Food Bugs

Foodborne illness- or food poisoning- is at the least no fun and at the extreme deadly.

Foodborne illness is defined as any sickness from food or drink contaminated with a microbe-bacteria, toxin, virus or parasite.

When I was taking classes to become a Registered Dietitian we were required to take a Food Safety course. Not your typical food handlers license that takes a few hours online, this class was a full semester, with a rigorous exam at the end; it covered everything from how egg whites chemically react when they are beaten, to all too graphic details on the ways you can get sick from contaminated food.

Alas, I admit, I remember only bits and pieces of this course- including the food borne illness bit. I know this because I recently had an uncomfortable case of food poisoning in which I spent the night on the bathroom floor. Was this from a food I ate? If so, which one and why? Was I contagious and need to stay home? I was shocked about how little I recalled when I was in this horrible scenario myself.

After diagnosing that seven family members I had spent the weekend with were also sick that same night, with the same symptoms, and none lasting more than 24 hours, made food a highly likely culprit. Upon some self-study, however the bug in question and the source remained unknown.

Until… my fiance and two other family members had the same experience a week later! This couldn’t just be coincidence could it? Did they eat the same foods that made us sick? I clearly needed to go back to the books…

Here are a few of the bullet-points I found on foodborne illness.

May you find them useful for your own understanding of this awful illness, save you ever end up as a victim to a food bug.

  • One out of six of all Americans will get sick with a foodborne illness every year. (The majority resolve on their own; in rare instances hospitalization is necessary).
  • There are hundreds of organisms that you might ingest via food or drink that can cause you discomfort. Symptoms may be mild to severe and include:
    • Stomach cramps and pain
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Headaches
    • Chills
    • Fever
    • Aching body
  • Any food or drink might possibly be the carrier of a microbe- it all depends on proper handling and serving of the food. However, raw foods are more likely to carry a harmful organism than those that have been properly cooked.
  • It is likely that you have ingested a harmful bug, or several, throughout your life and never knew it. Your body will first try to fight these bad microbes with saliva and the acid in your stomach before it has to resort to expelling them by vomit or diarrhea.
  • A foodborne illness does not necessarily come from the last thing you ate; it can take anywhere from a few hours to several days for a bug to cause symptoms.
  • Symptoms typically last from one day to a week, but the bug in question can stick around in your gut for much longer without you experiencing any discomfort.
  • You CAN spread bacteria and virus that cause illness to other people from direct or indirect contact … so wash your hands and anything that might be contaminated!

I have theorized that my family members and I had gastroenteritis, also known as norovirus or stomach flu. This virus is most active between October and April. It has a quick onset and a quick duration (for most), as was our experience.


Prevent the spread of foodborne illness through proper food handling in your own kitchen:

  • Wash your hands!
  • Heat and cook food to proper temperatures.
  • Do not leave food at room temperature for more than four hours.
  • Avoid cross contamination of raw meats, fish and poultry with other foods by cleaning cooking surfaces and using separate cutting boards.
  • Purchase food from a reputable source.

The Fall-Out

If someone you live with experiences a food poisoning episode, treat it like a cold; don’t share glassware or utensils, wash hands, cover mouth when coughing, etc., to prevent the spread of the harmful microbe.

If you have an episode, as soon as your body allows:

  1. Re-hydrate and replace nutrients lost with all the fluids expelled from your digestive tract. Water, tea and fluids containing electrolytes such as a vitamin water, or a supplement containing potassium, sodium, and calcium added to water (I like Nuun tabs that dissolve in water). Gatorades and sports drinks are best watered down to avoid a large sugar rush to an empty stomach.
  2. Restore calories by consuming mild foods, as tolerable. Try crackers, breads, rice, soups, bananas, protein shakes, yogurt…or really anything that sounds good to the person!
  3. And of course sleep is good for recovery, so let yourself rest.



U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Mayo Clinic

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Health Research Funding

+ Health

Physical +

Mental + 

Spiritual + 

(Answer: + health)

“Health (helTH) NOUN 1. the state of being free form illness or injury.”

Physical health= body function; heart pumps, brain things, muscles move, lungs breath. The more efficiently your body performs these tasks the more physically healthy you are.

Mental health= psychological and emotional well-being; self-esteem, outlook on life, relationships and social interactions. Being aware of and respecting our feelings and the feelings of others.

Spiritual health= values and believes that shape our purpose in life. What do you believe? How do you matter? How do these shape how and why you do what you do every day?

It goes without saying that these three areas of health are intertwined in our lives.

Therefore, so are they connected to one another.

How might being physically free from illness or injury help you be mentally free from illness or injury? Or how might being emotionally unhealthy affect your spiritual health?

No easy answers; much is left to personal exploration…

Here are some examples to start you thinking:

  • Mental exhaustion from over working= no desire to be physically active.
  • Low physical activity= low endorphin release and poor mood.
  • Daily walk breaks= increase in blood flow, maintenance or gain of lean mass.
  • Gains in lean mass= increase in energy metabolism, efficiency of movement.
  • Efficiency of movement= accomplishment of daily tasks.
  • Enjoyment of sport= receive physical outlet and mental reset through mindful practice.
  • Mindfulness practice= energy and calm mind.
  • Death of a loved one= connect with family and friends, celebrate life and be thankful.
  • Job promotion= boost in self-esteem, confidence to accomplish more, pride in work.

I encourage you to recognize this health connections in your life. Use what you learn to better understand and positively influence your well being.

For further information in this area, here are some wonderful resources!

Food Rules

The rules of food… “don’t eat that!” “eat this in the morning only” “that food will give you gas” “this food is a fat burning food”… are anecdotal. And that, my friends, is the punchline of this article; there are no “rules” of food. No food police that will bust you if you break them.

BUT eating patterns and food choice CAN make a profound difference on your quality of life.

Food is necessary for survival and for enhancing our health and well-being. Beyond that, eating food is as individual as the clothes you wear. Like clothes, there are trends to food, research to guide best fit and comfort for the activity of its use, but in the end you choose what to wear and you choose what to eat.

Do you follow food rules? Who sets those rules for you? The media, a doctor, a dietitian? 

I wouldn’t be the first to admit that the nutrition and health research and advice out there is confusing at best. I also know how nice it is to have a plan to follow- where to start? So I encourage you to seek out as much knowledge and experience as you can to set your own personal guide to food. 

garlic and sage

The knowledge is simple enough. I recommend to:

  • Read about food
    • Not just one article or one book, but several- and ideally from both sides of an argument- with a critical eye. “This article tells me that eggs are good for me, is there any evidence out there that says they are not? And why do they say they are good, or bad, and is it relevant to my lifestyle and my needs?”
  • Talk and ask questions
    • With experts in the field of health and nutrition, as well as with friends, family, and acquaintance. What do they believe, why do they believe that, where do they get their information, what are their specific experiences? 

The experience is simply stated, but often much more of a journey: 

  • Eat food! Yes, you have been doing this your whole life, and you will do it today, and tomorrow… so think…
  • How and what did I eat as a kid, an adolescent, various stages as an adult? How did it make me feel? What will I have at my next meal and why? 

Play around with food based on the knowledge you have been collecting and the experiences you have thus far to see what works for you

  • (EXAMPLE) “My energy has been low lately… I have read several studies saying that coffee can be addictive and mess with blood sugar, plus I had a cousin who quite drinking coffee and says he now has a lot more energy in the day. Maybe I will stop drinking coffee for a week and see how I feel.”
  • (EXAMPLE) “I love running, but I used to avoid running in the evenings because I would get stomach pains and bloating. I didn’t know why and it was really annoying. I started asking my runner friends who all agreed that it might be food related. By trying various food choices for lunches and afternoon snacks, I have found that I need to avoid meats, apples and raw vegetables for at least four hours before I want to run.”
  • (EXAMPLE) “Whenever I used to eat spaghetti with tomato sauce I would get sores on the roof of my mouth. I had heard from my doctor that tomatoes are very acidic and could be the reason for my mouth sores. I avoided the tomato sauce the next time we had spaghetti and I did not get sores!”

The eating patterns and food choices you make will determine your energy, performance, and mood. So take the journey to figure out the best fit FOR YOU.

cherry tomatoes

Fat Gaining Myth 3

It is easy to fall for catchy phrases and perceived social norms surrounding how we should act to receive desired health results. A commonly sought after health result is low body fat, and boy does it have some taboos!

Last month we explored the fat gaining myth “If you eat fat you will get fat”. Today’s myth in question is…

“The longer you spend exercising in the “fat burning” zone the more fat you will burn” 

Intuitively this makes sense, why else would they call it the “fat burning zone”? After all, nothing in health and wellness is every misleading. Sarcasm aside, it is all about the framing. 


You DO primarily burn fat as fuel when you are in an aerobic state, meaning you are able to breath in enough oxygen to support efficient energy output. This is happening the majority of your day, including most leisure activity, likely while you read this, and also while you sleep. To go into an anaerobic state, where you are mostly burning carbohydrate as fuel and not fat, takes significant effort on your part. It does not just happen on its own. Your heart rate must get up high enough and you must be breathing hard enough to where you cannot supply enough oxygen to your muscles or organs to continue at that high work capacity for very long. This means a sprint, this means max effort, this means uncomfortable high intensity activity.

The “fat burning zone” such as you might see on an exercise chart or a cardio machine at the gym, is referring to a heart rate zone that keeps you out of this high-intensity, low-oxygen, mostly-carbohydrate-as-energy zone (aerobic verse anaerobic). Yes, you are burning fat for fuel, but it does NOT mean you are going to shed more pounds of fat by staying under this threshold. In fact, long durations of moderate to light activity has not been shown to be efficient at making body composition changes, nor is it the most effective means for improving fitness. 

Being active and staying moving at a low to moderate level has its benefits- such as improved blood flow, digestion, nerve stimulation, decrease in joint stiffness, skeletal muscle activation and mental clarity- but shedding fat is not one of them.

How can you use exercise to be a better fat burners?

By getting out of the fat burning zone and pushing your intensity into that uncomfortable anaerobic state of lung-burning and heart-pounding. Only when you push your body’s systems to a high capacity will they respond and adapt. What this means is you will be able to go longer at an intensity you previous could not because your body has increased its ability to burn fat as fuel. You will be more efficient at burning fat throughout your day, and night, as your fitness improved from bouts of higher intensity work.

Application: Next time you exercise or go out to get active, no matter what the type of movement it is, increase how hard you are doing it. It doesn’t have to be for very long; your current fitness level will dictate how long and how hard you can go. See how you feel and how your body responds. Repeat as you feel able. Add this practice into your movement routine(s) regularly to reap the benefits of improved fat burning. 


Note: If you are an individual with heart, lung, or other health concerns or complications make sure you consult a doctor or fitness professional before engaging in high intensity activity that is not already part of your regular routine. 


Fat Gaining Myth 2

It is easy to fall for catchy phrases and perceived social norms surrounding how we should act to receive desired health results. A commonly sought after health result is low body fat, and boy does it have some taboos!

Last month we explored the fat gaining myth “Don’t eat past 8pm”. Today we will debunk:

“If you eat fat, you will get fat”


The caveat: this will only start to be true if eating fat results in excess, unused calories, or if eating fat results in changes to how your body metabolized (uses) fat. These changes can take place in excess of ANY macronutrient, not just fat.

How to avoid these undesirables? Balance your fat!

  • Fat is an essential nutrient; we need it in our diets to survive. We use fat in its various forms to build cell membranes, make hormones, for signaling, for energy, for insulation, and for absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K.
  • Eating foods with fat releases chemicals that positively influence our attention and our mood (Acetylcholine, serotonin and dopamine to name a few). This is the reason it tastes so good! Unfortunately, our advanced society has long since discovered how to extract fat from foods and add fat to foods so that its use and flavor is more abundant than we often need.
  • It is smart to avoid added fats that can result in excess, unnecessary fat. Here are a few tips on how to do this:
  1.      Aim to prepare the majority of your meals at home
  2.      Add just enough oil or butter for proper cooking, as warranted
  3.      Use spices, herbs, other foods as flavor enhancers over extra oil or butter
  4.      Eat sparingly: greasy foods, fried foods, sauces, dips, dressings

Foods in their whole form are already well balanced with the right amounts of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals for us to digest and use to our body’s needs.

Therefore, fat naturally found in foods, eaten in reasonable proportions with foods from other food groups, is healthy and non-threatening to our waist line.

cheese and wine.jpg


Gary L. Wenk Ph. D. Your Brain on Food: Why Does Fat Taste So Good? The importance of fat-tasting proteins on the tongue. Posted Jan 13, 2012. Found online at:

Fat Gaining Myths 1

It is easy to fall for catchy phrases and perceived social norms surrounding how we should act to receive desired health results. A commonly sought after health result is low body fat, and boy does it have some taboos!

One of the socially accepted “rules” regarding body fat gain and loss is

“Don’t eat past 8pm”

Not true. Well, not ALWAYS true. You must take into consideration many factors, including why you are eating, what you are eating, how much you already ate and are planning to eat.



If you are eating late in the evening because you are hungry or you just got through a bout of exercise then this isn’t a bad thing. You most likely need the energy for recovery from the day’s activities and proper blood sugar and hormones regulation through the night.

Taking the time to determine if it is truly hunger or some other emotion or driving force to eat later in the evening is not always the easiest thing to do, however. 

Being aware of your body hunger cues and other emotional states (sleepy, bored, stressed) is a key to successfully eating without negative consequences. When you last ate, how active you were that day and evening are things to think about to help you decide hunger level and if you should eat later into the evening.

If eating is not warranted, then the myth that late night eating equals fat gain is more likely to be true.



Eating late at night has been associated not only with fat gain, but also heart burn and poor sleep. What types of foods you consume before or close to bed time can make a large difference on if you experience these.

Here are the foods to stay away from close to bed time to avoid these undesired outcomes.

  • Spicy (sliding scale to individual tolerance)
  • Greasy/fatty (fried food, fatty meats and cheese, some chips and crackers or baked goods)
  • High fiber (raw veggies, whole beans)
  • High concentrated sugar (deserts, candies, some baked goods)
  • Caffeine (chocolate, coffee, tea)
  • Alcohol

Best evening options= easily digested foods (for you) with a little protein to control release of glucose and avoid waking hungry in the middle of the night.

Here are some good examples to have if you are hungry, just exercised, or ate much earlier in the evening and know you won’t make it through the night without some food:

  • Milk or yogurt
  • Peanut butter and graham crackers
  • Cheese and apple
  • Mixed nuts and dried fruit
  • Air or stove popped popcorn


If you determine in the evening that you will be eating, there is also the how much factor to consider.

Too much of anything can be a bad thing, as they say.

Larger amounts of food, regardless of the type of food, has the potential to:

  1. Put you over your personal energy needs for that day and/or night.
  2. Disturb your sleep and/or cause heart burn.

The Takeaway is don’t worry about when you eat in the evening, but focus on why, what and how much for best results!


Stay tuned for more fat myths to be scrutinized and debunked, including: 

“If you eat fat, you will get fat” and…

“The longer you spend exercising in the “fat burning” zone the more fat you will burn”



Gallant, A. R., Lundgren, J. and Drapeau, V. (2012), The night-eating syndrome and obesity. Obesity Reviews, 13: 528–536. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00975.x

Meule A, Allison KC, Platte P. (2014), Emotional eating moderates the relationship of night eating with binge eating and body mass. Eur Eat Disord Rev. 22(2):147-51. doi: 10.1002/erv.2272. 

Stephen H. Boutcher , High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. Journal of Obesity. Volume 2011, Article ID 868305, 10 pages. doi:10.1155/2011/868305

To Cleanse or Not to Cleanse

To cleanse is to be rid of something that is seen as unclean or unwanted.

To detox is to be rid of potentially poisonous, dangerous substances.

There are supplements on the market, in the form of liquids, powders, and pills, that claim to cleanse or detoxify the body. The funny thing about this is that you have an organ built specifically for this role. Your liver.

The liver is a large and resilient organ. One of its main roles is to detoxify. On an ongoing, as needed bases, without breaks, the liver filters and stabilizes byproducts of digestion, metabolism, protein synthesis, and other body processes to keep them from harming you. And it has been performing this role for you your whole life! It has been performing this role for every human that ever lived. Do you really think that a man-made dietary product could do as good a job as your liver to cleanse you?

Furthermore, the liver is backed up by the colon, the kidneys and the lymph system to help be rid of waste or potentially harmful substances that enter or are produced in the body. You are well equipped to cleanse yourself!

Short term studies looking at dietary supplement use and/or low calorie diets have shown a decrease in subjects body weights and improved health related lab values overall. They have NOT shown a flushing of toxins from the body.

A few of these studies are listed below for your reading pleasure. The studies do not use the same supplements, the same population of people, the same caloric intakes or exactly the same food intakes, and they are short term (one month or less). This makes it hard to compare the protocols and conclude that any one product or diet style is best; there is no way of knowing if it was the supplement used, or the fact that the subjects were eating less that made the impact. Furthermore, there is no way to know what the affects of long term use might be that could negatively affect weight and healthy status.

So why was there improved health seen in a diet that included a cleanse supplement component? What do these study designs all have in common that we can learn from?

  1. Regimented
  2. Accountable
  3. Good nutrition

None of these things are so special that they cannot be adapted as healthy habits without buying a product. And you do not have to starve yourself or spend a lot of money to accomplish them.

veggies with colorIf you want to naturally help your liver and accessory organs cleanse or detox your body here are some guidelines you can follow that do not include spending any money on supplements, and will likely yield the same results.

  1. Sleep.

    • Your organs are working in your favor as you are not moving or eating.
  2. Drink water.

    • Waste and byproducts are removed from the body through the kidneys via urine. Water and fluids are necessary to make this happen efficiently.
  3. Eat less and/or less often.

    • To ensure fewer production of byproducts and oxidative (free radical) compounds that have the potential to damage cells and tissue. The more and more often you eat, the more free radicals will be formed.
    • This does not mean starve yourself, this means be mindful of intake; eat when hungry and don’t overdo it.
    • This does mean less added sugars and fats; nutrients that are hard on your liver in large quantities and have the potential to settle as fat droplets in liver cells.
  4. Consume high level of antioxidants.

    • From berries, dark green veggies, herbs and spices, teas, fish, nuts and seeds, avocado (plus intake of a variety of produce on a daily basis). These act to stabilize oxidative byproducts of eating, breathing, and exercise.
  5. Feed healthy bacteria in your gut.

    • There are hundreds of bacteria living in your large intestines, or colon. This is a good thing! Among other roles, healthy bacteria living in your colon means there is no room for harmful, unhealthy bacteria to live.
    • Fiber from vegetables, fruits, whole grains.
    • Yogurt, kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi.
  6. Intake alcohol in moderation or not at all.

    • Your liver must metabolize and be rid of ethanol before it worries about other body processes. The breakdown of ethanol produces free radicals (must eat more antioxidants)!
    • To add insult to injury, chronic alcohol intake destroys antioxidants that would otherwise be there to stabilize the byproducts of its breakdown.

Now, it is not reasonable to think that everyone will follow the above guidelines ALL THE TIME. That is fine. I encourage you, however, to regularly check in with how you are doing to meet these and to rein it in if you know you are acting in ways that is putting extra strain on the liver and other organs of the body. Give your body a break and some time to do its job.

Is there a place for supplements?

Well, yes. As long as you realize they are not the cure all, you can use them effectively if you wisely choose to do so. I do want to emphasis that IF you do chose to use supplements, for “cleansing” or otherwise, do your research on the manufacturer and purity of the product. Ironically, a cleanse supplement might contain contaminants that could put a further burden on your liver.

So, why might you want to use a meal replacement or similar product? For the same reasons that the studies above showed success with them:

  • Regimented

    • Less thinking; less planning, prepping and cooking for meals or snacks.
    • More doing; feel accomplished by taking a more drastic approach to your health than just eating regular old healthy meals (how boring).


  • Accountable

    • You are invested with real money.
    • Many products and companies have support systems in place.


  • Good nutrition

    • Fill in gaps where nutrients might be missing on a limited or self-restricted diet.

*Special circumstances per individual should be considered when following these guidelines. If you have any questions to this regard, please contact a dietitian!

Maher, J. (1997). Exploring Alcohol’s Effects on Liver Function. Alcohol Health and Research World, 21(1), 1-8.

Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School (2011). Abundance of Fructose not Good for the Liver, Heart. Online at:

Harvard Health Publications. (2008). Detox Diets, Procedures Generally Don’t Promote Health, Experts Say. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 6, 2016 from

In favor of supplements and diet cleanse:

Callahan, E. (2013). Changes in weight loss and lipid profiles after a dietary purification program: a prospective case series. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 12(1), 30–38.

Balliett, M., & Burke, J. R. (2013). Changes in anthropometric measurements, body composition, blood pressure, lipid profile, and testosterone in patients participating in a low-energy dietary intervention. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 12(1), 3–14.

Keogh, J. B., & Clifton, P. M. (2012). Meal Replacements for Weight Loss in Type 2 Diabetes in a Community Setting. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2012, 918571.