Annie picked up her athletic shoes and quietly slipped out her home’s front door. Stopping on the porch, she put them on and began walking briskly to the hiking trail. It was cold, but the early morning sun’s warmth promised a pleasant experience. Ten minutes later, she arrived and paused to take in nature’s beauty. Ironwood, mesquite, and Palo Verde trees flanked the trail. Interspersed among them were pink and purple prickly pear, a variety of chollas, barrel cacti, and of course, the giant saguaro, unique to the Sonoran Desert. Some cacti still bore their summer fruit, giving the birds an added food source. The stream running alongside the trail would be raging in a couple of months; now, it lazily flowed by the succulents on its banks, that would produce gorgeous flowers in springtime. The old crow always perched on the ancient saguaro at the beginning of the path greeted her with his usual caw.

“Thanks for the salute.” Annie thought. She adjusted the water bottle holding her favorite infusion of mint, ginger, and cucumber water on her shoulder and proceeded down the trail.

An hour later, she opened the door and was greeted by Dexter Gordon’s jazzy Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.

LJ was in the kitchen making breakfast. He greeted her with a kiss. “How was the hike?”

“Beautiful as usual. I didn’t want to wake you. This was one of those times when I wanted to be alone to enjoy nature.”

“I understand. Solitude can strengthen and deepen your appreciation for nature, helping foster a sense of well-being and gratitude.”

“That is well said, sweetheart. Thank you. Hey, what’s for breakfast?”

LJ smiled, “I’ve been thinking about the pancreas lately, so I meal prepped our breakfast last night by making Overnight Sweet Potato Oatmeal.”

“It looks good, but why the focus on the pancreas?”

LJ popped the oatmeal in the microwave, “this is the time of year when we get exposed to a lot more sugar than normal because of all the holiday parties. Too much sugar can be hard on the pancreas. I’m making sure our home meals support it in case we give into the temptation of Christmas cookies, a second helping of pie, or a big slice of fruit cake.”

Annie gave him the side-eye. “That’s forward-thinking, but what is the pancreas, and what does it do?”

“The pancreas is known as a dual gland due to its participation in the digestive and endocrine systems. As a partner to the digestive system, the pancreas produces several enzymes crucial for healthy digestion. They perform many vital functions, from breaking down dietary fat, protein, and carbs so the body can absorb them appropriately to producing bicarbonate that helps neutralize stomach acid before it enters the small intestine. A pancreatic enzyme also helps keep the intestines free from bacteria.

As a partner to the endocrine system, the pancreas releases hormones, such as insulin, that reduce high blood sugar and glucagon, which boosts low blood sugar.

The work of the pancreas to maintain balanced blood sugar levels is crucial to the heart, brain, liver, circulatory, and nervous systems. Ninety-five percent of pancreatic cancers evolve from the digestive system and only five percent from the endocrine system. Therefore, your food choices can be either beneficial or detrimental to this vital organ.”

Annie poured almond milk on her oatmeal. “It sounds like staying hydrated is very important to the pancreas as well as including fiber in your diet?”

LJ nodded. “Yes, fresh veggies and fruit, particularly those with high water content, produce digestive enzymes, which are beneficial to the pancreas. A recent study showed vitamins, especially vitamin D and B12, can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.”

“What are the best ways to maintain pancreas health?”

“Glad you asked because the rate of pancreatic cancer has risen steadily over the past decade. Congressman John Lewis, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Jeopardy Host Alex Trebek were just three, diagnosed with this cancer and succumbed. While new research is emerging on managing its progression, there is no cure. You can protect your pancreas by:

– Avoiding junk, fried, processed, and refined food, sugar, artificial ingredients, soda, full-fat dairy, saturated fat

– limiting red meat

– Eating a low-fat diet

– Keeping a healthy weight

– Regular exercise

– Limiting alcohol

– No smoking of any kind

– Getting an annual physical


LJ continued, “I’m all for an action plan, so our holiday eating and drinking doesn’t get out of control. I want a healthy start to the new year.”


Annie and LJ are a fictional couple. Their storyline promotes healthy eating and earth-friendly practices.

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