Bodies In Balance COLUMNS HEALTH

Got Questions?

This month I want to take time to answer a few questions.  These are either from you, my readers, or frequently asked from my patients.  I always welcome questions and comments as they often give me great ideas for upcoming articles, so keep them coming to…

What are the best sweeteners?  Many of us are turning up our noses at artificial sweeteners (thankfully), and so what should we use instead?  There are indeed a litany of options from table sugar to honey so let’s go through some of these ‘sugars’ to find out what they are and which suits our health best.

Let’s begin with the sources that are least refined and closest to how nature intended…honey, maple syrup, fruit and fruit juices.  In my mind these are the ideal sugars to utilize in our diets because they are food and take little to no refining from their natural form to make things a little sweeter.  Honey quite specifically has some wonderful health benefits in that it contains vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, and can improve immune function in conditions like allergies.  Similarly maple syrup and fruits offer some terrific health benefits.  Along with molasses (a refined product from sugar cane which is incredibly nutritious), these are my sugars of choice!

Now there are many refined sugars which are touted to be more natural and healthy than table sugar…some examples are turbinado, agave syrup, brown rice syrup, and fructose.  The similarities with these is that they are all refined sweeteners, the difference is their source.  Turbinado comes from sugar cane (like white table sugar) but is a little more raw (less processed) therefore has larger crystals and is a tan color due to the retention of some of the molasses within the cane itself.  The syrups come from the plants mentioned and fructose is the sugar within fruits, which is refined into a powder.  There are pluses and minuses to each of these so my advise would be to use sparingly.

White table sugar, commonly from sugar cane or sugar beets, is the most refined sugar product, and while if given the choice of this over aspartame I would choose this every time it is still not a nutritious option for our bodies…so I put it on the generally avoid list.

The newest member to the sweetener family is Stevia, a plant which has an extreme sweetness concentration.  The interesting thing about Stevia is its positive effects on blood sugars despite its sweetness; BUT mind you these studies were done with crude herb not stevia sweetened blueberry muffins, so while I am considering this to be a worthwhile option I am keeping a scrutinizing eye on this trend.  You can find Stevia in powdered form and in lots of prepackaged products.

Remember the big picture here is our obsession with sweetness not solely the sweetener itself.  So yes for those with an extreme sweet tooth finding healthier options is worthwhile, but appreciating other flavors (bitter, savory, spicey, etc.) is key!

Antibiotics, I get a lot of questions about antibiotics.  If they’re needed, dangerous, what other things can be used instead of them and how to recover from their use.  All good questions!  Without getting too specific, there are indeed some situations where antibiotics are absolutely warranted, and that is best evaluated in a doctor’s office.  Yes, naturopaths can prescribe antibiotics.  No, antibiotics are not inherently dangerous, it is their overuse which is concerning; and I’m not talking solely about those that are prescribed, but those that are also in our food supply/farming practices, and homes (i.e. hand sanitizers).  Our microbe paranoia is making our medicines weaker and them stronger, and that is concerning.  Yes!  There are situations where natural medicines can certainly be employed, again under the guidance of a licensed professional.  Herbal medicine and nutritional supplements can create weakness in microbial growth along with immune strengthening to make for a powerful healing combination.  Making sure that there are adequate levels of good/normal microbes in the digestive system is a key to avoiding infection as well as recovering from antibiotic use.  I’m talking probiotics here, you can take these with your antibiotics and definitely following.  Yes, there are so many choices (get something with multiple organisms on the list of contents, and refrigerated…take more than once a day) and yes there are foods, which when eaten regularly, can enhance your probiotics status (yogurt, miso, tempeh, raw sauerkraut, kim chi, Kombucha, Kefir, etc).

Insurance coverage is certainly a common question I get regarding my care.  Thankfully many insurance companies are carrying plans that cover naturopaths.  BUT those same companies usually have a variety of different plans with a variety of coverage options.  So it’s not always as simple as asking ‘do you take such and such a company?”.  I always advise my new patients to call their insurance company and ask whether naturopathic care is covered under their plan prior to our initial visit.  Another thing to remember is that many plans have a deductible, a set amount of money that must be spent by you BEFORE the insurance company begins to pay anything; yet another detail to understand prior to an office visit.  This may mean that the insurance accepts the visit and applies it to the deductible but you are still responsible for paying the doctor.  Remember that insurance is a contract between you and the company, that we the doctors are dealing with multiple companies so are not going to be nearly as well versed in the language of your insurance plan as the company itself.  And a final note is that Medicare does not recognize naturopathic physicians at all, so this means they will not cover our care and often the secondary or supplementary insurance will not either as they are generally abiding by the same rules as Medicare.  It is a confusing and convoluted system, and you the consumer have more power to change it than me the doctor, so make sure and speak up about what type of coverage you would spend your dollars to use…change is slow but possible!

Hope that clears the air a bit at least for these few questions…again keep them coming and remember…DO something you love, BE with someone you love, EAT your vegetables, DRINK clean water, BREATHE deeply and MOVE your body EVERYDAY!!

By Tracy Erfling

Dr. Tracy Erfling is a naturopath physician in the Lower Columbia Region. Questions?