Tag Archives: Health & Fitness

Food Cravings and What They Mean

Food Cravings and What They MeanFor a long time, many scientists denied that food cravings had any relevance. There was some logic to their claim. After all, Americans frequently crave chips, candy, and soda—foods that are detrimental to the body rather than helpful.

However, a close observation of many animals shows that they have an innate ability to select foods that contain nutrients that they are lacking. Could it be that mankind can do the same?

Newer research says yes! While we may attempt to satisfy our cravings in ways that are not beneficial (e.g., chips, candy, and soda), it does not negate the fact that a craving is our body’s plea for some inputs. Many cravings are associated with real mineral deficiencies or imbalances. Others are cravings are associated with various parts of the brain and may therefore suggest lifestyle changes that need to be made.

Let’s take a look at some common food cravings and what they mean.

Food Categories

  • Refined carbohydrates. Foods in this group include bread and pasta. This type of craving is associated with many different things, including nitrogen deficiency, yeast overgrowth, and low estrogen or progesterone levels. Another possibility is that you have been restricting your carb intake too tightly. A super-low-carb diet may cause your body to rebel and seek out more carbohydrates. A carb craving may also suggest that your mood is too low and that you could use the serotonin boost that comes from eating carbs. Note, however, that caving to the craving in this case may be counterproductive, as the boost will be short-lived and will eventually leave you wanting more.
  • Sugars. Sugary foods are a rather broad category. Not surprisingly, a craving for sweets may therefore indicate a need for one of several nutrients. Common deficiencies associated with sugar cravings are chromium, carbon, phosphorus, sulfur, and tryptophan. Sugar is also frequently associated with pleasant memories and happy feelings, making it a go-to for many who could use some positivity. Factors that can contribute to a sugar craving include stress, lack of food, or lack of sleep. But watch out—because sugar stimulates dopamine release, it is addictive!
  • Meat. Craving meat may mean more than just a need for more protein—it may be this craving could be signaling a vitamin or mineral deficiency, such as B12 or iron. Meat cravings are also observed in those who are eating a diet disproportionately skewed toward carbohydrates.
  • Dairy. Craving dairy products of all types often suggests a calcium or magnesium deficiency. However, it may also signal emotional stress, because these nutrients can be depleted under such circumstances. Full-fat dairy products are particularly appealing at such times because they contain tryptophan, which in turn stimulates serotonin release.
  • Fatty or oily foods. Surprisingly, fat cravings can be associated with calcium deficiency. But even more intriguing may be the effects of such foods on the brain. Fatty foods remain in the stomach for a while, taking a long time to digest relative to other foods. At the same time, many people who crave fat are extremely busy, perhaps even hectic. Some nutritionists speculate that the constant fullness that fat provides may offer a sensation of stability. Finally, eating a diet too low in fat may cause fat craving, so make sure you include some healthy saturated fats in your diet.
  • Crunchy foods. For many, chewing on something crunchy is a way to relieve stress. Those who regularly go to crunchy foods may be dealing with a great deal of frustration in their lives.
  • Caffeinated beverages. The primary cravings associated with this category are for tea or coffee, but may include soda. Caffeine cravings can signal several different deficiencies, including iron, phosphorus, sulfur, and sodium chloride (salt). Caffeine is also a go-to for many who are dealing with stress, mental exhaustion, lack of sleep, or adrenal fatigue, as it tends to keep the mind feeling sharp. Keep in mind, too, that caffeinated beverages are habit-forming—you may simply be craving coffee today because you had it yesterday.
  • Carbonated drinks. Craving carbonated drinks suggests a calcium deficiency.


  • Salty. Salty food cravings may indicate either dehydration or a deficiency in silicon, chloride, or both nutrients. Some women may experience salt cravings prior to menstruation. An ongoing need for salt can be associated with anemia, adrenal fatigue or insufficiency, or a renal problem. Note that many people who regularly go for salty foods may actually be seeking the crunch, rather than truly craving salt or salty flavors.
  • Acidic. People who crave acidic foods may need more magnesium in their diet, or they simply might need more acid. Your stomach acid is designed to be super-acidic, and an incorrect pH can lead to a great deal of digestive discomfort.
  • Spicy. A craving for spicy foods like salsa and chili may suggest that the body could use some assistance in regulating its temperature. The hot peppers that give food its heat contain capsaicin, which speeds up the metabolism and prompts the body to produce more heat. Still crave spicy foods when it’s hot outside? The heat-producing effects of capsaicin can, paradoxically, help the body cool off by prompting a sweat.

Food Cravings and What They MeanSpecific Foods

  • Celery. Craving celery is most common among people who are anemic due to iron deficiency.
  • Onions. Onions may be related to a sulfur deficiency. Sulfur is necessary for liver function.
  • Pickles. Pickles and pickle brine are highly acidic. Believe it or not, acid is actually good for your stomach (after all, your stomach is made to be filled with extremely potent acid), helping ease indigestion. The sodium in pickles may have the added benefit of helping you stay hydrated.
  • Nuts and cashews. If you are craving salted nuts only, then you might actually be experiencing a salt craving. If, however, you can’t get enough nuts in any form, you might need more magnesium.
  • Beef. If the food you want most is a steak, you may simply need a little more protein in your diet. But another possibility is that you need more vitamins and minerals. The most common deficiency associated with craving red meats such as beef is iron deficiency. Other deficiencies to watch for include folic acid, vitamin B12, and magnesium. If you are still craving beef after your meal, it is possible that your digestive system is not working efficiently, perhaps due to a slow metabolism.
  • Fish. Craving all types of fish may mean that you need more protein in your diet. Craving oily or salty fish (e.g., sardines) specifically may mean that your body could use some calcium or sodium.
  • Cheese. Cheese may signal a need for more protein, fat, calcium, vitamin D, or tryptophan.
  • Cinnamon. Cinnamon craving may actually be a sign of a sugar craving if the treats you are craving are ooey, gooey cinnamon rolls and the like. If this is not the case and you are truly craving cinnamon, then it is possible that you need more manganese, about the only nutrient cinnamon is known for.
  • Chips. Chips typically fall into the crunchiness category, although a craving for chips could alternatively be a salt or fat craving.
  • Candy. This is a manifestation of a sugar craving.
  • Chocolate. Chocolate cravings are most commonly reported in people who are deficient in magnesium. Magnesium keeps the nerves on an even keel, producing a sensation of relaxation. Other nutrient deficiencies associated with chocolate craving include copper, chromium, B vitamins, and various fatty acids. Chocolate is also a mood-boosting food that activates the pleasure centers of the brain, prompts serotonin production, and encourages the body to relax despite stress. Premenstrual hormone shifts may cause a chocolate craving, although oddly enough these cravings do not typically abate after menopause.

A Little More Unusual…

  • Burnt food. While this craving may seem a little bizarre to the uninitiated, it is actually quite simple when you get to the bottom of it. People who can’t seem to get enough burnt food need more carbon in their diet.
  • Vinegar. Not surprisingly, craving vinegar may suggest a pH imbalance in the body. But there are other possibilities, too—a desire to actually drink vinegar may signal an overgrowth of fungus in the system or perhaps a potassium deficiency.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG tends to create its own cravings. Besides being delicious when added to savory foods, it stimulates appetite, keeping you coming back for more over and over again.
  • Ice. People who find chewing on ice cubes to be irresistible may benefit from more iron in their diet. This urge may be more common in children or pregnant women. Here’s a hint—you will probably satisfy your craving much faster by going for some spinach, beans, or red meat rather than ice cubes.
  • A liquid diet. Preferring to take in your meals in the form of a beverage to the exclusion of solid foods may suggest that you are dehydrated.
  • More! Some people just crave food and lots of it, often continuing to eat even after they feel full. These people might benefit from more silicone, tryptophan, or tyrosine. In some cases, continuing to want food despite feeling full can suggest a condition that is impairing proper nutrient absorption, such as a food intolerance or insulin resistance.
  • Less. Finally, those who crave nothing more than the absence of food could probably use some additional chloride, manganese, vitamin B1, or vitamin B3 in their diet.

How to Use This Information

While hyper-analyzing your dietary preferences is not usually productive, being aware of your body’s needs can be very helpful. If you find that you repeatedly crave something, there could be a reason. Likewise, if you find that you have several cravings that point in the same direction, you may want to take note.

Needless to say, going to junk food to satisfy your cravings is generally not a good idea. Besides the long-term ramifications of a poor-quality diet, many sugars and processed foods tend to be habit-forming, leaving you wanting more without ever really satisfying the need. It is best to supply your body with whole foods, and a wide variety of them. So if you are craving vegetables or real meats, dig in! But if your preferences tend toward potato chips, candy, or ice cubes, you may want to find a high-quality source of the nutrients you are most likely needing.

Also pay attention to cravings that may suggest a lifestyle change is needed. Do all the signs point to excess stress? Consider the likely causes of your stress and seek to remedy them. Are you frequently in need of a mood boost? Try incorporating moderate exercise and some pleasurable activities into your daily routine.

As long as your body is not addicted to processed foods and the like, it can tell you a great deal about what it needs. Listen up!

Pros and Cons of Drinking Coffee

Pros and Cons of Drinking CoffeeIs drinking coffee good for your health? Or is it bad for you?

Often, we seem to receive conflicting information on this subject from the media.

And while there are good reasons we probably really don’t want a straight answer to the question…some of us are just too curious to resist the urge to dig a little deeper!

So, is that morning joe beneficial or not, strictly from a health standpoint? Let’s find out.

Note that this post will strictly examine black coffee—not sweetened or flavored coffee beverages. Introducing flavored syrups to the equation definitely dips the balance in the direction of unhealthy.


  • B vitamins. Coffee contains two important B vitamins—B2 (riboflavin) and B5 (pantothenic acid). Vitamin B2 helps the body process other dietary nutrients, while vitamin B5 maintains digestive and adrenal health, among other things.
  • Potassium and magnesium. Caffeine is not the sole benefit from coffee. Coffee happens to contain potassium and magnesium. Granted, there are many more potent sources of potassium and magnesium, but if your diet is deficient in fruits and vegetables, the coffee is probably what’s keeping you going.
  • Antioxidants. You know what antioxidants are—those celebrated substances that help your immune system ward off free radicals. A serving of coffee often contains more antioxidants than some fruits!
  • Improved physical performance and endurance. The caffeine in coffee raises your adrenaline levels, in turn enhancing your physical output. Here’s a tip for maximizing the benefits—drink your coffee black, and enjoy it about an hour before exercising. Drinking coffee has also been linked with improved endurance in long-duration physical activities.
  • Improved cognitive function. Drinking anywhere from one to six cups of coffee a day will give you a dose of caffeine sufficient to keep you alert and focused. Some researchers have even found that coffee drinkers learn new information more readily than non-drinkers. Want an even bigger boost? Pairing a cup of coffee with something sweet appears to improve attention levels and working memory better than either treat alone.
  • Improved mood. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and promotes the production of key neurotransmitters, which in turn are necessary for mood health.
  • Reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease. Some research suggests that coffee may reduce the risk by as much as 25%! Caffeine appears to stimulate the part of the brain affected by Parkinson’s and to protect the brain cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter crucial for preventing the disease. Men appear to benefit more than women in this area.
  • Reduced risk of stroke. Drinking three to four cups of coffee a day is associated with a lower risk of stroke. These benefits can be reaped from decaffeinated coffee as well as caffeinated. Note, however, that those who are not used to drinking coffee may see a sudden increase in their risk of stroke immediately after consumption.
  • Reduced risk of heart disease. Some studies have demonstrated that drinking two to three cups of coffee a day can lower your risk of heart disease by 21%. The benefits appear to wane for those who drink six or more cups each day. Women appear to benefit from coffee consumption more than men in this area.
  • Reduced risk of liver damage. This one applies only to people who are otherwise at risk for liver disease, and the benefits are largely lost in filtered coffee. Several substances found in French press or boiled coffee are associated with lower enzyme levels, which in turn are associated with less liver inflammation and damage.
  • Reduced risk of diabetes. Although drinking coffee can cause a short-term blood sugar spike, habitual coffee consumption can help stabilize your insulin levels, reduce your glucose absorption, and help your body process what glucose it does absorb more efficiently. Three to six cups a day appears to maximize the benefit. Also, decaffeinated coffee produces the same effect as caffeinated in this regard.
  • Reduced risk of stones. Consistent coffee consumption may prevent cholesterol from crystallizing in the gallbladder in the form of stones, and it may keep the system flushed out by increasing bile flow. Coffee is also beneficial in reducing the risk of kidney stones.
  • Reduced risk of cancer. Contrary to popular belief, science has failed to find a link between coffee and cancer. In fact, coffee is surprisingly powerful in its cancer-fighting ability for reasons ranging from anti-inflammatory effects to beneficial plant chemicals. Coffee’s cancer-fighting benefits appear to be particularly powerful in the areas of liver, colon, prostate, and endometrial cancers. Caffeine is also believed to prevent the development of basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer.


  • Potential for toxins. Not all coffee is created equal. Cheap coffee often contains impurities, including heavy doses of numerous herbicides and pesticides. These chemicals can in turn cause headaches or general feelings of sickness—not to mention add a cancer risk not found in the pure, unadulterated coffee bean. Also, the solvents used to make decaffeinated coffee may contribute to rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Restlessness and anxiety. This is due to caffeine. Whether or not coffee will have this effect on you largely depends on whether you are genetically predisposed to caffeine sensitivity, and going cold turkey on caffeine can make the symptoms worse.
  • Insomnia. One of the well-known downsides of caffeine. Some people are genetically sensitive to caffeine and will have to find their own caffeine limit. For most people, though, the recommended safe maximum is four cups of coffee per day.
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis. Coffee causes the body to excrete calcium, which can in turn lead to brittle bones in people (especially women) who drink four or more cups a day. Fortunately, this effect can be counterbalanced fairly easily—just consume about two tablespoons of milk or yogurt for every cup of coffee you drink (you don’t have to put the dairy into the coffee to reap the benefits).
  • Stomach irritation. Caffeine and several other compounds found in coffee stimulate the stomach lining to produce more acid, which can in turn lead to a major stomachache in some people. When roasted, however, coffee beans produce another substance that blocks stomach acid production. Therefore, if your stomach is sensitive to coffee, you may be able to enjoy a darker roast. Cold brew and decaf are also options for those who suffer from stomach difficulties. As a final tip, eating something with your coffee will reduce the pain by giving the surplus acid something to work on.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux. If you already are prone to reflux, coffee can make it worse.
  • Dehydration. Coffee is a mild diuretic. While most scientists do not consider coffee to present any dehydration risk, and some even encourage counting a cup of coffee toward your daily fluid intake goals, the fact remains that many people do not drink enough water as it is. So be sure to balance out that extra cup of coffee with an extra glass of water.
  • Pregnancy risks. Unborn babies absorb caffeine all too readily, which has been associated with death and low birth weights. How much caffeine produces adverse effects is currently being debated, but drinking no more than one cup of coffee a day is a common recommendation.


So is coffee good for you? Most scientists still hesitate to go that far—but on the other hand most are now willing to concede that, as long as you are not a caffeine-sensitive individual, coffee probably isn’t bad for you. For most people, there is absolutely no reason not to enjoy a moderate amount (two to four cups) of coffee every day. You might even reap some health benefits.

Some people, however, are sensitive to the effects of caffeine. For them, what is typically termed “moderate” coffee consumption will probably produce side effects that are not enjoyable. While they do not necessarily have to forego coffee altogether, they may have to experiment to find a lower amount that will not wreak havoc on their nerves and digestive systems. These people will probably not be able to reap the full benefit of coffee consumption.

Whatever your coffee tolerance level is, enjoy it with a snack and follow it up with plenty of water. Some of the coffee benefits are maximized with a sweet treat, and the potential for stomach irritation will be minimized, as well. The water will help avoid dehydration due to the diuretic effect.

Finally, if you are really wanting to boost your vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant levels, you probably want to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet rather than relying on coffee to supply your deficit. Here’s a challenge—try eating some colors!

Helpful Resources

Coffee Warning Label Conflicts With Public Health Guidance
Is coffee really a potential carcinogen? Probably not.

Why the Human Body Needs Cholesterol

Why the Human Body Needs CholesterolCholesterol gets a bad rap these days. After all, doesn’t it harden up your arteries and cause heart disease?

Actually, there’s a little more to it than that. Cholesterol is necessary for human health. Here’s why.

Cholesterol and the Cell Membrane

The membrane of each cell in the human body is made up of two layers of lipids. One of the most important lipids that make up cell membranes is cholesterol. In some cells, cholesterol may even make up as much as 50% of the membrane!

Why does the cell membrane require so much cholesterol versus any other lipid? Because cholesterol is relatively rigid compared to many lipids. Cholesterol is the perfect ingredient for keeping cell membranes strong and proof against ion infiltration, while still being flexible enough to allow for a full range of body motions.

Because of its role in the cell membrane, cholesterol is an important part of how the body recovers from inflammation. Any time any part of the body is suffering from inflammation, cholesterol is quickly transported to the source of the problem to begin the process of building new healthy cells. (Ironically, it is the much-maligned LDL cholesterol that is sent to the scene to carry out the repairs.)

Cholesterol and Hormone Production

Cholesterol is an important precursor for the manufacture of several key hormones. The list of hormones that require cholesterol for synthesis includes:

  • Progesterone.
  • Estrogen.
  • Testosterone.
  • Cortisol (produced by the adrenal glands; used to regulate blood sugar and ward off infection).
  • Cortisone (produced by the adrenal glands; used to control the body’s fight/flight response).
  • Aldosterone (produced by the adrenal glands; used to regulate blood pressure, maintain proper sodium levels, and conserve water in the body).

Cholesterol and Digestion

Cholesterol is also used by the body to make bile. Bile is produced in the liver and aids in digesting food, particularly large fat globules. Ironically, without cholesterol to produce bile, the body would be unable to process fats, and the fats would accumulate in the bloodstream, block the arteries, and cause heart disease.

Also of importance, bile is needed to help the intestines absorb fat-soluble vitamins from food. The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Cholesterol and Vitamin D Production

You’ve undoubtedly heard that your body can make its own vitamin D provided enough sunlight. Cholesterol is the secret ingredient in this process. When the sun hits your skin, it starts a chemical reaction that involves the conversion of cholesterol to vitamin D. This vitamin D then goes on to play a role in many body processes, ranging from mineral absorption to metabolism to immune response.

Cholesterol and the Immune System

By now, you may have noticed that cholesterol is important to good immune system function through its roles in hormone manufacture and vitamin D production. But there’s more! LDL cholesterol plays an additional role in the body’s defenses by attaching itself to bacterial toxins and neutralizing them.

Cholesterol and Nervous System Function

Did you know that the brain contains about 25% of the cholesterol volume of the entire human body? Cholesterol is key to the formation of brain synapses and neurotransmitters, both required for the proper firing of neurons. Proper neuron function is in turn necessary to the processes of learning and thinking. Low cholesterol has been associated with impaired mood, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Cholesterol is also an important part of the myelin sheath that insulates nerve cells.

Can Cholesterol Levels Drop Too Low?

All of this begs the question—is it possible to have cholesterol levels that are too low? While this scenario is not terribly common, it can happen.

First off, it is important to note that the human body typically manufactures most of its cholesterol. The average American male synthesizes about 1,000 mg of cholesterol daily, while he eats only an additional 307 mg daily. Biosynthesis of cholesterol is very important to keeping the body running, as most of the cholesterol found in food is relatively poorly absorbed. The intestines will only allow more dietary cholesterol absorption if the body is not producing enough cholesterol to meet its many requirements.

Therefore, because cholesterol manufactured by the body plays a more important role than cholesterol consumed in the diet, abnormally low cholesterol levels are typically caused by something that impairs the body’s ability to manufacture and use cholesterol, particularly statin use, genetic defects, and endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism.

The consequences of excessively low cholesterol are not well understood at present due to a dearth of research, but they may include cancer and cerebral hemorrhage, as well as premature births in pregnant women. In most cases, however, the cause of the low cholesterol levels is probably more dangerous than the low levels themselves.

Helpful Resource

Eat Your Egg Yolks
Still on the fence about eating the whole egg? There are many ways that a sunny homegrown egg yolk can boost your health.

Johnson Grass

Johnson Grass

Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) grows sturdy upright stems ranging from two to eight feet in height. Some stems are branched and others are not, but one thing can be counted on with this species—there will be quite a few of them packed into each clump! Look for a pink or red color near the base of the stem, if you can comb through the thick clumps well enough to find any bases.

Continue reading Johnson Grass

An Introduction to Sheep Dairying

An Introduction to Sheep DairyingDairy sheep? Seriously?

Yes! There are many reasons some adventurous homesteaders and agripreneurs have turned to sheep dairying. Believe it or not, one is the flavor. Sheep milk has a high rate of acceptance among those who have tasted it.

And then there are the health benefits. According to various dairy sheep organizations, sheep milk boasts the following claims:

  • More protein than cow’s milk.
  • Small fat globules, which are easy to digest.
  • Higher levels of CLA than cow’s or goat’s milk.
  • Higher levels calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins A, B12, and E than cow’s milk.

Sheep milk is also amazingly versatile. It can be enjoyed as a beverage, but it is also suitable for cheese, yogurt, kefir, and ice cream. Can’t process it all at once? No problem—sheep milk is naturally homogenized and can be kept in the freezer until you are ready to work with it.


Who Buys Sheep Milk?

It is rather ironic that so few Americans use sheep milk today, given the fact that sheep dairying has been practiced in nearly every part of the world since the most ancient times. Very few people indeed drink sheep milk as a beverage in our country.

A more palatable way of presenting sheep milk to the American public is in the form of artisan cheese, popular with foodies, retailers, and restaurants alike. The United States, while it produces very little sheep cheese, is a major importer of this product. Some of the sheep cheeses popular in our country may sound familiar to you:

  • Feta.
  • Ricotta.
  • Roquefort.
  • Pecorino romano.

Some sheep farmers prefer to sell their milk to cheese processors rather than oversee the cheesemaking process. Finding a processor in your area can be a challenge, however, because a large-scale processor must be assured the milk of at least 750 ewes to be profitable. You may need to either find a local artisan to work with or learn how to make sheep cheese yourself.


The Best Breeds For Sheep Dairying

The sheep dairying industry is not as well developed in the United States as it is in Europe. In many European countries, specialized dairy breeds of sheep have been selected over time for production. In the United States, most new dairymen will have to do this selection themselves unless they are fortunate enough to live where imported populations of specialized breeds have been established. This can make starting a profitable dairy flock difficult and time-consuming. Upgrading a meat flock into a dairy flock may be necessary.

One mark of a good dairy breed is its ability to produce enough milk to sustainably nurse twins and triplets. Another factor is the ewe’s ability to breed back quickly, even in the winter.

Breeds that have come to the surface in U.S. sheep dairying include:

  • Assaf (specialized).
  • Awassi (specialized).
  • Dorset.
  • East Friesian (specialized).
  • Finnsheep.
  • Icelandic.
  • Katahdin.
  • Lacaune (specialized).
  • Polypay.

Hybrid vigor gives crossbred ewes an advantage over purebred ewes in health, so a combination of these breeds is often advantageous for dairying with sheep. Crossbreeding is also a reliable way to increase the milk production of a meat-breed flock.


Special Considerations of Dairying With Sheep

Raising sheep for dairy purposes requires different management than is necessary for raising sheep for meat or wool. Heavy milk production places tremendous demands on the metabolism and reproductive system of the ewe. In fact, it is not always possible to meet the energy needs of specialized dairy sheep on forage alone. Extra care must be given to proper sanitation and nutrition to avoid health problems such as these:

  • Mastitis.
  • Ketosis.
  • Milk fever.

Tail docking is also recommended to ensure clean dairying practices.

When to separate the lambs from the ewes is an important consideration. In most countries, the lambs are separated from their mothers about 24 hours after birth and are then raised on milk replacer. While this practice maximizes the amount of milk available for processing and sale, it does result in a less vigorous lamb, a real downside in America where a major part of the income of a sheep dairy may come from selling lambs to ethnic markets for meat. For this reason, it may be desirable in many operations to wean the lambs at 30 days of age. The milk production can be increased in this system after the first week by keeping the lambs in separate quarters at night so that the ewes can be milked in the morning.


Are Dairy Sheep Right For You?

Sheep dairying is not exactly an easy enterprise to start. Building a flock can be difficult, and special equipment is required. However, if you love cheesemaking and have access to upscale markets interested in artisan cheese, sheep dairying may be a good fit for you.

Note that many sheep dairies do not rely solely on milk or cheese for their profits—lamb and wool are two additional streams of income that can make this business a success.

3 Guitar Exercises for Finger Independence

3 Guitar Exercises for Finger IndependencePlaying the guitar requires flexible fingers. Fortunately, left-hand agility is a skill that can be acquired and improved with practice. These tried-and-true exercises will help you sharpen that skill.

Note that you may not be as proficient in these exercises as you might like the first few times out. Always challenge yourself, but respect your physical limits at the same time. Finger fatigue is normal, but pain is not—if at any point in any exercise you feel pain, stop immediately! Your tolerance to these exercises will improve over time.

The following exercises are excellent for warming up prior to practice. However, any finger exercise routine that works for you is ideal.

#1—The Tennis Ball Stretch

This super-simple warm-up is probably the most effective of all the exercises listed in this post. If you are having any difficulty with hard stretches across the fretboard, the tennis ball stretch can work wonders.

Wrap your left hand around a tennis ball and squeeze just until you feel the ball give a little. Hold that pressure for 30 seconds. Important: Do not maintain the pressure for any longer than 30 seconds!

Repeat with the right hand, if desired. This stretch is good for right-hand flexibility and strength, too.

#2—Vertical Character Builders

Plant your middle, ring, and pinky fingers on the second, third, and fourth frets, respectively, of the third string. Imagine that they are firmly fixed there with roots that grow all the way to the back of the guitar neck, leaving only your index finger free to move. Keeping a brisk but steady rhythm, play the following:

  1. 5th string, 1st fret.
  2. 2nd string, 1st fret.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.
  4. 6th string, 1st fret.
  5. 1st string, 1st fret.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5.
  7. Repeat the entire sequence.

Feel free to play this slowly until you get the knack of the movement.

Now root your index finger and let your middle finger do the work, repeating the exercise on the second fret. Follow up with the ring finger on the third fret and the pinky finger on the fourth fret.

#3—Horizontal Character Builders

Root your index finger on the sixth string, first fret. Play a series of hammer-ons, using the first fret as the first note and using your middle finger to play the second note. Each time you play a hammer-on, keep your index finger rooted in the starting position and stretch one fret farther with your middle finger. Thus the first note will stay the same throughout the exercise, while the second note will change sequentially:

  1. 2nd fret the first time.
  2. 3rd fret the second time.
  3. 4th fret the third time.
  4. So on until you can’t stretch any farther.

Once you have reached your limit, use hammer-ons to walk your second finger back down the fretboard until you are again at the second fret. Re-root your index finger on the fifth string, first fret, and start again. Then go on to the fourth string, working up through all the strings of the guitar and back down to the sixth string again.

Repeat this exercise with the ring and then the pinky finger doing the work. Then try rooting the middle finger on the second fret and stretching with the ring and pinky fingers. Finally, plant the ring finger on the third fret and stretch with the pinky.

Always strive to play in rhythm with this and other exercises.

Helpful Resource

Gripmaster Finger Exerciser
Now you can improve your finger independence even when you don’t have your guitar in hand! This great little device will help you develop greater hand strength, as well.

What Causes Wool Allergies?

What Causes Wool Allergies?Did you know that many people who think they have wool allergies actually do not?

Many people who appear to have an adverse reaction to wool have sensitive skin that is harmed by the rubbing and abrasion of scratchy wool fiber.

Even people with a true allergy problem are actually reacting to substances in the wool, not the wool itself.


Wool Allergy Vs. Sensitive Skin

Wool allergy symptoms are typical of any allergen. They include:

  • Red, puffy, itchy, or watery eyes.
  • Runny nose.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Coughing.
  • Sneezing.
  • Wheezing.
  • Rash, which may take up to a week to appear after exposure to wool.

A problem caused by wool rubbing on sensitive skin is strictly confined to the skin, with no respiratory or other allergy symptoms. Symptoms of delicate skin that has been physically abraded by wool include:

  • Itchy skin.
  • Rash.
  • Hives.

Also note that wool sensitivity symptoms will appear when the affected person comes into contact with any coarse, scratchy fiber, not just wool.


Tips For Identifying a Lanolin Allergy

It is possible to be allergic to the naturally occurring lanolin found in wool. Lanolin, also known as wool wax or wool grease, is a natural protective grease that contains alcohols. These alcohols are thought to be the cause of true wool allergies. Note, however, that lanolin allergies are extremely rare.

A lanolin allergy can be hard to identify. What makes it easier (particularly for women) is that lanolin is common in many beauty creams and similar products due to its properties as an emulsifier. If you have a known issue with some beauty products, pull out the ingredient list—lanolin might be culprit.

Other products that often contain lanolin and thus can be used as a litmus test include:

  • Moisturizers.
  • Shampoos.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Shaving cream.
  • Hairspray.
  • Steroid creams.
  • Veterinary ointments.
  • Shoe polish.
  • Leather.
  • Air fresheners.
  • Printer ink.


Other Substances in Wool That Might Cause an Allergic Reaction

Again, lanolin allergies are quite rare. Typically, the real culprit is one of these substances:

  • Cleaning chemicals. These are sometimes added during the process of yarn manufacture and can be a major problem for those with chemical sensitivities.
  • Dyes. Likewise, some commercial dyes can cause allergies.
  • Dust mites. Wool fiber tends to hold in a great deal of foreign matter that can cause allergy symptoms. If you have a known dust allergy, there is a good chance that the dust trapped in your sweater is causing your symptoms.
  • Pet dander. Likewise, pet dander is easily trapped in the coarse fibers of wool. If you happen to be allergic to dogs or cats (or are knitting for someone else who is), keep your yarn and garments away from pets.


Now What?

If your problem is actually sensitive skin, there’s good news—you can continue to wear wool! Here are some tips for enjoying this fiber in comfort:

  • Dress in layers, making sure that your skin is protected from all contact with the wool garment.
  • Avoid wearing wool on days when you are likely to sweat. Sweating makes skin irritation worse.
  • Find a fine wool or wool blend. Most people with sensitive skin do not have a problem with fibers less than 22 microns in diameter. Merino is often a good option, while a blend of merino and cashmere is even better.

If you have a lanolin allergy, you will need to find a different fiber to wear, such as llama, alpaca, or cashmere. You might also enjoy working with plant fibers, such as cotton or bamboo.

Those with chemical allergies may enjoy working with yarns that have not been dyed. Or they might have fun dying their own yarns with natural substances!

And, finally, those with dust or pet dander allergies may need to avoid wool garments altogether. Wool rugs can also be a source of difficulty, so purchasing new rugs may be in order.

Eat Your Colors: Blue and White, Plus Menu Tips

Eat Your Colors: Blue and White, Plus Menu TipsHaving fun eating your reds, oranges, and greens? On to blues and whites!


Blue and Purple

Blue and purple colors in produce are created by the pigment anthocyanin. The darker the color, the greater the amount of pigment present.

Nutrients found in the blue/purple group include:

  • Fiber.
  • Flavonoids.
  • Vitamin C.

Blue/purple fruits and vegetables are serious soldiers on the front lines of your body’s defense systems. They keep the immune system in peak condition, actively fighting carcinogens and combating inflammation throughout the body. The blues and purples improve the absorption of calcium and other minerals, keep the blood pressure balanced, and keep the digestive system running smoothly. They may also promote circulatory health by preventing clotting. To top it off, the anthocyanins concentrated in these fruits and vegetables have been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Eager to tap into the powers of the blues and purples? Try some of the purple varieties of this produce:

  • Asparagus.
  • Blackberries.
  • Blueberries.
  • Cabbage.
  • Eggplants.
  • Figs.
  • Grapes (and raisins).
  • Plums.
  • Peppers.
  • Pomegranates.
  • Potatoes.



Can white fruits and vegetables offer any nutritional value? Yes! They receive their unique color from anthoxanthins—pale pigments with antioxidant effects.

Check out some of these nutrients:

  • Allicin (a natural chemical that promotes heart health).
  • Beta glucans (necessary for white blood cell health).
  • Potassium.

The whites have surprising amounts of immune-boosting ability. Furthermore, they offer nutrients critical to maintaining a proper balance of hormones throughout the body.

What fruits and vegetables have white varieties? Try some of these:

  • Bananas.
  • Cauliflower.
  • Corn.
  • Dates.
  • Garlic.
  • Ginger.
  • Kohlrabi.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Onions.
  • Pears (brown-skinned varieties).
  • Potatoes.
  • Shallots.
  • Turnips.


Suggestions for Eating Your Colors

Take a look at the color of your current diet. Could it best be described as beige? That probably means you are eating too much processed and packaged food (e.g., crackers). Time to incorporate the rainbow into your diet!

There is no specific formula to follow here. The key word is variety. The idea is to regularly incorporate a mix of colors into your diet, and this can be incredibly simple. One recommendation dieticians sometimes make is to check your grocery cart and make sure you’re buying several categories of produce—if you only have one color represented, swap a few items out with produce of other colors before you make your purchase. Gardeners, notice that each category includes both cool-season and warm-season plants; if you aim for variety in your planting schedule you should be able to harvest a rainbow throughout the season.

Note that to gain the maximum benefit from most of these fruits and vegetables, you should eat the skin whenever possible, as that is where many of the pigments and nutrients are stored. We recommend using this natural veggie wash to remove wax, dirt, and other contaminants first.

What about winter? Never fear! Frozen fruits and vegetables retain much of their color and nutritional value, making frozen produce a viable and very healthy option for those times when you just can’t get it fresh.

Cooking up a balanced blend of vitamins and minerals can be simple! Just enjoy a mix of colors on your plate on a daily basis.


Helpful Resources

Our own guide to growing, storing, and preparing produce simply.

Need more tips for making the most of fruits and vegetables? Try out some of these real-food-focused cookbooks.

Eat Your Colors: Red, Orange, and Green

Eat Your ColorsTired of counting calories? Some health experts are now proposing an alternative—counting colors.

The pigments that give fruits and vegetables their varied, luscious hues are associated with nutrients important for peak health. Eating a variety of colors helps ensure that we receive a balanced mix of vitamins and minerals.

Here are some common colors and their associated nutrients.



Some red fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes and watermelons, derive their color from lycopene, an important antioxidant. Others, such as grapes and strawberries, receive their rosy hue from anthocyanins.

The red family of nutrients includes:

  • Folate.
  • Lycopene.
  • Quercetin (a natural antioxidant and allergy fighter).
  • Vitamin C.

This nutrient group contains important antioxidants that remove free radicals from the body and reduce the risk of some types of cancer and tumors. Fruits and vegetables in the red family are associated with lowered blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels. They appear to have beneficial effects in arthritis patients.

Ready to eat your reds? Try the red varieties of some of these fruits and vegetables:

  • Apples.
  • Cherries.
  • Cranberries.
  • Grapefruit.
  • Grapes.
  • Radicchio.
  • Radishes.
  • Raspberries.
  • Rhubarb.
  • Onions.
  • Peppers (sweet or hot).
  • Potatoes.
  • Strawberries.
  • Tomatoes (including sauce; cooking tomato sauce lowers vitamin C levels but enhances the absorption of lycopene).
  • Watermelon.


Orange and Yellow

Nutrients commonly found in this color family include:

  • Folate.
  • Carotenoids, including beta carotene.
  • Flavonoids.
  • Lutein (protects the eye from cataracts and macular degeneration).
  • Lycopene.
  • Potassium.
  • Vitamin C.

This group can be divided into two groups—citrus and everything else. Citrus does not boast the beta carotene levels of vegetables like carrots, but it is much higher in folate and vitamin C.

Not surprisingly, there are many antioxidants and immune boosters in this group. But there are more goodies that you will find here! The orange/yellow group promotes the building of bones and connective tissue, and it helps ensure healthy pH and blood sugar balances in the body. And, of course, the lutein and beta carotene in carrots and other orange produce will keep your eyes healthy by protecting them from cataracts, inflammation, and age-related degeneration.

Try some of the orange and yellow varieties of these plants:

  • Apricots.
  • Cantaloupe.
  • Carrots.
  • Corn.
  • Lemons.
  • Mangoes.
  • Nectarines.
  • Oranges.
  • Peaches.
  • Peppers.
  • Pineapples.
  • Potatoes.
  • Squash (summer and winter).
  • Sweet potatoes.


Green and Yellow-Green

That beautiful green color in fruits and vegetables comes from the pigment chlorophyll.

Here are some of the benefits of eating your greens:

  • Beta carotene.
  • Calcium.
  • Fiber.
  • Folic acid.
  • Isothiocyanates (natural compounds that stimulate the liver to flush out carcinogens).
  • Lutein.
  • Vitamin C.
  • Vitamin K.

Note that this group can be subdivided into two categories—green crucifers (plants in the mustard family) and yellow-green noncrucifers. The crucifers are rich in isothiocyanates, while the noncrucifers supply an abundance of lutein.

This group boasts superb immune-boosting powers. And the high fiber levels associated with these plants will have a positive effect on your digestive system, as well.

Make sure some of these greens have a place on your plate from time to time:

  • Apples.
  • Artichokes.
  • Arugula.
  • Asparagus.
  • Avocados.
  • Broccoli.
  • Brussels sprouts.
  • Celery.
  • Cucumbers.
  • Grapes.
  • Green beans.
  • Green onions.
  • Honeydew.
  • Kiwifruits.
  • Leeks.
  • Lettuce.
  • Limes.
  • Okra.
  • Pears.
  • Peas.
  • Peppers.
  • Pistachios.
  • Spinach.
  • Watercress.
  • Zucchini.


Next in series: Blue and white, plus menu tips