Fevers: Let them do their job!

A fever is an elevated body temperature. 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is considered normal, but actual body temperature tends to fluctuate one or two degrees Fahrenheit depending on time of year, level of activity, emotional stress, time of day, and other factors.

Most fevers are the body’s reaction to an infection, either viral or bacterial. Body temperature is regulated by our hypothalamus, which is located in our brain. When a viral or bacterial infection is detected, our body heats up. High temperatures inhibit the release of iron and zinc from our liver and spleen, which are needed to “feed” the bacteria. Viruses and bacteria do not survive for long in a body with a high temperature. The elevated temperature also increases white blood cell production. White blood cells are infection-fighting agents and when we produce more of them, we have a better chance of fighting the bacteria. In this way, a fever actually helps us kill off the bacteria by preventing its growth inside the body.

Another benefit of a fever is tissue repair. Since fevers increase the body’s overall metabolic rate, tissue repair occurs more quickly. This can be beneficial for someone with injuries or wounds that may be infected.

Despite all of these benefits of fevers, most people try to suppress them as soon as they occur. I don’t have children, but I imagine there is little worse than seeing your child suffer from an illness. Of course the first thing you think of is how to make it go away! However, if fevers are allowed to run their course, the bacteria and viruses will be killed off uninterrupted, and healing can take place more quickly. Sometimes it may even be a good idea to induce a fever by using a sauna or a hot bath, so that the fighting process can begin more quickly. If fevers are consistently suppressed with aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen, or other meds, some bacteria may remain and the child could have a hard time really fighting off the sickness.

There is a point where medical intervention is necessary. One source I have says that for fevers up to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, medicines are not needed. This is obviously a judgment call on the parents’ part, and sick children and people should be monitored closely.

Some nutritional approaches to fighting fever and bacteria include vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc. Vitamin A deficiency reduces the body’s ability to fight off infection, so taking supplemental vitamin A for one week during a sickness can help. Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties and can help gently lower a fever after it has done its job. Zinc improves immune function by acting as a supportive nutrient for white blood cell production. Echinacea and goldenseal are two herbs that are also immune-boosters. They contain infection-fighting properties that can be useful during a sickness.

The most important thing to remember during a fever is to stay hydrated. Since your metabolic rate increases so much, you lose a lot of fluids during a fever. Drinking lots of water is necessary for replenishing these fluids and allowing the fever to run its course.


Nutrients for the Nervous System

There are several nutrients that are particularly important for a healthy nervous system. The nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord, retina, sensory neurons, and nerves. It is responsible for transmitting information throughout the entire body, and without it our cells would have no means of communication and our bodies would stop functioning. So, as you can see, it’s imperative we keep our nervous system healthy! Below are some key nutrients for a healthy nervous system.

B-vitamins: These help the brain transmit information by assisting with production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Best food sources: calf's liver, spinach, leafy greens, chicken, lentils, halibut, eggs.

Vitamin E: Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and therefore helps prevent nerve cells from becoming damaged. It also can slow the process of cognitive decline. Best food sources: raw sunflower seeds, almonds, olives, spinach, leafy greens.

Ginkgo Biloba: This comes from a tree, and is known to increase blood flow through the brain’s blood vessels, as well as stimulate brain activity. Many people use ginkgo biloba as a way to help reduce brain fogginess or forgetfulness. Sources: can be purchased as a health supplement (liquid or capsules).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Since the brain is composed of mostly fat, omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for preventing brain degeneration and keeping the brain healthy. Best food sources: flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, sardines, halibut, shrimp, scallops.

Acetyl-L-Carnitine: This is a supplement that is derived from plants and may help slow the aging of the brain. It also is known to increase memory and clarity of thought. Sources: high quality meats and dairy; also can be taken as a supplement.

Antioxidants: These powerful nutrients help to protect cells in the nervous tissue and keep them functioning properly. Best food sources: blueberries, blackberries, walnuts, pomegranate juice, fresh vegetables and fruits.

Magnesium & Potassium: These two nutrients work together to help keep our nerves healthy and under control. They relax nerves and muscles, which allows for proper circulation and blood flow. Best food sources of magnesium: raw pumpkin seeds, spinach, salmon, raw sunflower seeds, halibut, sesame seeds, black beans. Best food sources of potassium: swiss chard, lima beans, yams, winter squash, soybeans, avocado, spinach, lentils.


Prickly Pear Cactus

A couple of weeks ago, a PWN reader told me that she had gone on a guided tour of Sedona, Arizona, and learned a little about the flat prickly pear cactus. Apparently there is quite a bit of nutrition packed into this particular cactus, and she asked if I could provide some more insight into this.

Let me begin by saying I have never learned about or eaten a prickly pear cactus (let’s call this a PPC from this point on). But, I love learning about new health foods so I was excited to do some research! PPCs are native to Mexico but can be found throughout most of the Americas and parts of Europe. They typically are large, flat, rounded plants with big and small spines covering the surface. They can be a very dense plant, especially when they begin to get their fruit.

The edible part of the PPC is the fruit, or cactus fig. This is found attached to the skin of the plant. All of the skin and small spines must be removed from the fig before eating. They come in shades of red, orange and yellow, and are apparently very juicy and sweet when eaten fresh. Cactus figs are also used for candies, jellies, and in special drinks.

The young stem of the PPC, called nopales, is also edible, but is used more as a plant than a fruit. It is common to see nopales used in Mexican cuisine. There are even certain parts of the PPC that can be used to make alcohol.

However, some of the most interesting things I discovered were the many medicinal uses of the PPC. Certain parts of the plant can be used to help regulate blood sugar; as an antioxidant; for its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties; in weight regulation; and in the treatment of asthma, fatigue, livery injury from too much alcohol, diarrhea, gastrointestinal disorders, snakebites, sore throat, and other disorders. The pulp of the plant is also used by many cultures on burns, cuts, wounds and fractures because it eases pain and promotes healing.

If you’re anything like me, right now you’re wondering, “where can I get this stuff?!”

I found one place in Arizona where you can mail order prickly pear nectar and jams. Go here to learn more. And if anyone tries it or has experience with the PPC, please share. Next time I see one of these plants outside, I may try to get to the fruit myself!


Recipe: Veggie Pancakes

Ed and I unexpectedly threw together a delicious dinner last night, and I wanted to share. Like many of you, we’ve been overwhelmed with fresh vegetables each week from our Grant Family Farms CSA. We pick our box up on Monday afternoons, and last night we got two types of lettuce, red and golden beets, garlic scapes, summer squash, zucchini, green onions, English peas, and mushrooms. Not to mention the fresh whole grain bread, eggs from pastured chickens, and a huge bag of apricots!

I told Ed I would handle the vegetable if he picked up some sort of fish or meat from Whole Foods on his way home from work. I suggested a bag of frozen shrimp, because it’s easy, cheaper than fresh fish, and one bag lasts us at least two meals. Meanwhile, I pulled up the weekly e-mail we receive from the farm with suggested recipes. They had one for “Vegetable Fritters” (compliments of Simply in Season cookbook) that sounded pretty good, so I adapted it a bit and gave it a try.

*I apologize for my fuzzy iPhone photos, I was too lazy to run upstairs and get our real camera!

I am calling these veggie pancakes because they look exactly like pancakes and I don’t really like calling my food “fritters.” But either way, they turned out much better than expected and I think they’re a great way to use a lot of vegetables at one time. I’ve changed some of the proportions because when I made it, it had too much flour/egg mixture compared to the amount of veggies. But, feel free to adjust as needed.

Recipe (adapted from Vegetable Fritter recipe from Simply in Season)

1/3 cup whole wheat flour

2 fresh eggs

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp ground pepper

3-4 cups of diced, minced, chopped or shredded veggies: zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, garlic, peas, carrots, beets, green beans, onions, etc.

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Beat eggs and combine with flour, baking powder, sea salt and pepper. Fold the 3-4 cups of prepared vegetables into the egg & flour mixture. Heat frying pan with oil (I used coconut oil) and spoon batter onto hot pan as if you were making pancakes. Make these as large or small as you want. Heat on both sides until crispy, then serve.

We served these over a bed of lettuce with some shrimp and homemade salad dressing. It was really a great dinner – full of vegetables, not too filling, but very satisfying. I even ate the leftovers for breakfast today with a hard-boiled egg (topped with gray sea salt). I think these would be delicious if you made them into tiny little patties to put on top of salads, and kids may even like them too. It’s worth a try! Enjoy!


The Egg Dilemma: Cost or Quality?

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I get pretty excited about farm-fresh eggs from pastured chickens. These are eggs that come from chickens who live outside, eat green grass, and are not injected with any hormones, stimulants or antibiotics. They soak up sunshine daily, get exercise as they roam around the grass, and are happy (as happy as a chicken can be, at least). The eggs from pastured chickens are higher in essential fatty acids, lower in cholesterol, and contain more nutrients than regular eggs. Eggs from factory-farmed chickens are of a lower quality when it comes to nutrients, and on top of that they contain more bacteria because of the poor living conditions of the chickens. To get a refresher on eggs, go here.

A few days ago, one PWN reader commented on how expensive eggs from grass-fed chickens are compared to regular eggs. This is definitely true! My pastured chicken eggs cost $4.25 per dozen, and I know you can get regular eggs for as low as $0.99 per dozen in some places. This reader was wondering if the quality of the pastured chicken eggs and regular eggs are similar once you hard-boil the egg. In other words, does cooking an egg kill off any bad bacteria associated with factory farming, to the point that it doesn’t matter where the egg comes from?

Chicken meat and eggs are the most common source of food bacteria. Factory farmed chickens are kept in sheds of up to 100,000 chickens, and they are manipulated with light, food and injections to lay extra eggs each day. Cooking an egg can kill off the bacteria that can lead to food poisoning, but only if the egg is cooked thoroughly. Sunny-side up, soft-boiled, or any type of runny yolk is not considered an egg that is cooked through. Therefore, there is still a chance that some bacteria will remain. An egg that is hard-boiled with a hardened yolk will likely have no harmful bacteria.

However, the nutrients are still lower in a factory-farmed egg than in an egg from a pastured chicken. So while you may be avoiding salmonella or E. coli, you are still consuming an egg that is higher in cholesterol and lower in essential fats and vitamins. Some suggestions for getting the most out of your eggs while still staying within your grocery budget include saving the inexpensive factory-farmed eggs for hard-boiling; using pastured chicken eggs for other types of cooking; and doing some research to find a local farm that can supply you high quality eggs at a competitive price.