Part I – Barry Estabrook, Tomatoland
Stints working on a dairy farm and a commercial fishing boat as a young man convinced Barry Estabrook that writing about how food was produced was a hell of a lot easier than actually producing it. He lives on a 30-acre tract in Vermont where he gardens, tends a dozen laying hens, taps maple trees, and (in an effort to reduce his alcohol footprint) brews hard cider from his own apples that no one except him likes. He was formerly a contributing editor at the late lamented Gourmet magazine. He now serves on the advisory board of Gastronomica, The Journal of Food and Culture, and writes for the the New York Times, the Washington Post, TheAtlantic.com, MarkBittman.com, Saveur, Men’s Health, and pretty much anyone else who will take his stuff. His article for Gourmet on labor abuses in Florida’s Tomato fields received the 2010 James Beard Award for magazine feature writing. His book Tomatoland,about how industrial agriculture has ruined the tomato in all ways–gastronomic, environmental, and in terms of labor abuse– was recently published by Andrews McMeel.
PART I: Karen Giblin and Mache Siebel, Eat To Defeat Menopause
Karen Giblin is the founder of the Red Hot Mamas, the largest menopause education and management program in the United States and Canada.
Mache Seibel, MD, is the director of the Complicated Menopause Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is the founder of HealthRock, a health education program that uses music to make learning a fun experience.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me today, it’s a great show coming up, I know it. There are so many things that are so important to talk about and we’re going to do that today. I’ve got two parts to the show. We’re going to start with Barry Estabrook, the author of Tomatoland. He’s worked on a dairy farm and done some commercial fishing as a young man, and that convinced him to decide to write about how food was produced because he thought it was a lot easier than actually producing it. He lives on a 38 acre track farm in Vermont and he was formerly a contributing editor at the late lamented Gourmet magazine. He now serves on the advisory board of Gastronomica, the Journal of Food and Culture, and writes for the New York Times, the Washington Post, TheAtlantic.com, MarkBittman.com, Saveur, Men’s Health, and many others. His article for Gourmet on labor abuses in Florida’s tomato fields received the 2010 James Beard Award for magazine feature writing. We’re going to be talking about his new book, Tomatoland – about how agriculture has ruined the tomato in all ways gastronomic, environmental, and in terms of labor abuse. Welcome, Barry, to It’s All About Food.
Barry Estabrook: Well, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Caryn Hartglass: Gosh, I am so excited to talk to you. You have no idea. I read the book, loved it – can’t say I love what it’s about, but I do love tomatoes. I’m just continually overwhelmed with what goes on with our food system with agriculture, and I have to say that I wasn’t aware of what was going on with tomatoes. This book exposes so many horrible things that are going on with that precious little food.
Barry Estabrook: Yeah, and you have to ask for what, because these industrial little tomatoes that are the result of this process certainly bear no resemblance to what we’re getting from our own gardens or farmers markets at this time of year.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, it’s interesting – for what, exactly. Because after reading your book, I’ve learned that that tomatoes that we produce in industrial farms in Florida have no taste, have little nutrition, they’re difficult to produce, and the people that are growing them, the workers, are treated horribly. What’s the benefit of making these tomatoes?
Barry Estabrook: Well, you know, about the only benefit I can see is that some people like a little bit of coloring on their salads in the wintertime, and frankly I don’t think it’s a benefit that’s worth the price that’s paid.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what drives me crazy, something that I talk about all the time on this show, is that many people don’t know what’s in their food. They don’t know how their food is produced, and they don’t even know what food should taste like anymore; they’re so overwhelmed because they use so much salt, sugar and fat – everything is disguised, their tastebuds are numb, and it’s a very dismal thing indeed.
Barry Estabrook: Since the book came out I’ve been speaking and touring and I can’t tell you about the number of people who have come up to me, probably in their twenties and thirties, who have said, “I’ve never really tasted a proper tomato.”
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, that’s making me cry!
Barry Estabrook: One woman in San Francisco used to say she hated tomatoes until she moved out there and was able to get some farmer’s market tomatoes.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh sure, there’ nothing like a fresh garden, warmed-by-the-sun tomato that you can bite into like an apple.
Barry Estabrook: Exactly. That’s the best way to have a tomato. People ask me my favorite recipe for tomatoes and I say, “A little salt, and a little pepper.”
Caryn Hartglass: Now, speaking of salt, I’m always telling people to stop adding the salt. But one thing I learned in your book is that tomatoes have been hybridized and changed so much that there is so much more sodium in them then there was originally.
Barry Estabrook: Yeah, I found it startling. This is the United States Department of Agriculture’s own nutrition figures, and it turns out that the supermarket fast food tomatoes of today, they have 30% less Vitamin C, calcium, niacin – you go down the list of vitamins, and it’s less, less, less. But amazingly, they have 14 times the sodium that a tomato had back in the 1960s. So this seems to be the result of all of our breeding efforts.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s crazy. So crazy. You take a whole book to explain some of the questions I’m going to ask, but how did we get to such a crazy place? You talk in your book about how tomatoes are grown in the sand. And they don’t naturally grow well in Florida.
Barry Estabrook: Well, exactly. It’s counter intuitive at first. But the fact is, tomatoes’ wild ancestors are desert plants. Tomatoes are native to the far western regions of South America, some of the driest places on Earth. That’s why tomatoes do great in countries like Italy and Spain –
Caryn Hartglass: Where the ground is dry.
Barry Estabrook: – where you’ve got these endless, low-humidity, sunny summer days. Florida is very, very humid. And everything that would kill a tomato – every disease, every fungus, every mold, every rust, every insect that would do in a tomato thrives in humidity – so to get a crop, they have to wage chemical warfare. The Florida handbook that goes out to commercial growers from the government lists 110 different pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides that they can spray on their plants during the few months that they’re in the field just so they survive.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so not only do these tomatoes have no taste and have very little nutritional value, and have lots of extra sodium that we don’t really need, they’re also laced with all kinds of toxic chemicals, and not only are they bad for us to ingest, but what’s really heartbreaking are the workers that are exposed to these chemicals.
Barry Estabrook: Well, there are a couple of great tragedies, and that is certainly one of them. I probably talked to four dozen tomato workers while researching the book and I asked them all one question about a pesticide. And they looked at me as I I had asked them, “Do you generally put your pants on in the morning?” I mean, of course man, all the time.
Caryn Hartglass: And of course there are regulations in place that that’s not supposed to happen.
Barry Estabrook: Oh, of course, there’s regulations in place that that’s absolutely not supposed to happen. There are set intervals, called re-entry intervals in the jargon of the Environmental Protection Agency, that are supposed to elapse between when you spray a field and when workers are allowed back in. But they are completely ignored. The vast majority, study after study has shown, of farm workers, get sprayed, to the point where their clothes are soaking wet with the pesticide.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m going to jump around here. I am not someone who believes in little government; I believe in government agencies that protect us, but they have to do what they say what they’re going to do. Do you have any idea why that doesn’t happen?
Barry Estabrook: Well, the governmental department that’s in charge of these matters in Florida is called the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs. You can see right away that there’s kind of a built-in conflict of interests.
Caryn Hartglass: We have that in the federal government too!
Barry Estabrook: When the same department that’s supposed to promote big egg is also in charge of protecting people. At one point, there were only 14 pesticide inspectors for the entire state of Florida, which is one of the largest agricultural states in the nation. In southwestern Florida – this was a few years ago – where the workforce is basically all Hispanic, the inspector there didn’t speak any Spanish. By comparison, California, which has slightly stricter rules, it has several factors of ten more cases of reported pesticide exposure. It’s not necessarily because that many more workers are exposed as a percentage of the workforce, it’s just they get reported there.
Caryn Hartglass: Why would California be better than Florida?
Barry Estabrook: One simple case is California doctors, in order to get reimbursed through the compensation program, have to report pesticide poisonings. Florida doctors do not – they’re supposed to, but they don’t have to do it to get paid.
Caryn Hartglass: It always comes down to money.
Barry Estabrook: There’s sort of an incentive when you’re a busy physician not to fill out these forms when there’s no website.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m always insisting to everyone I talk to that they should but organic produce all the time and try and look for the ones that are reasonably priced; they don’t have to buy the ones that are outrageously expensive. It’s so important to support organic. The piece that people miss – not just that they shouldn’t consume these toxic residual pesticides, besides on their food – but it is so inhumane with what goes on with the exposure to the workers.
Barry Estabrook: You know, the saddest case I cam across concerned three female workers. They were neighbors; they lived in the same tiny work camp of a couple dozen trailers and shacks. They all worked for the same tomato company. And they all became pregnant at about the same time. They knew that this was not good for their future babies. They knew it because their eyes would water, their throats and lungs would burn, they would feel dizzy and almost pass out, they broke out in rashes, and so they went to their boos, who also happened to be the landlord, and said, “Look, we’re pregnant; we want to stop working.” And he said, “You can stop working, but clear out of your trailers because I need that space for someone who is willing to work.” So they were in this awful – I mean, try to put yourself in their position. They were pregnant and they knew they were hurting their babies. But yet they had to have a place to live more than ever for when the babies came. So they were caught in this trap. And sure enough, all three babies were born horribly deformed.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, without arms and legs.
Barry Estabrook: One was born without arms and legs, one had a jaw deformity and had to be fed through a tube, and the other was born with awful deformities. They didn’t even know if she was a girl or if he was a boy, the doctors, and it turns out that he was a boy, and he died within a few days. All three women.
Caryn Hartglass: One of the things that makes Tomatoland a great book, not just what you’re talking about, is that there are so many stories in the book about individual people. And they are heartbreaking, so many of them. In addition to these women, but a lot of the men that work are treated like slaves – where they’re locked into these places that they were given to sleep in at night and not allowed to stop working for a particular place – they’re slaves.
Barry Estabrook: Yeah, you know, they’re not treated like slaves. This was slavery. Let me run down a short list: being shackled in chains at night; being locked in the back of an airless produce truck so that they would be ready to be transported to the fields in the morning; being beaten if they didn’t work hard enough; some in some cases killed or severely beaten if they tried to escape, and they received no pay, or virtually no pay – that’s slavery. And in fact, sadly, it’s not rare. There have been 1200 people freed from slavery in Florida’s fields in the past 10 or 15 years. And these are court cases; I went through all the documents.
Caryn Hartglass: These are the ones that we’ve found.
Barry Estabrook: The U.S Attorney down there told me that’s just the tip of an iceberg. It’s very, very hard to bring charges of human trafficking, which is the euphemism for slavery, to court. You need witnesses and a lot of time. If someone gets freed, he’s not going to wait around or go to the police; he’s going to run.
Caryn Hartglass: I talk a lot about the factory farming of animals for food, and it’s a really horrific scenario there. It’s bad for the animals; the meat that’s produced is really unhealthy; we get E. coli and salmonella and all kinds of problems; and now we’re talking about humans who are treated like slaves. We can’t get into factory farms to see what’s going on; is there a way to see any of this?
Barry Estabrook: It’s difficult. If you go to a typical tomato field in southwestern Florida, where the roads go into these fields, there’s armed guards, there’s gates that come down, and there are armed security personnel there. As far as seeing what’s going on, it’s not a whole lot different than some of these factory farms. It’s like you said earlier: they really have no interest in the public knowing how its food is produced.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so let’s just recap all of the horrors behind the tomato for a moment. We’ve got pesticides and herbicides that are affecting us and also the people that are using these things on the plants; we’ve got a tomato that has no taste and little nutritional value; and it’s a business that doesn’t even make a lot of money.
Barry Estabrook: Well, the same factor that accounts for out tasteless pork chops and rubbery chicken and bland eggs that give us salmonella, it’s been a race to the bottom for prices. That’s what’s been happening: cheaper, cheaper, cheaper. And they produce these commodity tomatoes that are designed not to be distinguished from each other. They’re designed to be the same, whether you get them from Mexico or Florida or wherever. And the only thing that matters is low prices. What happens when that’s your main goal is that everything else falls by the wayside.
Caryn Hartglass: So when people are eating tomatoes on their fast food sandwiches and burgers and salads and are eating tomatoes out of season, when they have no taste, think about the story behind that tomato. It’s not a pretty one. There is hope though.
Barry Estabrook: In fact, the United States Attorney for the southern district of Florida, I asked him a question: “If I eat these grocery store or fast food tomatoes, is there a chance I’m eating something that’s been picked by a slave?” He looked at me and said, “It’s not a chance. If you have eaten these tomatoes, you have eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave.” And that again, that’s the US Federal Attorney down there talking. He’s not a man prone to hyperbole.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. That’s devastating. But there is hope. There are good things happening. So now I want to talk about the brighter side of the tomato. So there are some people in Florida that are working toward making the industry down there better, and there are some good examples in your book about that. And what do you think, should we be growing tomatoes in Florida?
Barry Estabrook: From a climactic point of view, and from a soil and nutrition point of view, basically from a horticultural or botanical point of view, no. It’s the last place in the world you should be growing tomatoes. But it is warm at a time of year when the northern 2/3 of the country is frozen. So the reason they grow there is strictly a marketing one, an economic one. You can get a tomato up to Chicago or New York City or Saint Louis in a day or two with a loaded tractor trailer of tomatoes. So that’s why they grow them there.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, how would you do it?
Barry Estabrook: The book sort of does focus on a lot of negative things, but in fac,t there is a positive ending. And the template for all these things exists now; it’s nothing new. I always tell people, “The closer a tomato is grown to your kitchen counter, the better it’s going to be.”
Caryn Hartglass: That’s true for any fruit or vegetable.
Barry Estabrook: And I think tomatoes probably more so than most fruits and vegetables. But you’re right, so if you can grow your own, do it. Tomato plants love to grow and tomatoes are a great sort of gateway fruit for gardening.
Caryn Hartglass: Just don’t water them too much!
Barry Estabrook: Or go to the farmer’s market this time of year. If you eat tomatoes that are in season and grown locally, you’re going to get tomatoes that are full of flavor, often don’t have the chemicals on it, because these small farmers are frequently organic, the working conditions that I discovered in farms that supply farmers markets are very good; the employees receive a decent hourly wage.
Caryn Hartglass: They’re not chained in at night.
Barry Estabrook: They’re not chained at night. What I do is I make a complete embarrassing tomato hog of myself this time of year. It’s not common for me to have them three times a day – fried at breakfast and on a sandwich at lunch, then a salad for dinner. And then I make up a big pot of pasta sauce before the end of tomato season and freeze that individually. Come first frost, I’m sick of tomatoes; I’m quite happy to go without them for the rest of the winter.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, just talk about canned tomatoes for a minute, because I remember reading that the canned tomatoes aren’t the ones that are growing like this in Florida?
Barry Estabrook: Right, canned tomatoes and fresh tomatoes may as well be apples and oranges. Canned tomato industry in the United States is concentrated in California. And canned tomatoes, they’re called processing tomatoes because they’re the ones that go into ketchup or salsa or tomato paste, so they’re grown in California. The varieties they use for those tomatoes, the tomatoes all ripen at once. Unlike the slicing tomato varieties, like your garden tomato, a single plant will yield over a period of 6 or 8 weeks.
Caryn Hartglass: Which is not very practical for a big business.
Barry Estabrook: Well, that’s why they have to be handled and picked. The ones in the processing tomatoes all ripen at once so they can kill the vines and pick them mechanically. The big machines go through and swallow up the vines and kind of spit them out one side and then put the tomatoes in a truck. They’re hauled off immediately to be processed. They’re picked in the morning; they’re boiled and cooked that afternoon. So there’s no problem with keeping or anything like that. It’s a whole different business.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you have any feeling about canned tomatoes? In terms of eating them – positive or negative?
Barry Estabrook: In most cases, canned tomatoes are intentionally designed to be blank tablets upon which the processor can layer whatever flavor they want. Although they tend to be very inoffensive. Because, like I said earlier, they might be destined to become a pizza sauce, or they might be destined to become ketchup. The point is, they’re going to get a lot of stuff added to them.
Caryn Hartglass: Sure.
Barry Estabrook: And even when you cook them at home, you do add onions and garlic.
Caryn Hartglass: But they do have a tomato taste to them.
Barry Estabrook: They certainly have more than the fresh tomatoes in the wintertime. Because again, Florida tomatoes are picked bright green. They’re picked green and they’;re taken to warehouses and exposed to ethylene gas which causes them to beautifully turn that rosy red color. It doesn’t mean they’re ripe; it’s just ethylene gas the plant emits when it wants to turn a fruit color, and they do this artificially so these tomatoes will turn the right color, but they’re not necessarily ripe. While a processing, canning tomato does get to ripen in the field.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh goodness. Okay. Now we also get tomatoes from other countries; there’s some competition going on in Mexico. Are they doing the same thing that’s going on in Florida?
Barry Estabrook: I concentrated my research on Florida intentionally because I really wanted to look closely at big agriculture through one very specific window. Everything I have heard and read about tomato production in Mexico, it’s much worse on all counts in Florida. The pesticide use and the labor conditions are much worse. And that’s who Florida is competing with.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. And maybe not doing so well in the competition.
Barry Estabrook: There’s a tomato war going on, whether you know it or not, and the Florida producers are each year are fighting a rear-guard action; they’re losing market-share, during the heart of the winter they’re losing it to Mexico and during the seasons of spring and fall, they’re losing it to hydroponic producers, either in the United States, or in Canada. They’re being squeezed. Their percentage of the market is getting smaller each year, and Mexico’s is growing each year.
Caryn Hartglass: Now oe thing I was really surprised to find out about was the tomatoes that are on the vine that are sold in stores, a lot of times they’re more expensive than the ones sold separated from the vine, we always get a feeling that those are a better tomato. And you wrote that it was the vine, the leaves that were smelling and the tomato may not be any better.
Barry Estabrook: That’s true; it’s a marketing trick. The vines give off that tell-tale scent; once you smell a tomato vine, you never forget it. And our sense of smell plays wonderful tricks on our minds. The smell of the vines trick the people into thinking that the tomato on that vine is going to taste good. Some of them taste okay, but a lot of them are just as bland as the less expensive, pinkish tomato to the other side.
Caryn Hartglass: I do love the smell of a tomato vine. I live in New York City and we have a very small terrace; we try to grow things and I’m realizing that I’m probably going to have to do something because things aren’t growing as well as they used to – it’s probably because I’m not feeding my soil. But I have grown tomatoes. This year, I didn’t even plant any seeds, but a few plants just decided to pop up, which was very nice of them. But it’s taken me a while to figure out the watering thing, and now I think I understand it. We’d probably watered them more earlier and then realized that they don’t require that much.
Barry Estabrook: Yeah, I think you’re right. Lots of people have good success growing tomatoes in pots on balconies. I think the one thing you can’t control is sunlight. If you don’t have sunlight, you’re not going to get a good crop of tomatoes. If you have a bright, sunny spot, and a container, and fertilizer, and watch the water – not too much, but don’t let them dry out to the point where they start to wither – tomatoes are very happy to grow. I have a friend in Manhattan who lives right near Ground Zero who produces a very nice assortment of tomatoes on his balcony.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow, that’s what I aspire. Barry, we’ve come to the end of this part, and I wanted to thank you so much for speaking with me today. I really want to encourage everyone to read this book; it is so important – Tomatoland. Also, go to the website, politicsoftheplate.com. There are so many great articles about what is going wrong with our food today. Thank you so much for the work that you’re doing.
Barry Estabrook: Well, thank you so much for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: I look forward to meeting you very soon!
Barry Estabrook: Take care.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, bye.
Transcribed by Sarah Brown, 3/29/2013
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Caryn Hartglass: You’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thanks for joining me. We are going to be talking with Karen Giblin and Dr. Mache Seibel, the authors of Eat to Defeat Menopause. Karen Giblin is the founder of the Red Hot Mamas, the largest menopause education and management program in the United States and Canada; and Mache Seibel is the director of the Complicated Menopause Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is founder of Health Rock, a health education program that uses music to make learning a fun experience. Thank you for joining me today on It’s All About Food.
Dr. Seibel: Our pleasure.
Karen Giblin: Thank you very much. We’re going to talk about a very hot topic and ways to deal with it.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, great. Now did I pronounce your name correctly?
Karen Giblin: (States her name.)
Caryn Hartglass: And Dr. Seibel?
Dr. Seibel: Yes. (States his name.)
Caryn Hartglass: Great. I got it right! I got it right! Okay. Well, this is a very hot topic, and we don’t talk about it enough, and I think a lot of medical practitioners don’t talk about it enough or don’t know enough about it, at least not many of the ones that I have spoken to.
Dr. Seibel: It takes a lot of time to talk about menopause and that’s one of the issues, because it is something that we have to educate women about and talk to them about it, and because it does take time, there often isn’t enough time in a typical visit.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, especially not with our healthcare situation the way it is today, where patients have to get in and out quickly.
Dr. Seibel: Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. But that’s one great thing about some of the things that you’re doing, because you both have great websites and lots of wonderful information. I was just looking at your site, Dr. Seibel, and there are so many great little videos up here. This is doctorseibel.com, that’s spelled out d-o-c-t-o-r-s-e-i-b-e-l dot com, and lots of really helpful informative stuff, and it doesn’t cost anything.
Dr. Seibel: Thank you. Yeah, it’s a lot of information and because–
Caryn Hartglass: How come you’re so good?
Dr. Seibel: My whole motto is it’s better to stay well than to get well.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Dr. Seibel: The only way people can do that is with education.
Caryn Hartglass: And I also quickly want to mention the other site, redhotmamas.org, and that’s Karen Giblin’s site, and again, there’s lots of great information there. But let’s just touch on a few things. Certainly we don’t have a lot of time, but just to get people a little hot about this topic.
Dr. Seibel: No pun intended.
Caryn Hartglass: I can’t help myself. Okay. Now, so I have a question: Is it true that there are other places in the world where the women don’t experience the extreme symptoms that some of us experience here in the United States?
Dr. Seibel: Well, some menopausal symptoms are universal. Some of them, such as hot flashes, do have some cultural aspects to it. The women in Asia, for instance, are less likely to complain of hot flashes, possibly because they eat a lot of soy and other kinds of phytoestrogens, but they do complain about that particular symptom less.
Caryn Hartglass: Mmm hmm. Well, that’s important, and that’s sort of a clue to the rest of us who don’t enjoy these hot flashes.
Karen Giblin: You’re right. I want to mention to you that about 75% of women will experience hot flashes, so there’s many of us out there that are getting the hot flashes not only in the daytime, but at night, and it’s certainly disturbing our sleep and making us cranky the next day, irritable, and often puts us at certain risk of developing diseases. So it’s important, if a woman does experience hot flashes, that she speak to her healthcare provider.
Dr. Seibel: That’s one of the disadvantages of loss of estrogen, because [the loss of] estrogen does diminish the REM sleep, or the rapid-eye-movement sleep, and that does leave a woman feeling very much more tired. And also, the REM sleep is a time during the night that people incorporate or process all of the complex thinking and issues that are emotionally related. That time of sleep is when we process that, so the lower estrogen causes a loss of that time of sleep.
Caryn Hartglass: Now I remember reading somewhere, and I don’t remember where it was–and it was a long time ago–but, those that have higher estrogen levels before menopause than those that have lower estrogen levels will experience more symptoms after menopause because of the greater difference in the drop of estrogen. Am I making any sense here?
Dr. Seibel: Well, it’s kind of, if you have a large differential. In other words, if your estrogen levels abruptly get lower, for instance with the surgical menopause when the ovaries are removed in a woman before she’s actually old enough to go through menopause, she’s going to have a lot of really significant symptoms, and the more that the person’s estrogen levels drop, the greater the delta, the more difference the change between her earlier estrogen level and the level she now has, and she well may be more symptomatic.
Caryn Hartglass: And are there things that one can do? I’m asking personally, because I did go through that. I had advanced ovarian cancer five years ago, and fortunately I am exceptionally healthy right now, but I did go through…
Dr. Seibel: Well, congratulations to you!
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, I know, I was one of the under 20%. But there are reasons for that. And it’s all about my food. But when you have it forced upon you, what are some of the things that you can do to make up for what you’re lacking?
Dr. Seibel: Karen, you want to talk about it? Would you like me to? I think the most important thing you can do–
Caryn Hartglass: I think we lost Karen and I’m not sure if she’s back yet.
Dr. Seibel: All right. The most important thing you can do is to have a positive attitude. I mean, this is very hard to get, but it’s the most valuable thing in the world. And the thing that can help you to do that is to try and get as much sleep as you can, to get the exercise that you need, to lower your stress and get into stress reduction, and to eat healthily. And these are really the four legs of the stool for good health. And so, women who have hot flashes, if they do exercise in a regular way, if they hydrate – get plenty of water, if they avoid smoking–that’s something they definitely shouldn’t be doing, exercising 30 minutes three to five times a week, and that actually helps retain your cardiac output, because people who don’t exercise between the ages of 30 and 70 have a drop in about 30% of their cardiac output, so their cardiac injection goes way down, and it’s exercise that keeps it going. And then, limiting alcohol to one glass of wine at the most, or one beer or an ounce of spirits daily, and avoiding caffeine. These are all things–limiting salt and soda–these are all things that can help a woman to reduce the hot flashes and experience that she has.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, what I love about hearing all of this is that all of these things you’re recommending are things that are good for all general health. And you can say the same things for lowering your risk for heart disease and diabetes–
Dr. Seibel: High blood pressure. Everything.
Caryn Hartglass: Everything. I love the way nature works that way.
Dr. Seibel: Well I look at health as a continuum. If we look at wellness to illness, if we continue to take poor care of our bodies, then what happens is slowly but surely we start to move toward illness. And so eventually we get to a tipping point, we pass over the middle of the fulcrum and we drop into illness, and then we’ve got to get well. But if we can stay well by simply allowing ourselves to take care of ourselves a day at a time, then it’s much easier to stay well. You cannot cram for life. You’ve got to live life a day at a time. You just can’t go in one day and decide, I’m going to be healthy, and do something really intensively for one day and then expect things to change. We’ve got to be proactive about it. That’s what we try to do with our book. Eat to Defeat Menopause really has a lot, the first 60 pages of the book is just chockfull of health information that’s easy to understand. It talks about menopause; it talks about what you should be eating, and nutritional tips and health information. And then, the rest of the book has 130 recipes or so, both from my kitchen and from Karen’s kitchen, but also from top chefs from around the country. So we went to former White House chefs, we went to people at the top restaurants, and each one gave their favorite recipe or two, and then we had the nutritional department at the University of Massachusetts, where I work, going through it and analyzing it for protein, fats, carbohydrates, how many calories, so you know exactly what you’re eating. And then we have it of course divided into breakfast, into lunch and appetizers, and for dinners, soups and stews and salads, so it’s divided up so you can find what you want. And then, we were fortunate enough, Dean Ornish thought it was a great book, so he wrote the forward for our book; it was a very lovely forward. And throughout it we give some red hot tips, for portion control, or for things that we’ve learned from the yogis, or for different kinds of things that women will find useful as they look through it, and can just say, “Okay, I’m not going to read the whole book, of course, but I’m going to look for a recipe, and while I’m at it, I’m going to find a little red-hot tip that will be helpful for me today.”
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s all good.
Karen Giblin: Yeah, and the recipes are actually extremely delicious, and we’ve tried most of the recipes ourselves, and we’ve made a lot of them ourselves, and they’re excellent. Excellent. And we deal with a lot of Mediterranean diets and things like that on it. We have tuna and bean salads, pasta, and I know that I’m Italian and you can eat pasta but you have to eat it in a small portion and you won’t gain any weight. And in Italy, the women aren’t heavy because it’s simply, spaghetti and pasta is not weighted down with heavy cheese sauces. So there are ways of eating that are healthy for you.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, there are a lot of interesting recipes here. I’m a vegan, and I promote all the plant foods, and so there are some really interesting ones: watercress salad with fennel–I love watercress, and I’m always encouraging people to eat their greens ’cause there’s so many wonderful things in them, but a lot of great things here. I don’t personally like to encourage dairy or fish foods and I know that they’re in here and I know that a lot of people eat them. I think there are other issues with regard to the environment and some other health issues where I prefer to eat plant foods. But overall, I think this is pretty well balanced.
Karen Giblin: Great.
Dr. Seibel: We tried to have something for everyone.
Caryn Hartglass: Mmm hmm.
Dr. Seibel: What happens is, I think a plant-based diet is just fantastic and I know I primarily eat vegetarian, not exclusively, but that’s a large part of what I eat. But I know that many people are eating other types of food, and so Karen and I incorporated things that would be of value to the people who do choose to eat otherwise.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so one of the things that I really like is – there’s so much talk about soy and there’s so much fear about soy and you devoted a good chunk in the book about soy and how good it is and which soy foods are good, so I just want to underline that. I don’t quite understand why there’s been so much fear wrapped around soy foods in this country.
Dr. Seibel: You know, soy gets a really bad rap, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that there was a study that was published that showed that if you take cancer cells, the actual cells, breast cancer, and you put them in culture, depending on how you do the culture, how you do the counting of cells by DNA, there was one study that suggested that soy had some role in cancer production. On the other hand, with that exception, there’s really been no evidence that soy stimulates cancer cells in people that don’t have it. And the fact of the matter is that in China and other Asian countries, where soy is a staple, the incidence of cancer, and breast cancer, is actually lower than in the United States.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Karen Giblin: I think one of the issues is when we get involved in taking supplements, a lot of the different supplements. And incorporating soy into our diet is totally different than taking – the consumption of supplements. So what we’ve tried to do is explain carefully the role that soy plays in our diets, and how it can affect hot flashes and other things. But many people are confused about how to incorporate it in our diet.
Caryn Hartglass: Mmm hmm. And that’s where the great recipes come in.
Karen Giblin: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: What about estrogen replacement? Do you work with patients with that, Dr. Seibel?
Dr. Seibel: Oh, many. Of course.
Caryn Hartglass: And does it help? I’ve heard so many mixed things about it.
Dr. Seibel: Well, I mean there’s no question that in 97% of women, giving estrogen is going to relieve the symptoms that they come for, most typically hot flashes or vaginal dryness, or prevention of bone loss. Estrogen is not a question of if it’s helpful; the question is always weighing the benefits and the risks. And for some women, after the Women’s Health Initiative study, there was a lot of concern about was it more risk than benefit.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Dr. Seibel: And most recently, the big bugaboo was in 2001, which is now about ten years ago, when the Women’s Health Initiative study came out showing an increase of cancer of the breast, blood clots and so forth, but in that study, the increased incidence was exactly eight patients per 10,000 increase. In other words, some women who don’t take it get breast cancer and some don’t. But eight more per 10,000 women got breast cancer, which is eight per 10,000, or .8 for 1,000, or .08 per 100, which is less than a tenth of a percent.
Caryn Hartglass: Mmm hmm.
Dr. Seibel: But it was a prevention study. Therefore, the study was discontinued. Now just a few months ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association, another 10,000 women who had their uterus removed and therefore took estrogen only, not progesterone but only estrogen, were followed, and it was found that the women who only took estrogen actually had a 23% reduction of breast cancer risk compared to the women who didn’t get it. So, the data keeps needing to be updated and refined and specified, and every woman needs to talk with her doctor about what’s right for her.
Karen Giblin: And also, the latest findings are shorter-term use of estrogen for moderate to severe symptoms at the time of menopause may be a very effective way in dealing with the menopausal symptoms.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, that’s good to know. Kind of help your body transition.
Karen Giblin: Yes. But not taking it much later after the onset of menopause. But at the time of menopause, taken for a short duration of time to get over that severe or moderate to severe symptoms is very effective.
Caryn Hartglass: One of the things that I really enjoyed discovering is the music, Dr. Seibel, that you connect with your health practice. And I love the humor. I think music is so important–I’m a singer myself–and I think it’s an effective way to get information out. I really appreciate that you’re doing that and I appreciate the humor.
Dr. Seibel: Well, thank you. People who do learn by musical messaging activate more parts of the brain than people who are receiving just the spoken word, so it is a very helpful tool. Just like Schoolhouse Rock, some people will remember was very popular for getting people to remember. “Conjunction Junction” and things like “I’m Just a Bill on Capitol Hill,” [sic] and those songs which are now a part of the culture. The reason they were effective is they taught people ways to remember using different parts of their brain. It just gave them a better recall — the music, the rhythm, etc.
Karen Gilbin: And you know, there is no prescription required to laugh.
Dr. Seibel: That is true.
Karen Giblin: Definitely, and I think of all times, you’ve got to honor your humor at menopause, and keep that twinkle in your wrinkle. Mache is doing a very good job at that with his website. Dr. Seibel, thank you.
Dr. Seibel: Thank you. And you know, Karen has a lot of wonderful content on hers, as well, lots of information. So the listeners can go to either of our websites, either redhotmamas.org or doctorseibel.com, and get lots of information that they can go just through at their leisure.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. You say you should talk to your doctor for help, but sometimes we can’t find a doctor that has this information. Are there places to go to find doctors that are plugged into the whole nutrition scene and have a more integrative approach?
Karen Giblin: Actually, you can go onto to the North American Menopause Society website, which is menopause.org, and they will have a list of menopause clinicians who are certified. And, on redhotmamas.org and Dr. Seibel’s healthrock.com, you’ll also find some doctors.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s really good to know, because I think more and more doctors are realizing the importance of nutrition, but I’ve talked to far too many that don’t know enough, how helpful simple things can be. And some, unfortunately, believe that their patients don’t want to make changes. I just think it’s important that the doctor promote the importance of healthy diet and lifestyle.
Dr. Seibel: I do think that today we’re having to be more advocates for our own health, and I think people need to understand that prevention is the important thing. That things like this book were inspired to try to help women to have a diet and nutritional information that can help them and they can incorporate into their daily lives, along with exercise and stress reduction and getting enough sleep. These are, as I said earlier, the real cornerstones of good health. And women can talk to their doctors and see if they share these beliefs. And if they don’t, they can look for other people that are more inclined to go along that way.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, there are lots of symptoms that you list here for perimenopause. And some of them, I think, go into menopause: Hot flashes, insomnia, weight gain, vaginal dryness, palpitations, lower sexual desire, depression, and it really is good to know that we have some control over the magnitude of all of these symptoms.
Dr. Seibel: Absolutely. They can all be modified by our behavior. By that I mean the things we’ve been talking about: Our diet and nutrition, our exercise, lowering our stress, sleeping more. If we can get everybody organized to work on these particular things and make little changes over time, they can have a much healthier, longer, vital life.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t want to include the men out of this discussion, but I do know some men who also have hot flashes. Is it a similar type of phenomenon going on?
Dr. Seibel: Well, most of the men that I know that have hot flashes are generally men who are on different medications that are causing it. I don’t know any men that are having them outside of that.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. I do. (Laughs)
Dr. Seibel: Maybe there are some. They’re in touch with their feminine side.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Okay. Well, do you have a little jingle or something that you could give us before we sign off?
Dr. Seibel: I don’t know what to say in a very quick way.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, one of the things that I love watching your little videos is the big smile, and it’s so important, all of this information that you’re giving us, to know that we have the power. We can take control. It’s not hard to do, and it’s easy. It’s friendly. So I thank you for that tone. It’s really important.
Dr. Seibel: Menopause isn’t a disease. It’s a naturally occurring phase of life, not unlike puberty, not unlike the reproductive years. It’s just another phase, and the more we can embrace it and embrace our dietary intake and plan to eat healthy, then I think we can have a much better transition through it.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Well, thank you so much Karen Giblin and Dr. Mache Seibel. I really appreciate you coming on to talk about your book, Eat to Defeat Menopause, and I want to repeat our websites. We have redhotmamas.org and doctorseibel.com, spelling out “Doctor Seibel.” And there’s more information there, not just on menopause. Lots of other “stay well” programs, as well.
Karen Giblin: Thank you for having us.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you so much.
Dr. Seibel: Thank you very much. I enjoyed being with you.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. Thank you.
Transcribed by TW, 7/28/2014