility enhancing capabilities (more of the benefits of avocado).  Renowned Mexican chef and historian, Edmundo Escamilla, has said that after the Spaniards understood the importance of the fruit they where quick to incorporate avocado into their diets. Comically, Escamilla lectures that it was the Spanish women who forced their husbands to plant avocado trees and consume their mystical powers.

Avocado is a truly ancient fruit, existing as far back as 10,000BC, though realistically the domestication of the tree dates to approximately 7000-5000BC.  Evidence of the use of avocado in the Pre-Columbian era is depicted all across the Americas, from the southern US down to the furthest corners of the Incan empire.  For example, jars shaped in the form of the fruit were found in the massive adobe city of Chan-Chan, Peru.  Today the influence of the avocado has spread around the globe.  In lands where avocado does not grow well, the fruit can be quite expensive, yet the demand remains high.  Thankfully, avocado cannot easily be transformed, reduced, fractioned, or isolated like other fruits.  This means that we can still enjoy avocado in its entirety without having to wonder what process it has undergone.  We can safely cut into it to see if the fruit is ripe or spoiled, which we cannot do with canned, reduced, isolated or fractioned products due to the chemical preservatives, colorings, and other ¨tricks¨ used to give the false appearance of a healthy product.

The Benefits of Avocado

Beautiful Fruit… the Benefits of Avocado

Now lets get to the contemporary understanding and misunderstandings about avocado.  In not-so-ancient history, experts began to glorify or demonize foods on the basis of their macro nutrients.  For a long while, avocado was one of these demonized foods, because of its fat content.  In the 1980′s fat was fat, as simple as that.  This oversimplification of food has largely contributed to the collective deterioration of our health.  Great visionaries who truly understood food began to question this perspective and speak on its deficiencies.  Avocado is loaded with fat, thus it is sometimes called, “butter fruit.”  Approximately 75% of the calories in avocado fruit come from the lipids.  Though most would be quick to reject the fruit on this basis, we must clarify that the majority of the lipids are monounsaturated fats, the rest are almost evenly poly and saturated fatty acids.  Well if all fat is bad fat, then people in countries where the fruit is being heavily consumed, up to three times daily, should all be obese with widespread cardiovascular failure.  This is not the case, at least not in the rural communities in countries like Mexico, Indonesia, and Ethiopia where people consume the fruit multiple times per day.  In fact, avocado is full of beneficial ingredients.  Many are surprised to hear that the fruit is high in fiber, offering 7-10 grams of insoluble fiber per 100 grams of flesh.  Similarly to other fatty natural whole foods, avocado is high in the important, fat-soluble vitamins A,C, E,K and D.  Water-soluble vitamins like B5, Folate and B6 are also present in avocado in substantial amounts, though you can find all of the B vitamins present as well as the trace minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and potassium.

Avocado is homologous to other highly revered foods such as olives and açai, both of which are also extremely high in monounsaturated fatty acids.

avocado beneits

Benefits of Avocado

It is important to note, however, that monounsaturated fats are not what makes for good, balanced health, but rather the holistic matrix of vitamins and fatty acids working together that generates such positive effects when eaten.  So many foods have been demonized due to their high monounsaturated fatty acid content even though they can be highly beneficial to the body.  Some of these “fatty” natural foods are macadamias, peanuts, whole raw milk, sesame, and many others.  Another great fact about avocado is that the high nutritional density of the fruit, particularly its high fiber and phytosterol content, provides a feeling of satiety which signals us to stop eating before we start to feel overly full.   The nutrients found in the fruit also can have a positive effect on our hormonal, reproductive, nervous and metabolic systems, all of which helps us to properly utilize energy before we store it as adipose.

Due to the recent western acceptance of this fruit, we have just begun to understand the degree of nutritional and medicinal benefits of avocado.  More and more research is starting to elucidate other components found in the fruit which can serve us.  Recently we have come to understand that avocado is rich in beta sitosterol which is found in all fruits and vegetables, however its high content in avocado is certainly noteworthy.  Beta sitosterol is associated with the beneficial treatment of cholesterol and BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia), though this is still being evaluated.  As people begin to consume more avocado, the scientific community will have no choice but to further investigate the biological explanation of its undeniable benefits.

This is just a ¨brief¨ introduction to the history and more or less known benefits of avocado.  More will come your way as my research continues.  For now, listen to your gut and enjoy the wonders of this powerful superfood!

AVOCADO RECIPES – The Benefits of Avocado

Here is a good old school recipe for all of my avo-holics

avocado cacao smoothie

Benefits of Avocado … in a smoothie!

1 half of a medium avocado

1 teaspoon of raw honey

1/4 of a cup of alfalfa sprouts

2-3 oz of clean water

1 teaspoon of raw cacao (you can use nibs, whole beans or powder what ever you have on hand)

1 teaspoon of raw maca


Throw them all in the blender, blend, and enjoy it!

  • Here is a tip:

A Colombian naturopathic doctor claims the simple mixture of alfalfa sprouts, avocado, and raw honey to be as effective and potent as a very well known libido enhancer pharmaceutical.  Blending cacao, considered by Motecuzoma to be an aphrodisiac, and maca, well revered by the Andean cultures for its energy, vigor, and fertility enhancement potential, to make your own “Avo-Agra!”


Chen, H.; Morrell, P. L.; Ashworth, V. E. T. M.; De La Cruz, M.; Clegg, M. T. (2008). “Tracing the Geographic Origins of Major Avocado Cultivars”. Journal of Heredity 100 (1): 56–65. doi:10.1093/jhered/esn068. PMID 18779226University of California, What Kind of Fruit is the Avocado

Barry, PC (2001-04-07). “Avocado: The Early Roots of Avocado History”. Canku Ota.  Retrieved 2007-12-29.

“Avocado History”. Bloomington, CA: Index Fresh Avocado. 2007. Archived from the original on December 25, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-29.

“Online Etymology Dictionary – Avocado”. Retrieved 2010-05-12.

“Avocado Fun Facts”. California Avocado Commission.  Retrieved 2008-06-03.

Lopez Ledesma, R; Frati Munari, A C : Hernandez Dominguez, B C : Cervantes Montalvo, S : Hernandez Luna, M H : Juarez, C : Moran Lira, S (1996 Winter). “Monounsaturated fatty acid (avocado) rich diet for mild hypercholesterolemia”. Arch-Med-Res. 27 (4): 519–23. PMID 8987188.

Sugiyama, Takeyoshi; Sato, Akemi and Yamashita, Kyohei (1982). “Synthesis of All Four Stereoisomers of Antibacterial Component of Avocado”. Agricultural and Biological Chemistry 46 (2): 481–485.

1. Vahur Oja et. al., “Sublimation Thermodynamic Parameters for Cholesterol, Ergosterol, β-Sitosterol, and Stigmasterol,” Journal of Chemical & Engineering Data 54, no. 3 (March 12, 2009): 730-734, doi:10.1021/je800395m.

Awad, A. B.; Fink, C. S. Phytosterols as Anticancer Dietary Components: Evidence and Mechanism of Action. J. Nutr. 2000, 130, 2127-2130.

Moreau, R. A.; Whitaker, B. D.; Hicks, K. B. Phytosterols, Phytostanols, and Their Conjugates in Foods: Structural Diversity, Quantitative Analysis, and Health-Promoting Uses. Prog. Lipid Res. 2002, 41, 457-500.

Beta-Sitosterol and the Aging Prostate Gland, Dr Stephen B. Strum and William Faloon, Life Extension, Fort Lauderdale,FL, June 2005.Accessed: 12-19-2008.

Patel Manoj, D.; Thompson Paul, D. Phytosterols and Vascular Disease. Atherosclerosis 2006, 186, 12-19.

23 Aug 2011

Indispensable Kitchen Utensil 2 ~ Juicer for Juicing!

Kitchen Utensils, Nutrition, Optimum Health, Organic Foods, Superfoods 1 Comment


Indispensable Kitchen Utensil 2: Juicer for Juicing Diet and Everyday!

In order to return for a second visit and continue treatment with the famous Dr. Richard Schulze you must buy yourself a juicer. At first one might consider this to be a strange requirement. Generally the only necessity before returning to visit your doctor is that you pay your bill! It must be clarified that Dr. Schulze is not your common doctor. He is an herbalist and natural healer of the highest order. Dr. Schulze understands that most of his visitors are there because they are desperate and have come to an alternative healer as a last resort. His patients are generally suffering severely, if not dying, from disease so the first step is to provide their bodies with the elemental nutrients to kick-start the healing process. Hippocrates, the ancient healer, said ¨All diseases begin in the stomach.¨ Wise healers of today interpret Hippocrates’ theory to mean that all disease forms as a result of malnutrition and toxic accumulation in the intestines, leading to a compromised digestive system.

Juicing detox!



Regardless of the food you choose, if your digestive system cannot properly digest and integrate the food into the systemic biological matrix there is little healing that can take place. Juicing has been proven as an efficient method to introduce nutrients and eliminate toxins. Juicing is also easy and great fun since once you get accustomed to it you can start creating your own blends. When it comes to specific juicers, there is usually debate as to the best brand and the best process used to extract the juice. For example, some juicers completely eliminate all fiber while others include it. I think for someone new to juicing, search for something that makes financial sense for you and that is readily available. Remember that you may have a wider selection of product option if you choose to purchase your juicer via Internet or catalog.

Unfortunately for me, I live in Argentina and can only get my hands on the Oster juicer. Still, this is better than nothing. The idea here is to get juicing, later on you can discuss with others if there is a better product option out there. If available to you, I personally recommend the Solojuice Extractor II. I used to use this extractor over at the Vitamin barn in Malibu and it was a beauty! We used to abuse the poor thing since we had well over 200 customers per day requiring shooters of wheatgrass and ginger. Naturally, it would break down from time to time and require a part to be changed. This product can juice basically any fruit or veggie, extracting up to the last drop without stressing the veggie or fruit through extreme heat or pressure. You can also find this product over at the web page given for the sprout people ( whom I also mentioned in the last article for their sprouting materials. You can find the Soulojuice Extracter II listed on this website under “Sprouting Supplies” by then clicking on “Juicers.”

For the LOVE of Juicing!



As a note of caution, if you consume very little fresh fruits and veggies, have digestive complications, are diabetic or suffer from any other glycemic abnormality, or simply are new to juicing, it is highly recommended that you start with small quantities or dilute your juice. This is especially important because most people tend to juice the sweetest fruits and veggies at first since they provide a familiar taste. Apples, beets, carrots, and other sweet fruits and veggies, though potent and extremely healing, lose their fiber when juiced, which effectively eliminates the natural buffer to slow down the glucose uptake, thus not spiking your insulin. When juiced the sugars are then concentrated, particularly the fructose which can be problematic for some people.  As a recommendation, start small, use mostly greens with a small amount of sweet veggies or fruits or dilute with clean water. Also, you can add a teaspoon or more of essential fatty acids (EFAs) to help slow down the intake of the glucose.

Now you can enjoy the power and potency of juicing!

Stay tuned for the next indispensable kitchen utensil…

23 Aug 2011

What is a Picture Worth? Jungle Adventure By George Billard

Consciousness, Superfoods, Travel No Comments
The Rainforest

Darin’s Naturals Travel Diaries: The view was astounding. The lush greenery was shaking loose its moisture and creating a haze which fell atop the distant hills in shades of blue and gray. It was difficult to capture in a photograph. The foreground, a dense green carpet of jungle spiked by the occasional palm tree, was bursting with sound—insects, birds and roosters creating a symphony of life and wilderness. We had come to this mountainous area of Indonesia, a little more than an hour outside of Yogyakarta, to photograph family farmers at work as they gathered coconut flower nectar. Between the landscapes and the faces, I was in photography heaven.

The day went beautifully despite the pre-dawn departure from Bali followed by a typical, sweltering van ride to the outskirts of Yogya. Moving into the hills on motorcycles, we finally arrived at a small family farm where we were welcomed by the matriarch with ginger tea made from coconut water and sweet yams boiled in coconut sap. After carbing up, we witnessed what can only be described as very hard work. The men climb as many as fifty trees two times a day, carrying the coconut sap in clutches of bamboo containers that can weigh up to forty pounds. They do this without ladders, using only notches cut into the tree as toeholds. It is a backbreaking and dangerous process.

Coconut Sap Harvester
The Matriarch – A fan of the betel nut

The day progressed well and we headed deeper and higher into the jungle, up a winding and treacherous pass, to see a family as they boiled the coconut sap down into sugar. The difficulty of travel was soon forgotten as I was again warmly welcomed into the home of a local family. This kind of access is one of the great benefits of my work. As we began to lose daylight, it was time to head back down the mountain.

The roads (or what one accesses for travel instead of roads) were comprised of piles of rocks yielding to the occasional stretch of thick mud where the tropic rains had washed away grapefruit-sized chunks of gravel. Motorcycles were the only efficient way to travel, even commandeering a jeep would have been challenging. Returning from high in the mountains was treacherous for our convoy of seven cycles. We traversed over bone-rattling bumps leading to skids into muddy trenches. We had one more photo to shoot before sunset and I was looking forward to getting off the bike.

Sifting Sugar

Bumping along, feeling triumphant at having conquered the day, I was suddenly jolted forward as my front tire hit a deep crevice. The wheel flared out and my foot wedged between it and the chassis. The momentum threw the bike forward, snapping my leg like a number two pencil. I tumbled forward, landing half on the rocks and half on the tangled growth that gave way to the jungle below. An attempt to lift my leg sent lightning bolts of pain to my brain. Only my thigh moved; my shin flopped lifelessly on the ground, no longer subject to my will.

Excruciating! What is a picture worth?

So, there I was, lying by the side of a barely passable high mountain road outside of Yogyakarta, my shattered leg a screaming indictment of motorcycles as an intelligent form of transportation. Though the sun was beginning to set and there was no readily available way to get me down the mountain, my primary concern was finding a position that did not cause more agony. While I writhed around looking for any small measure of comfort, my very concerned colleagues scrambled to find a vehicle that could get up the road and transport me to the nearest medical facility.

Just the day before I had been working in Bali, one of the most beautiful places on the planet, attending an Odalan ceremony, a birthday celebration for a Hindu temple. The Balinese had brought their elaborate offerings of flowers and food. The devotion was intense and it was a rare privilege to photograph. Below are a few of the shots:

Offerings at Odalan Ceremony
The Faithful

Then there are the photos not taken… Like the one of me lying on the hot metal floor of a truck, my mangled limb delicately balanced atop my good leg as each bump in the road delivers a searing bolt of pain. Darkness had fallen and the heavy rain of the tropics sent a mist through the window as we bounced our way towards help. It is the ride from hell.

Two and a half hours later I was in a local clinic, two syringes of opioids beginning to work their magic. The facility was not equipped to offer me anything else, but I was grateful for the drugs. An ambulance arrived to take me to the hospital. After some x-rays and consultations with doctors, I was loaded into another ambulance, and then another hospital which would be able to handle what was required to fix my leg. Twenty-five hours after the accident, I was wheeled into surgery.


So, what is a picture worth? According to the bill presented to me at discharge, for seven screws and two plates, surgeons, nurses, anesthesiology, x-rays, medication, bandages, ambulance rides, and a 5-day stay in a private hospital room, the picture above is priced at $2,775.50. (Of which only sixty percent is reimbursable because, as Blue Cross Blue Shield has informed me, I opted out of using an in-network provider.) A rare bargain, by American standards and, in the end, a truly priceless experience.

-George Billard

A Note from Miguel:

This article was written by our fearless New York photographer, cameraman, and director while we traveled throughout Southeast Asia in search of the most pristine and potent products we could find for you. Special thanks should be given to George Billard for his exceptional work, his positive charisma, and his professionalism despite the severe roadblocks we ran into during this trip.


23 Aug 2011

Eating While Traveling ~ Eating Healthy on the Road

Nutrition, Superfoods, Travel, water No Comments

tropical-shakeology-boxAt Darin’s Naturals we constantly receive questions about what to eat and what not to eat.  Eating healthy on the road can be a challenge. Once you begin to listen to yourself and trust that you already know what the body requires, the challenge becomes finding foods that are both accessible and practical.  A variety of factors can complicate this matter, including the issue of what to eat while traveling.  Away from the comfort of your home kitchen, which you have so lovingly filled with delicious, healthy ingredients and treats, you may sometimes find yourself with limited options.

Eating Healthy On The Road

We would like to offer some suggestions for the hungry traveler and eating healthy on the road.  Beginning with transportation, it is best not to leave yourself at the mercy of airplane meals or roadside food services.  Perhaps treating yourself to a filling meal, whether at home or at an eatery you visit frequently, is a good way of staying full for the first leg of your travels.  For example, Darin often picks up a veggie burrito in town to satisfy his hunger before a long plane trip.  He also packs a laptop sized case with a variety of food products.

The list of things to pack for eating healthy on the road may look something like this:

trail mix for eating healthy on the road

trail mix for eating healthy on the road


Dried Fruits


Aloe Powder

Greens Powder

Vegan Protein Powder


Stabilized Liquid Oxygen (Check out

Handmade Individual Trail Mixes

Himalayan Salts To Add To Filtered Water

Water Filter That Can Be Hooked Up To A Faucet (Filters can be found in camping stores.)

Raw Food Bars or Good Nutritious Bars


Pulsing Machine (Uses a specific frequency current to neutralize parasites.  Try the products created by Dr. Hulda Clark or Dr. Christopher.)

Bananas for eating healthy on the road!

If possible, look for a healthy, conscious salad at mealtimes.  Remember to stay informed!  In order to eat produce you must be aware of the water quality in the region of your travel destination.  For eating healthy on the road, avoid fruits that cannot be peeled, raw vegetables, or anything that could be contaminated by poor local water quality!  Under these conditions bananas and oranges are often safe and available options for fresh snacks.

In addition, for eating healthy on the road, follow these precautions;

  • avoid ice cubes unless made from water using your own reliable water filter
  • Keep your mouth closed in the shower
  • wipe utensils before using
  • brush teeth with bottled water
  • and be sure the sealing on bottles that you purchase are fully intact
Bottled water for eating healthy on the road where water is contaminated

Bottled water for eating healthy on the road where water is contaminated

If your options are even too limited to find salads, a plain yogurt with trail mix can also be satisfying.  Trail mixes vary greatly, so be sure that you bring mixes from home or mixes from companies you recognize and trust.  Adopting products depending on where your location is sometimes possible, but you should not rely primarily on finding your ingredients wherever you travel.

Even with all of these preparations, eating healthy on the road while traveling can be difficult.  You may find that eating less while traveling is helpful.  Some may use traveling time as an opportunity to fast and give their digestive system a break for a few days.  Regardless of the challenges one faces in the search for healthy foods outside of the home, do not be discouraged.  There certainly are a number of products that can carry you through your travels, back to the abundance of your own kitchen!

23 Aug 2011

Charlotte Gerson – short video ~ from the Gerson Institute

Nutrition, Optimum Health, Quality of Life, Superfoods No Comments

25 Jun 2011

Make Food, Not War! Food Preparation with Family and Friends~

Consciousness, Herbs, Ingredients, Nutrition, Optimum Health, Organic Foods, Quality of Life, Superfoods 3 Comments

While standing in line at my local Whole Foods, I happened to look up to see the phrase, “Make food, not war.” It appears that everyone attempts to leave his or her mark on the world. People may take great courses of action, or simply think great thoughts and hope their actions and thoughts become immortalized as commonly reiterated slogans. There are so many of these catch-phrases, but unfortunately most fall short of their purpose or lose effectiveness through their own redundancy. The phrase “Make food, not war,” shines among the parade of hackneyed phrases thrown at us.

Food Preparation … Our Ancestors and Healthy Cooking

Most slogans have a time and space to impact us, depending on a variety of factors affecting us at any one moment. Usually, however, these catch-phrases pass unperceived through our conscious thought and quickly find their way into our subconscious trash bin. “Make food, not war,”struck a cord with me, partly because it is continuously becoming more apparent that there is little interest in the kitchen and food preparation and healthy cooking. We have become distracted with our daily chores, some of us feeling like we do not have the calling for the kitchen and others simply do not care for food preparation. The result of this estrangement is the near elimination of the kitchen altogether. Though some of us might find it unimportant, I believe the kitchen holds a magical power beyond practical influence on our daily lives. While generally we have come to think of the kitchen just as a room where food preparation occurs, most of us also have warm memories of the kitchen. Those memories hold a special meaning and have helped to define who we are. If one acknowledges not just the practical uses of the kitchen, but the spiritual moments within the kitchen, it is easy to determine that such a s space is extremely important within the home. Cooking itself has a life of its own. When diaspora brings ethnic groups to new countries or continents, it has been proven that while the language is the first to be lost, food is among the last elements of culture to disappear, if it ever does.

The lost art of food preparation and healthy cooking in the kitchen, a place for gathering while preparing…

Food Preparation…. part of the Family

Once I was invited to have dinner at an Italian-American friend’s house. Typically I do not tolerate Italian food well; the starches make me sleepy and overall my body rejects what is served. Though reluctant at first, I agreed to attend. My friend’s father and mother were both fourth generation Italian-Americans, neither of whom spoke Italian. The members of the family long forgot many customs and were not particularly devout followers of the Catholic faith. Yet, to my surprise, I was greeted with an Italian feast! The food was superb and erased all of my assumptions about Italian food as being primarily a redundant simple carbohydrate free-for-all. I did not feel as if I was in a fourth generation Italian-American house, as the food seemed to transport us all back in time, especially me. The whole ambiance changed, the food preparation and healthy cooking was the nucleus of this gathering and the elements around this nucleus where also just as fascinating. The father took to the head of the table, followed by my friend, the eldest son, to this right, the youngest following him and the mother to the left, when she was not cooking or serving.

The way the food was prepared and served seemed to have the gallantry and hand coordination of a symphony conductor.

Though one was created to feed your ears and the other your stomach, both certainly held the power to feed the soul. Nobody was in a rush to devour the food, as dinner was treated as an experience, not just the consuming of a meal. One moment everyone was carrying on about their own hectic lives and the next everyone was eating in unison, discussing their days with a joke here and there. The father had decided to give me a culture class regarding the magnificence of Italian food. He began by instructing me on the proper pronunciation of the dishes before explaining how they should be prepared and how using fresh ingredients is of the utmost, critical importance. This was how I came to understand Italian food as an exquisite art form. Italians are passionate people. The cultural hand gesturing and patterns of speech are passed from Italian-born parent or grandparent to their children, then to their children’s children, and so forth. American-born generations of Italians carry their ancestor’s passion for all aspects of life, especially food. Through eating a traditional Italian meal, I came to truly understand the power of food and the more than important influence it holds within our social, cultural, and familial structure.

Food Preparation, how it used to be… and then…

When I was young my my parents provided mostly fresh and homemade ingredients for food. As I grew older, however, my parents worked long hours to raise their four children and we often resorted to fast food as a faster, easier, and more economical choice. Often my siblings and I received dollars to buy 2 “Whoppers.” To our pre-teen eyes, the Whopper looked like a mountain of a hamburger and we were drawn to the taste and the seductive television commercials that aired during all of our favorite shows. We fell for the propagandist ads and, of course, the collectible toys you could get when you purchased a combo meal.

While eating fast food kept us fed, it did not keep us healthy. My family experienced illness more and more frequently, and although my parents assumed being sick was part of being young and interacting with other kids, our diet would soon come into question. It wasn’t until one Sunday when a small-framed individual walked to the front podium at our church that the answer was made clear. “Don’t you know God does not want you to be sick? You ask for miracles, but then stuff your face with crap, so naturally you are going to feel like crap!” I was very young but even as a kid those words made complete sense. My mother was quick to approach this man whom we learned was named Garavito. She asked for him to come to our home and give us a consultation. He agreed and the first thing Garavito did was head to our kitchen and began tossing things out. I remember the cereal boxes were the first thing to go because, at the time, Frosted Flakes had been my favorite breakfast. He went on until about 80% of our “food” stock was reduced, and though my entire family was somewhat shocked, we simply stood in silent disbelief.

Later in life, as I studied under David Christopher, the son of the famous herbalist Dr. John Christopher, he told us a story of his father. Once he was requested to visit a family that lived deep in the back country, hours away from the nearest town. The family suffered from poor health and given that they were unable to keep up with the farm work in their poor condition, the burden that began as physical was now economical as well. Dr. Christopher made his way to their house to evaluate the situation. He was shocked to discover that despite the fact that he was on a farm, the kitchen was stocked with non-fresh foods. Though Dr. Christopher explained the situation as best he could, the farmer was reluctant to accept diet as a major factor of his ill health. After all, what difference does it make if the corn is fresh or canned? Finally, in a moment of inspiration, Dr. Christopher took a can of food in his hand and looked out the window at a bunch of cows grazing. He asked the farmer how important the cows were to him and his family economy. Needless to say, they were vital and as he looked at these cows mow down the green grass of the prairies he proposed something to the farmer. Dr. Christopher asked for him to eat the grass for 1 week, to which the farmer simply laughed. Additionally, the proposition included that as he and his family ate the grass, they in contrast feed the cows the canned food he and his family typically ate three times per day, every day. The farmer’s facial expression changed and shouted “ ARE YOU CRAZY, IT WILL KILL THEM!” The Dr. looked at him smiling and the farmer understood his earlier point. As my family and I looked at how our kitchen stock was being tossed out. I felt kind of like this farmer, in total disbelief that my favorite ¨food¨ was being scrutinized.

Healthy Cooking

Happiness is food preparation at home~

What all these stories have in common is the disassociation all of these characters had with the kitchen. The case of my Italian-American friends was much different in comparison to the farmer’s family and my own. Their constant connection to the kitchen maintained part of their heritage and added a down-shift to their accelerated lifestyles. As Michael Polland explains in his lectures and quite often points out in his book, food and the relationship we have with food presently is being guided by the elites. The elites are the scientists, the FDA, and nutritional gurus who decide what is good for you and then, as an omnipotent dictator, bring down the laws by which all society must abide or else, they say, you are at risk of being malnourished. Culture, however, has guided humans throughout history, before we even knew a vitamin existed or what a makes something a carbohydrate. Culture has always existed and I make strong argument that it should be an important guide in the increasingly complex nutritional landscape. This is where the kitchen can help us reconnect with our roots. I find it intriguing how once you decide to surrender to the experience of cooking and food preparation, be it for pure need, curiosity, or something else, you tend to gravitate inadvertently, yet almost certainly, to the foods that have been handed down your family lineage for generations. Even Dr. D’adamo tracked down and tested according to your blood type which foods your body recognize as suitable for your specific biochemistry and assimilate better than other foods. These foods would be whatever your ancestors ate in the all the regions of the world they inhabited. This could be a reason why we tend to lean towards what could be considered “comfort foods.”

Food Preparation and healthy cooking  is good for the soul..

From a more biochemical perspective, healthy cooking or food preparation your own foods assists you in taking full control of your life, after all ¨we are what we eat¨ says the old adage. If we really knew how most of the food we eat was grown, handled, and treated most of us would think twice before eating it. Preparing your own food is the best way to eliminate the middle men who pretend to know what is better for us. When you start doing so, you will find that you reconnect with your body and you begin to understand your body’s needs to custom tailor a proper diet to fit.

Food preparation and healthy cooking provides us with the creative tool with which to generate a masterpiece, even if the masterpiece is just a salad. After all, salads are to be ingested by you, so it’s worthwhile to put some love and imagination forth during preparation. Besides the many factors as to why our ancestors and still many people around the world don’t suffer from the chronic obesity epidemic, have you thought of the physical energy that goes into cooking? Food preparation burns plenty of calories. Have you ever tried making a cake by hand? My arm was sore for about two days afterward! There is no doubt that if we implemented preparing our own foods you would burn as many, if not more, calories during the preparation than what we consume, depending on what we eat, of course.

There are many reasons why healthy cooking and food preparation plays a key role in your health.

Farmers Markets are a great place to start food preparation

Heribert Watzke talks about the brain in your gut and details how our prehistoric ancestors had to forage for food, many times on the run and not necessarily because they were late picking the kids up from soccer practice. Food was scarce so they had to do with whatever they could find. This included foods which, by today’s standards, most of us would not even touch. At the time their digestive system had to be adapted to that unique food landscape. Their stomachs where larger in order to properly digest the rustic foods they encountered. As humans evolved a farming and husbandry system, their digestive systems adapted to not just the foods they domesticated but the ways it was prepared. During their preparation phases, foods usually high in lectins, phytic acid, oxalic acids etc, were transformed to be rendered more easily digestible. Thus the digestive system of our ancient forefathers was reduced in size and became more efficient as a result. Mr. Watzke has transformed an old Latin proverb to say ¨cocos ergo sum¨ which translates to ¨I cook therefore I am.¨

I am certain that nobody will be running to their kitchens ecstatic to start food preparation and healthy cooking just by reading this article…

Most of us have a distant relationship with our kitchens and like with most damaged relationships, healing takes time. Healing also requires a good reason to do it. As humans, we act on the basis of a set of values and what those values permit us to do depends on if we consider something to be important or not. This is the premise by which I would like for each person reading this article to take a moment to consider the following points:

  1. Food security – When you delegate food growth, production, and preparation to industries, you will generally find that their greatest interest lay in profit margins. This often results in culture, the environment, and ultimately our health being compromised.
  2. Food transparency - When you take the time to purchase, stock, and prepare the foods you and your family consume, you are far more in control of exactly what goes into your mouth (and ultimately your cells). This is something that does not hold true when you purchase pre-made or take out food.
  3. Food safety – Once food preparation takes a prominent place on your value list, you will find that the ingredients in your kitchen must be scrutinized. You will begin to realize that not all products are created equally. Food preparation safety will matter. Quality will promptly be of high regard to you, as such, you will begin to look for the best possible products available within your individual possibilities. The food preparation safety aspects take effect when you consider the options and wisely select locally-grown, seasonal, environmentally-friendly products as a result.
  4. Health – The above three points eventually lead to one of the main reasons why over time we have come to consume certain foods and the reason why whole careers such as “nutritionist” have been developed. This reason is that foods are our medicine and healthy foods translate to a healthy individual. The reason I mention this as being one of the possible main reasons, rather than the main reason is because food and food preparation have not always been solely for health reasons. Food as health is a more or less new western view of food. In many parts of the world, leisure, fraternizing, negotiating, romance, communion, devotion, even settling disputes are among the various other worthwhile reasons why people prepared and ate the fruits of their labor. Traditionally the emotions that went in to the handling, preparing, and eating of food were also important, often relating to feelings of respect, grace, and love. This influenced the writing of whole food laws which are still practiced in the Islamic and Jewish laws of Halal and Kashrut. It should be noted that when we are driven by proper reasons and with the proper emotion, health is often an imminent result.I make a stand for making food an important part of our daily lives. It all boils down to what we consider important. Our forks are, in truth, the most important tools in helping to shape our mental and geographical landscape. It is in the interest of ourselves that we eat, not in the interest of food manufacturers. The energy we invest in choosing and preparing our food can change our internal and external landscapes. It is your choice to choose wisely!


Check out the Ultimate Reset that Darin put together for Beachbody with Isabelle Daikeler… It can show you how to get back into the kitchen with ease and bring your body back to better health … click here.

25 Jun 2011

The Friend Factor ~ Culture and Health… Healthy Relationships

Consciousness, Optimum Health, Quality of Life, Superfoods No Comments

Healthy Relationships contribute to our good heath

How often is it that when health is discussed it is generally diluted down to what I call R-R?  Routines and regimens. These include topics about nutrition, exercise, positive thinking, and any other health promoting practices. There is nothing wrong with viewing these topics as routine considering most day to day behavior takes on a routine and regimented practice, even if we don’t see them this way.  After all, the old adage says we are “creatures of habit.¨ A habit is simply a synonym for a routine and both give us a sense of security.  We have practiced them, we understand the steps to take and know that the results are generally constant and innocuous. Surprises, though welcomed in special occasions, are most often great sources of stress for most individuals who already live in a stressful environment. There are, however, many other health factors that impact our health on a daily basis, though R-R often dominates the forum on health because of the opportunity for generating profit through influencing routines and regimens.  These more subtle factors which I speak of, also can and do generally become R-R´s, given that very few, if anybody, speaks about them and we tend to consider them just part of life. Typically, we offer very little thought to these habits and rarely discuss how they benefit or harm our lives.  One of these subtle factors is our relationship with FRIENDS, healthy relationships.  According to recent independent studies, healthy relationships with friends benefit your health more than what you and I would ever imagine.  Cicero, the roman philosopher, wrote an entire book about it, the Amicitia. As explained earlier, most of us including myself, do not tend to think of friends as actually contributing to our well being or culture and health.  They are constants, much like the sun is there every morning, like oxygen or telemarketers.  No matter what the day it is or where you are in your life, these constants remain, well, constant.   We know the sun brings us warmth, provides plants with vital elements for photosynthesis, and it is the primary catalyst in assisting humans to create much needed vitamin D.  Scientifically, however, there is so much more which we don’t know and the non-scientists tend not to care. What is known for certain is that the sun and other constants are important for life.

Healthy Relationships

Healthy Relationships

The idea of friends and healthy relationships actually being a positive contribution to health and well being was presented to me via the TED talk presented by Dan Buettner. Buettner is a multi-talented man who traveled the world searching for the common denominators in health promotion.  He traveled to regions in the world he calls ¨blue zones¨ where health, vitality, and longevity are words that don’t seem to cause awe among society, because they are not the exception, but part of culture and health, and quite often the norm.  Buettner traveled through about five of these “blue zones” and noted these regions of the world had no similarities to each other in terms of climate, habitat, or environment. In fact, these locations were completely different.  Some “blue zones” were in relatively decentralized regions or what most of us would erroneously understand and classify as primitive, mainly because the people do not own Ipads.  Though oddly enough, not all of them were stranded in a time capsule. Some of these ¨blue zones¨ were actually in urban areas, in well-populated regions of the world.  Not all healthy societies with healthy relationships appear to live in the backwoods. This is intriguing since so often we are nostalgically presented with the idea of communities living in Caucasus mountains, herding goats and sheep, living on raw milk, cheese and yogurt.  Some relatively rural groups do still boast great health, so there is much we can learn from them also.  Still, there is no debate that convincing an American pre-teen to adopt a rural shepherd’s lifestyle would be tricky.

Culture and Health

Dan Buettner was able to find several common denominators among the healthy groups in rural and urban spaces. Oddly enough, the one which seemed to make the most sense as to why these communities where able to live to age 100+ and still be functional, physically and mentally, was the social structure. Patterns appear in how these societies organize themselves and how they treated their neighbors, children, elderly and, most importantly, themselves.  Yes, they all ate much better than we do, they were involved in constant physical activity by default, and they had little to no stress. Clearly all of the typical denominators an ¨expert¨ would be quick to point out as the reasons why they live as long and vigorously as they do are also at play.

Healthy Relationship can contribute to your overall health!

They all seem to share a fraternizing bond with other members of their communities. In some societies there are even words to define a friendship bond shared among a group.  In Okinawa, Japan this word is moai. In reality a moai is not a social friendship group, but rather a cooperative where individuals share a common objective and each member assists each other in achieving this.  We can understand the logic in this, but the moai and what it represents is a world apart, literally and figuratively, of what we can comprehend it to be.  These moai’s quite often are groups of individuals who bond with each other from childhood or adolescence and they maintain this bond, this friendship, for the rest of their lives.  They not only help each other achieve their goals, but are there for them in every aspect, supporting one another emotionally and spiritually, giving meaning to each other’s lives.

Those who have close friends and healthy relationships with those whom they have come to consider as family can understand the degree of importance they have in one’s overall well-being.  They posses a special place in our lives and we share aspects of ourselves with them which we do not share with anyone else. There exists a chemistry which is not physical and yet it is just as important as the way our biochemistry has an affinity for certain foods. We create a different kind of biochemical bond with these foods because they nourish us, similar to how our friends also nourish us.

Now comes the science! I mentioned earlier that independent studies have been carried out to determine the effects of loneliness. Personally I wonder if it is absurd we would have to test and analyze the effects that friends have on us. After this I will have a healthy relationships tips section (just kidding). Yet, I believe it is interesting to have a scientific perspective to validate the effects friends have on our well-being and also to develop a good excuse to make time for our friends.  In any event,

Social disconnectedness is associated with worse physical health, regardless of whether it prompts feelings of loneliness or a perceived lack of social support,” said study co-author Linda Waite, the Lucy Flower Professor in Sociology at the University of Chicago and a leading expert on aging.

Culture and Health , findings in those who do not have healthy relationships…

Among the study’s findings:

  • loneliness1

    Isolation can lead to health issues

    The most socially connected older adults are three times as likely to report very good or excellent health compared to those who are least connected, regardless of whether they feel isolated.

  • Older adults who feel least isolated are five times as likely to report very good or excellent health as those who feel most isolated, regardless of their actual level of social connectedness.

  • Social disconnectedness is not related to mental health unless it brings feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The above cited studies were done at the University of Chicago, in Illinois, on study participants over the age of 65. Much the same way as when we get older we start feeling all the physical effects of wear and tear from our younger years, this also holds true for our mental and emotional health. In other words, we “reap what we sow.” If we have sowed good friends and healthy relationships all along in our lives, we are likely to reap the benefits of these healthy relationships in our later days.

Healthy Relationships and Having Friends may contribute to more active learning~

In a symposium termed “Social Emotion and the Brain,” MRI’s were used to study the connection between perceived social isolation and brain activity.  The research highlighted a response in one part, the ventrum striatum, of the brain which is associated with the reward system and is critical for learning. This was much more active in individuals who did not feel lonely.  The temporoparietal junction—a region associated with taking the perspective of another person—was much less activated among lonely, rather than in the non-lonely participants, when viewing pictures of people in unpleasant settings.  Furthermore, the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center published a study in the February issue of “Archives for General Psychiatry” stating that individuals who are or feel lonely are twice as likely to develop the type of dementia linked to Alzheimer’s.

Culture and Health

So why is all this important for most Americans? A study carried out and documented in the 2006 issue of American Sociological Review states that Americans have been losing the quantity and quality of friends since 1985.  Research reveals that 25% of the population have no one to confide in and the number of friends people report to have has shrunk from four to two since 1985.  Science still does not understand to the full extent how friends benefit all aspects of health. Theories have been created to explain this, however, I believe as long as science continues to reduce this study to parts of a whole it will not be able to move beyond speculative theories.  Much the same way we still are light years away from understanding nutrition, health, and food, due to the current reductive practices which do not consider the holistic aspects of food, including how it is grown, handled, transported, prepared, and consumed.

I believe friends are superfoods for our hearts and souls. They are the immune system boost which keeps us going, even when we feel like giving up. They are the best psychologists and when they do not have the proper words to lift you up, they are simply there, and that counts just as much.  In the age of progress, technological advancement, and capitalism, re-humanizing ourselves and taking more time to appreciate that which makes us human should be just as important as making time for cooking, sleeping, or exercising. We can dispute the benefits of certain foods whether they where consumed by proto-humans or not.  We can debate on reverse osmosis or distilled water and question which was drank by a human being 10,000 years ago, yet nobody can debate the existence of friendship throughout history. I leave you with some food for thought from a beautiful song, Ta Moko, from the album 1 Giant Leap:

Ta Moko, One Giant Leap lyric

¨ Some people went around interviewing dying patients…But not one person said they regretted not making more money or working harder. They all seemed to say their regrets were not spending more time with the people they loved and not traveling more and relating more to the world and the planet.¨


Friendship, social support, and health. 2007 Sias, Patricia M; Bartoo, Heidi. In L’Abate, Luciano (Ed). (2007). Low-cost approaches to promote physical and mental health: Theory, research, and practice. (pp. 455–472). xxii, 526 pp. New York, NY, US: Springer Science + Business Media.

25 Jun 2011

On the Cacao Trail ~ Cacao History

Consciousness, Formulation, Nutrition, Optimum Health, Superfoods, Sustainability, Travel No Comments

It had been a long 17 hour airplane ride from Los Angeles to Asia. Looking back on it, listening to a 40 year old going on about his immigration ordeal to bring his 20-year-old wife back to the United States made it worthwhile to be sitting in coach. After landing in Manila and arriving at our hotel, we took a much-needed shower and enjoyed what the group assessed to be the most complete and overwhelming buffet ever. To our appeal, the options were endless and good, high-quality fresh and prepared foods. Although the Philippines was a treat in many aspects, it lacked a certain something which is hard to articulate. It is a dynamic country, vibrant with culture, yet Darin and I travel to do more than take in the culture and sightseeing. We generally travel to evaluate potential new products and to validate or debunk already marketed products. Once in the region where these products originate, one can easily identify which products have a deep impact in those communities and which are revered for their nutritional/medicinal value. When out in the middle of “nowhere,” an hour’s drive from the nearest city in any direction, the magnificence of these products truly comes alive. In such a place, a cup of ginger tea with some coconut flower nectar changes from a treat of trivial importance to a medicine of the highest value.

Philippines quickly became a place where we saw much and learned a great deal, yet the significant discovery of the trip would be a three hour flight away.  After leaving Philippines, we arrived in the beautiful mystical island of Bali, Indonesia. No member of our team was eager to jump on another plane after the initial long trip across the Pacific Ocean, yet we were all exited at the prospect of what Indonesia might hold. Our contact with our Indonesian friends was quite unusual and a last minute arrangement. Arriving on the island, we were surrounded by a thick air of devotion. As those who have visited this part of the world already know, Balinese people live for ceremonies and this significant part of the culture, as well as other aspects of daily life, were described to us by our local friend.  We were picked up at the airport at night, still a bit jet lagged, and uncomfortable from the constant movement and lack of rest.  Never-the-less, we were in Bali and we were there to make the most out of it! We were energized by the anticipation of what we might discover and learn in this truly unique location.  At this time all of us where suffering from AC syndrome, which is what happens when one is in a tropical country with 90 plus degree weather and 90% humidity outdoors, yet any car, store, or hotel you enter has the AC turned to the maximum, creating a difference in temperature of about 20 degrees.  This was true in Philippines, as is the norm in many tropical places, and Indonesia was no exception. The temperature extremes resulted in plenty of coughing and stuffed noses, but not enough to drive us off schedule.

Cacao History

The first place we visited was the Cacao fermentation, drying, and storing facilities of our contact.  It was paradise in every sense of the word.   As we were close to arriving at the facility, we could see the beach a couple hundred meters away from the road and Darin was quick to ask “Do they have stand up paddling here?”  We arrived to a group of people greeting us. This contact is sure to treat all employees very well and that positivity shined out from everyone we met, leaving quite an impression on me. A young woman, not older than 30, and a couple males of similar age came close to the vehicles to greet us with the already familiar, “Salamat.” Ben, our contact, and the employees at the cacao facility clearly had more of the relationship of family to one another than simply a boss-employee relationship and we were greeted with similar care as family or friend.

Ben gave an impeccable explanation of all the processes that go on at the facility. One might assume there is not much to it; receive product, sort, ferment, dry, package and store it. In reality there are literally dozens of micro-decisions which must be made and dozens of factors which can alter the processes towards a successful, high-quality end product or a spoiled one.  Ben explained with detail, while Darin and Seth took turns asking questions and we sure had lots of them! The more we asked, the more we learned. The more we realized the various layers of complexity surrounding cacao, the more we came to admire it.  We were each provided with a motorcycle, which was more like a scooter, and we headed up the road to visit a close by cacao plantation.

Once we arrived, Seth smirked and said “We should make a video solely on cacao, since it seems we encounter it wherever we go!¨ These simple words stuck in my mind.  He was right, cacao seems to have taken over any region where it can be cultivated, not to mention it has taken over the palates of billions of people around the world. One funny aspect of life I observe where I live in Argentina is that people often complain about the rise in cost of everything, yet nobody dares to utter a sound against the rise in the price of chocolate.  Such is the impact chocolate has on society, exponentially augmented by studies carried out around the world on its health benefits. In reality it is cacao, not chocolate, which lays claim to those positive effects on health. In fairness to chocolate it depends on the way it is made and the raw materials utilized in its creation which determines the health effects of the product.

Cacao History

Cacao is important not only due to the frequency it can be encountered around the world or its general health benefits, but because of the mystical and historical value of the crop. That is why this article is titled “On the Cacao Trail.” I would like to share some information on cacao history, which makes it an even more fascinating superfood, especially for all of you cocoa-holics.

There is still much debate as to whether, cacao, as we know it today, originated in southern Mexico-Central America and made its way down to the Amazon basin or if it traveled in the opposite direction.  In any event, it was the city-state ruled by the civilization we know as the Olmec, which dates back to around 900BC, who started using the product in food and trade and possibly were the first to cultivate it. Even more ancient, there are some documented uses of cacao stretching back a few hundred years before the Olmec empire developed.  Later on, cacao was adopted by the emerging civilizations of the Mayans, Zapotecs, Toltecs, Mixtecs, Totonacs and every other group extending from Meso-America down to the Orinico River and possibly even further. Very cool, cacao history

Cacao was used primarily as a food, but also as currency and medicine. The leaves were smoked and the white pulp surrounding the bean was used to make an alcoholic beverage.  Allegory tells the story of the plumed serpent God Quetzalcoatl, who decided one day to give wisdom to human beings, by providing them with the food of the Gods known as Cacahuatl (Bitter water).  As a result, he was banned from his land by the God Xpoc for introducing the sacred food of the Gods to men.  We can take this at face value and consider it a fun myth and nothing more, yet recent research has elucidated to the compounds found in cacao which benefit cognitive and emotional well being.  In cacao history, these particular benefits among the many others that Cacao offers to those who consume it and are responsible for why the name “food of the gods” goes beyond your typical botanist’s desire to name their research flora so extravagantly.

The Mayans even had their own deity who governed over kawkaw, as they called it.  His name is Ek Chuah and like the Aztecs,kawkaw was said to be a gift to humanity from the plumed serpent God Kukulkan when it was discovered by the Gods in a mountain along with other foods, worthy for the Mayans to consume. Nearly every household had a cacao tree growing in the back yard, as the fruit had a place in their daily lives as well as in their ceremonial lives.

When Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez arrived in Mexico around 1519 he was somewhat familiar with the exotic fruit, as his sailor had come across large canoes in the Caribbean which transported cacao pods and other goods.  Upon arriving at the city of Tenochtitlan, he was received as what most believed was the reincarnation and return of their adored god, Quetzalcoatl, by which reason he was offered the same beverage which he brought to mankind, resulting in his expulsion.  This drink was Xcolatl, from where many believe the word “chocolate” is derived. While Cortez was more interested in other sources of wealth, he soon realized the benefits of Xcolatl.  He wrote back to the King of Spain, Charles V describing how drinking a cup of the beverage would give enough energy to his soldiers for them to work all day. So strong was the response and appreciation for the new drink that the Spanish consumed it constantly and it was renowned for it’s aphrodisiac, regenerative, and energetic benefits.  Hernan Cortez urged for European doctors not to come to Mexico since they believed the traditional medicine of the indigenous nations of the Americas to be at par or superior to European treatments.

Another aspect that is of extreme interest to the scientific community is the drink itself, as cacao was rarely consumed alone, it was always blended into foods and, of course, the drink Xcolatl.  There is more to it than simple culinary expression. It is understood that the PEA (Phenylethylamine), one of the many compounds found in cacao which is being revered and exalted by cacao enthusiasts is denatured in the gut by MAO enzymes, meaning the amount that gets into one’s system is minimal and no real effect occurs. The ancients were quite wise, however. They might not have been educated in biochemistry, but they knew of the alchemy that occurred when foods are blended. The blends they used to make Xcolatl as well as other foods and drinks is still found in mainstream dishes, though usually not prepared by the pre-hispanic methods. Of central importance is the compounds found in these other elements which were blended with cacao.  When analyzed they were found to have the MAO-inhibitors required to allow for the proper concentration and uptake of the PEA in to the body, thus allowing for its proper function once consumed.

The beverage gained popularity in Spain where nobles were exclusively consuming the newly discovered beverage, until smuggling and interception of Spanish ships by other European nations brought the knowledge of the cacao bean to these other nations. The cacao beverage began to be consumed en mass, creating a high demand, resulting in these countries growing the tree in their colonies to secure provisions.  This is the reason why the former Portuguese, British, and Dutch colonies we know to be Brazil, Ghana, Indonesia, and the Ivory Coast are among the primary bean producers in the world. At the time cacao was first being cultivated in these colonies, according to cacao history, the cacao beverage was still not being consumed en mass by commoners in Spain.  From there it made a quick ascent to prominence and here we are today, enjoying all of the wonderful and some not so wonderful benefits of cacao and its byproducts. Our friend and colleague, Dr. Bernd Neugebauer, told us of a cacao tree he found in the Soconusco region in southern Mexico which probably dates back to pre-hispanic times and it is still giving fruit!

This trip defined our experience with cacao and  without a doubt, many more stories will follow. Whichever tropical region we explore where there is a wide range of biodiversity, we will most likely find cacao again.  Cacao has become and will continue to be our silent partner around the world as we continue on and find the most amazing, healing, and holistic gifts from nature to share with all of you, our friends.  Blessings.

Cacao History References