Radioactive fallout from those damaged Japanese nuclear reactors has arrived on the California coastline and is expected to make its way across the entire US next few days. And while the official word is that Americans "have little to worry about," I'm not taking any chances when it comes to protecting my health and my family.
No, I won't be dressing up in a hazmat suit every day, but I will be taking one important precaution to make sure this new radioactivity won't damage my health. And that's by getting more iodine-rich foods into my diet, starting immediately.
We here at MyHealingKitchen.com are big believers in the healing and protective power of nutrition. This isn't a matter of faith or philosophy, but is a consequence of reviewing more than 9,000 scientific studies which affirm that sometimes food really is "your best medicine."
So let's take a look at the foods which have the uncanny ability to protect your body from radiation toxicity, according to solid scientific research.
Radioactive Fallout 101
While there are dozens of radioactive contaminants spewing from the damaged reactors, the one making it across the Pacific in significant amounts is iodine-131. In sufficient concentrations, it tends to lodge in the thyroid gland where it can cause cancer.
People with low levels of natural iodine (which, studies reveal, includes 95% of all Americans) are particularly vulnerable because their thyroids will soak up any iodine encountered - even the radioactive kind. But when your thyroid is "topped off" with healthy iodine, there's no room available for the radioactive kind.
This means that consuming extra iodine before and during exposure to radiation will help prevent the radioactive from of iodine from lodging in your thyroid (as well as ovaries, uterus, prostate, and breasts) and keep it moving until it exits your body.
Raising your iodine levels when radioactivity is present is like wearing one of those lead shields around your thyroid when you're having an x-ray taken.
But so far, there's no need to reach iodine supplementation.
Iodine Supplements May Be Ineffective, Anyway
Although the federal government claims a one-time dose of iodine before or after iodine-131 exposure provides sufficient protection, this strategy may be ineffective if you're exposed over a longer-term.
Even more inappropriate is taking potassium-iodide (KI) tablets, called "thyroid blockers," which are the go-to emergency treatment for heavy-duty radiation exposure within a 100-mile radius of the meltdown zone.
Obviously, that doesn't apply to anyone in the US. In fact, Americans taking KI tablets could produce harmful effects in the thyroid, or activate a thyroid problem.
"Fallout Foods" Are Your Best Defense
Instead, the ideal way for Americans to protect themselves right now is to boost your consumption of foods that are rich in natural iodine.
I call these "fallout foods" because they pump up your body's iodine supply, making you less vulnerable to any radioactive iodine in the air.
And topping the list is seaweed and other sea vegetables, which represent the very best food source of iodine on the planet.
If you're like most Americans, chances are the only seaweed you've ever swallowed was wrapped around a sushi roll. But seaweed and sea veggies are a mainstay in the Japanese diet (they consume more of it than any population on Earth), so they're getting as much protection as these foods can provide.
To safely increase your iodine levels, you only need to consume eat one serving of kelp or other seaweed daily. This will add 12.5 milligrams of iodine to your body, which is more than enough protection. Here's how to include this into your diet…
Seaweeds We Love
Here's a rundown of the most popular types of seaweed available…
Kelp has an amazing 12.5 mg of iodine per teaspoon of granules. Sprinkle it onto any meal-salads, soups, and whole grains.
Kombu is a type of kelp that comes in strips. Add one 5" strip to every pot of soup, grains and beans you cook (iodine is not affected by heat). It's painless and flavorless, and you can remove it after cooking so that it doesn't turn family members off.
Dulse and wakame are other good sources of iodine -- and although one sheet of nori provides comparatively less iodine, it still delivers 70% of your daily recommendation. (The USRDA is 150 micrograms, which many doctors agree is not enough).
Sea Veggies Remove Radiation from Your Body
In addition to protecting you from radiation, sea vegetables also pull radiation out of your body. According to a 1964 McGill University study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, kelp reduces the intestinal absorption of radioactive strontium-90 by up to 80% (thus it passes through the body instead of sticking around where it can do damage).
Indeed, there are so many health benefits associated with seaweed that adding it to your current diet just makes good sense - whether fallout from Japan becomes a major health concern or not.
Curious to see how we could make "seaweed snacking" more appealing to Western taste buds, we've been experimenting with new recipe ideas in our My Healing Kitchen Test Kitchen. Here are the winning favorites as voted by our Taste Panel…
Seaweed is definitely catching on in the health-conscious sectors of America. Seaweed snacks now populate entire sections of shelf space at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. One of my favorites is Annie Chun's Seaweed Snacks which is available in sesame or wasabi flavors. Both are big favorites around the MyHealingKitchen offices.
Other Radiation-Blocking Foods
You say no way that you'll ever, ever eat seaweed?
You'll be happy to know there are several other foods that pack a big iodine wallop, including asparagus, garlic, lima beans, mushrooms, sesame seeds, soybeans, spinach, summer squash, Swiss chard and turnip greens. (Just realize that these veggies are nowhere near as potent as the sea-faring sisters.)
And forget that urban rumor about getting your iodine from iodized salt. You'd have to swallow a half a cup of salt to get a scant 13 mg - and your blood pressure wouldn't appreciate that very much.
So have a bowl of miso soup instead.
The Japanese consume a lot of miso - a savory, fermented soybean paste frequently used as a base for soups. Soybeans provide ample iodine on their own, but studies shown that miso strengthens people's resistance to radiation poisoning by up to five times, according to 1990 Hiroshima University research. And this review of miso studies shows phenomenal anti-cancer activity.
The fallout-fighting benefits of miso were first observed by Dr. Tatsuichiro Akizuki, M.D., who discovered that his staff and patients failed to develop radiation sickness, even though they were terribly near the atomic blast in Nagasaki. He attributed this to their unusually high daily consumption of miso and wakame seaweed soup.
Miso is incredibly versatile, too. You can use it as a bouillon or stock, put it in sandwich spreads, or sip it with grated ginger as a hearty tea.
Some mornings, I fill a quart jar with hot water, add 2 teaspoons of grated ginger with a tablespoon of miso, and enjoy it for hours. It's quick, easy, nourishing - and very low-cal. Add a bit of kelp and you've got twice the protection.
Put More Cancer-Blocking Foods on the Table
Radiation causes cancer by creating free radicals molecules that damage DNA. So it makes sense to eat more foods and supplements that are rich in antioxidants these days - and research backs this up.
Choose foods loaded with the antioxidants vitamin C (papaya, kale, red bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries and kiwis), vitamin E (sunflower seeds, almonds, olives and spinach) and selenium (Brazil nuts, salmon, shrimp and turkey, and brown rice). All of these are cancer-blocking heavyweights. Let your eyes guide you: Fresh, brightly-colored foods tend to be antioxidant treasures.
You also should consume more whole grains, especially brown rice. They are rich in fiber, phosphorus, antioxidants and selenium, all of which help escort toxins from the body.
And don't forget this herbal helper. Spanish researchers published research in the British Journal of Radiology demonstrating that nothing fights the free radicals created by radiation like rosemary. Since rosemary's essential antioxidants are fat-soluble, they provide critical protection in areas water-based antioxidants can't reach.
Other supplements that may be protective against radiation damage are vitamin D and vitamin K. Both support cell apoptosis, which is the programmed death of cells that accumulate various DNA errors (due to radiation and other causes). Vitamin D also supports DNA repair.
It's Time for Change
Following on the heels of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico just 13 months ago, the current nuclear disaster in Japan is yet another wake-up call for us as global citizens, as well as Americans.
The terrible televised scenes from Japan re-emphasize the pressing need to transition to non-polluting, sustainable, renewable sources of energy immediately.
In the meantime, one thing each of us can do right away is conserve the energy available to us. Conservation is the cheapest form of energy we have at hand right now.
The time for real alternative energy is here. The sooner we get working on it, the sooner we can pass a safer world on to our grandchildren.
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