We’ve Moved!

Sadly I will no longer be posting content to this site, but would love for you to head on over to my website, Wholesome Balanced Wellness, to follow me and to view my most recent articles!

After taking a few months off of writing I am back at it with a vengeance. My most recent post discusses the reasons for my break and what I have learned while I was away. Lots of content on nutrition and health, particularly dealing with digestive issues in a natural way, coming soon!

I will forever be grateful for this site. It was my first and has been so special to me. Thank you so much for following me here and I truly wish for you to join me on my next adventure.

~In love and health~

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Prescribing Fresh Food for Weight Loss

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Imagine this… You are struggling with losing some extra pounds and may have a chronic health condition (or two). Your medical bills just keep rising and the number of prescriptions you take just grows. You feel like absolute crap and can’t get motivated to stick to an exercise and diet plan. You are stuck in a rut and need some serious help.

You’d expect your doctor’s office to be the first place to get that help, right? In an ideal world, yes, but in many cases doctors aren’t trained to help patients with nutrition and exercise. They are trained in medical school on how to treat a condition with medication, which is only reinforced by drug reps that frequently stop by their offices to market their products.

As I have discussed in past posts, prescription medication is like a band-aid. It will treat the symptom and you may feel better for a little while, but does it actually fix the root cause of the problem? It takes many years for the body to develop chronic conditions, so it makes sense to me that it will take more than just popping a pill to heal them.

I can go on and on about the failures I see in our current medical system but I’m all about focusing on the positive, so I’m going to talk about a healthcare firm that seems to be doing it right (yay!). I heard a piece on NPR this week about Geisinger Health System’s fresh food pharmacy pilot program for 180 low income patients with Type 2 diabetes, which is aimed at helping them to change their diets and lose weight.

Under the program, patients receive free, fresh foods every week and work with registered dietitians to learn how to prepare healthy meals. Instead of going home from the doctor with a prescription to fill at their local pharmacy, they go home with five days worth of nutritious food.

The results seen so far have been life-changing for the participants. All of the patients have seen decreases in blood pressure and blood sugar levels, lost weight, and many are on track to reduce their medication in the future. Also, just as important, they are saving money. Program leaders expect about $24,000 in health care costs will be saved for these patients, but it is still too early in the program to provide a definite amount.

This study highlights a few things, the first being that changing dietary habits and eating real food that is grown in the ground can really make a difference in health, to the point that patients may be able to reduce or come off of medications in the long-term.

It also highlights a huge barrier to health, which is access to fresh food and the knowledge of what to do with it in the kitchen. Outdated government subsidies favor corn and soybean crops, which make up the majority of U.S. farmland. It’s understandable; farmers stand to make the most money if they grow them as opposed to other things. But the abundance of corn and soybeans has led to products such as high fructose corn syrup other processed ingredients that make up a large part of what sits on grocery shelves.

Subsidies have also helped to make processed food cheap and more easily accessible to the masses. Sadly it is hard for many people to get fresh food, let alone afford it. Processed food is so ingrained in our culture that I’m sure some in our younger population don’t even know what fresh food looks like. Basic nutrition and how to grow vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, beans, peppers, and squash in a garden should be taught in primary school. And, call me crazy, these types of vegetables are what should be subsidized and made more readily available by our government.

Lastly, it points out a change that is slowly taking place in our healthcare system. Until now our healthcare system, referred to by yours truly and this NPR piece as a “disease-care” system, has been largely reactionary. We treat an illness after it occurs; we don’t focus on what to do to prevent illness in the first place. But this program is an excellent example of prevention-oriented medicine, which I believe is a field that will only continue to grow.

I hope that this program continues to get press and the recognition it deserves for the strides it is making in patient health and outcomes. They are truly making a difference in the long-term health of these people and their families, who also benefit from the fresh food pharmacy. This program is a shining example of the future of medicine in America. A future that is currently just a tiny speck on the horizon but slowly, oh so slowly, getting closer.

 

Source – Fresh Food By Prescription: This Health Care Firm is Trimming Costs and Waistlines

What is Functional Medicine?

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Answer me this: If you had a rock in your shoe would you take off your shoe to get rid of said rock or would you just take some Advil to help with the pain?

Chances are you would do the former and not the latter (I hope). Determining what has caused a problem and removing the source of that problem is a pretty basic thing that most of us learned from a pretty young age. It’s so basic that you don’t really even think about it, you just do it.

But when you think of this analogy in terms of our healthcare industry, you see that this basic premise does not apply. I like to call our healthcare system a “disease-care” system because that’s what it is. We excel when it comes to trauma care, but when it comes to long-term health and wellness, we stink. In general, Americans aren’t taking off their shoe to remove the rock and find the true source of illness and disease. Most of us just go to the doctor and get a medication to deal with the problem. A short-term fix, if you will, to get rid of the symptom. Then 20 years down the road we end up on 10 different medications and wonder how we got to where we are.

Do these fixes really address the problem? In some cases sure, but in most absolutely not, which is where I think our medical system is failing. It would be so easy to point fingers to certain groups who may have contributed to this. To the doctors who just write a prescription and don’t take the time to speak with their patients, learn about their diet and lifestyle, and try other, more holistic means to determine the source of the issue. To the lawmakers who incessantly fight over what healthcare system is best and blame each other for the mess we are in. To the insurance companies who charge premiums that are astronomical and make insurance so confusing mere mortals can’t understand it. To the pharmaceutical industry who actually benefit the most from how this all is playing out and market the sh*t out of their products to us. (On a side note, did you know we are one of only two countries in the entire world that allows drugs to be marketed directly to consumers? New Zealand is the other.)

It would be so easy. But pointless. And just plain negative and cynical, which isn’t how I roll.

I truly wish I had a solution for this problem and sincerely hope that someday we will, but I do have another option to try. It’s time to take matters into our own hands and pursue a path to health that works for each of us individually. A great place to start is with a functional medicine doctor.

So what exactly is functional medicine? It is a patient-focused form of medicine that looks at the body as a whole, not as different systems that should be treated separately. It treats the person, not an individual symptom, to address the underlying causes of disease. The patient and practitioner work together to understand how environmental and lifestyle factors influence health, with the ultimate goal being proactive, predictive, and personalized medicine (as opposed to the current state of reactive medicine where we only go to the doctor after the problem has already occurred).

I have known about the field of functional medicine for a few years now, but only started actually going to a functional medicine doctor last December. How my health has changed since then is pretty dramatic (to me at least). I’ve finally discovered the key to what may be the underlying causes for my hormonal imbalance, underactive thyroid, and digestive ailments – an imbalance in my gut. Not only am I intolerant to gluten, but I also was diagnosed with SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and an intestinal parasite called giardia. Yikes! I have eliminated gluten from my diet, took medication to address the latter two issues, and how I feel now is like night and day. In the process I feel like I’ve lost about five pounds of bloating around my middle that has been nagging me for years.

I still have work to do with my doctor but I am extremely happy with how it’s gone so far. It’s a marathon, not a sprint and it took 32 years for my gut to become imbalanced (though I sincerely hope it doesn’t take a full 32 more to get it right again!).

Hippocrates did say that “all disease begins in the gut” and the more I learn about it, the more I believe this to be true. Over 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut and the majority of our serotonin (happy chemical) is produced in the gut. The vagus nerve links the gut and the brain, proving that what happens in one will influence what happens in the other. I’ve recently started reading The Microbiome Solution by Dr. Robynne Chutkan, creator of the Live Dirty, Eat Clean diet. I promise to give you a rundown of what I learn from this book when I’m done. In the meantime, check out a past post I’ve written on gut health.

For those of you who want to dig deeper and learn more about functional medicine and the current state of our “disease-care” system, I strongly recommend this podcast. It’s a bit lengthy but totally worth it. I wish I could take credit for the brilliant rock analogy above but I heard it here first. If you are interested in functional medicine and finding a doctor near you, this website is a great place to start. Click on “Find a Practitioner” in the top right menu.

Sources:

Photo courtesy of Michael Stern on flickr

Natural Ways to Heal from a Winter Cold

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My homemade bone broth – recipe below!

It starts with a sniffle and a cough, then another cough. Soon enough everyone around you is coughing. And then you start to feel it too… This was me last week at work and may have been  you recently too. I felt great one day, a little tired the next, then BAM, it hit me. The dreaded winter cold.

It’s about that time of year that the cold and flu start to spread. People coming home after spending time traveling and visiting family over the holidays. For many, the holidays mean spending time in close quarters with a lot of people. Possibly in warm houses with the heat on too high (like, ahem, my grandmother’s house…). Cold weather keeping everyone indoors with the windows and doors shut tight. Yeah, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

I usually come down with one bad cold a year and last week was my time. I spent much of last weekend curled on my couch with my warm scarf wrapped around my neck, box of tissues and warm dog on either side. Me being the holistic-minded person that I am, I got through it the natural way with no medications or drugs commonly found in the cold aisle of your local pharmacy. How did I do it? With my small arsenal of natural healing remedies, which I will share with you today.

I do want to start with the caveat that everyone’s way of healing is different. If you feel like you need to go to the doctor then go to the doctor (especially if you have a fever over 102). I am by no means a medical professional; this is what worked for me and may help you as well.

Herbs

When you’re sick it’s important to drink a lot of fluids to flush out the toxins and help to thin the mucus that has built up. Hot herbal tea is the first thing that I turn to when feeling off and, in my opinion, is one of the best things to soothe a sore throat. Echinacea is an herb that stimulates immune activity and fortifies cells against invading microorganisms. Elderberry can be used for respiratory infections. Ginger is anti-inflammatory, helping with aches and pains as well as breaking up congestion. Peppermint helps to ease congestion and chamomile can help you sleep. Green tea has been shown to prevent sinus infections. Garlic is immune boosting and antimicrobial, so it can fight viral and bacterial infections. My main go-to is an echinacea tea by Traditional Medicinals, my favorite tea brand.

Essential Oils

This category is a natural extension of herbs, as some of my favorite oils are actually from herb plants. Eucalyptus, oregano, peppermint, and frankincense are my go-to’s. This past week I would ease congestion with a eucalyptus steam every morning with my shower. After letting the water heat up, I would put drops of eucalyptus oil around the edge of my tub and inhale the oil as it got picked up from the steam of my shower. Oregano is antibacterial, anti fungal, and an immune stimulant. Putting a few drops of peppermint in a bowl of hot water and then inhaling will clear you right up (be careful, this one can be intense at first…). Frankincense, the mother of all oils, is anti-inflammatory and stimulating to the immune system. All week my oil diffuser has been spreading peppermint, lemon, and frankincense into the air of my apartment. I have also been gargling daily with salt water mixed with a drop each of oregano, peppermint, and frankincense.

Bone Broth

Your grandmother wasn’t kidding when she told you chicken soup is healing. Bone broth, the base of chicken soup, is one of the simplest soup recipes to make and probably one of the best for you. Broth is extremely healing to the gut, which goes hand-in-hand with your immune system (as I mentioned in a previous post on gut health, about 80% of our immune system is housed in our gut). It has amino acids that have anti-inflammatory effects on the body and minerals in a form that your body can easily absorb.

Now, you can easily purchase bone broth at the store, but the homemade version is very simple and quite cost effective. A big pot of it can go a long way. Last weekend I made a chicken stock which I used to make chicken noodle soup. I used half of the stock for my soup, which lasted me about 4-5 meals. The other half is currently in my freezer to be used in my next soup recipe.

Here is a super simple chicken stock recipe that will help you use up scraps from your kitchen. If making this at home please make sure your chicken is organic.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 organic chicken carcasses. I freeze mine in a gallon ziplock bag after cooking them and removing the meat.
  • 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (it helps draw the minerals out from the bone)
  • 2-3 cups vegetable scraps. I keep a gallon ziplock bag in my freezer where I store vegetable scraps from my cooking. It contains all sorts of stuff including onion peels, ends of Brussels sprouts and asparagus, kale stems, and the ends of carrots and zucchini.
  • Fresh or dried herbs (I love oregano and thyme for this)

Place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Make sure there is at least an inch of space between the liquid and the top of the pot to avoid a possible mess if you boil over. Bring pot to a boil and then simmer, covered for about 8 hours. Then drain liquid into a bowl and let sit in the fridge overnight. The next morning skim off the top layer of fat and then you have your broth! Warm it in a mug to drink straight or use it to make a killer chicken soup. I also mix some into my dog’s hard food and he goes nuts. My chicken soup was based on this recipe.

Rest

Last but not least, rest. Give you body the time it needs to heal and fight the germs that have invaded your body. Last Friday I slept for 14 hours straight and when I woke up I felt much better (still horrible, but better!). If you’re sick you probably won’t want to do much anyways. Time for some Netflix marathon watching!

I hope that the dreaded winter cold doesn’t reach you this year but if it does, I hope these tools will help you along the way.

Sources:  Bone Broth – One of Your Most Healing Diet Staples

Improving School Lunch Programs

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As an educator of health and wellness, I get really excited when I read about organizations and programs that are making a difference in our world by reducing food waste, educating people on nutrition, working to improve school lunches and finding other innovative ways to improve our food systems and our health.

So when I read about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School program and Bay2Tray, I naturally wanted to learn more about what these programs are doing. I believe that learning about innovations in the health and wellness fields is important for everyone. Not only will it open our eyes to opportunities for our communities and families, but it may spark other ideas of ways to bring about positive change.

USDA’s Farm to School Program

This program helps child nutrition program operators incorporate local foods in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, Summer Food Service Program and Child and Adult Care Food Program. It is run by the Food and Nutrition Service’s Office of Community Food Systems (OCFS) and was formally established in 2010 with the passing of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Farm to School is defined by the USDA as “efforts to bring locally or regionally produced food into school cafeterias; hands-on learning activities such as school gardening, farm visits and culinary classes; and the integration of food-related education into the regular, standards-based classroom curriculum.”

In 2013-2014, school districts purchased nearly $800 million from local farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and food processors and manufacturers. At the national level, approximately 42% of school districts operated farm to school programs for the 2014-2015 school year and approximately 16% had plans to start in the future. There are also about 7,000 school gardens nationwide that grow produce for use in school cafeterias while also teaching students about where food comes from.

Eating locally sourced food is not only typically healthier, but it improves local economies, can save schools money and helps save the environment by decreasing the amount of fossil fuels used in transportation.

Bay2Tray

This program was created by Alan Lovewell of Real Good Fish, one of the first community-supported fisheries in Northern California. Bay2Tray has created a market for less-marketable bycatch fish in school lunch programs. Bycatch is a term used for fish caught in nets of fisherman who are aiming to catch other fish (i.e. the unwanted byproduct of normal commercial fishing). It constitutes approximately 40% of the world’s catch, a significant underutilized market that is normally just discarded.

Through Bay2Tray, this underutilized fresh fish is sold to school cafeterias. Schools who participate in the program now use fresh catch for fish tacos and salads instead of serving frozen fish sticks. This creates more revenue for the fishermen, provides schools with fresh, healthy food and supports sustainable regional food systems. It also teaches students of the importance of eating locally sourced food and that fish is an important part of a healthy diet. This is especially important in areas where unhealthy food is prevalent and financial constraints may make it hard for families to afford fresh seafood.

Bay2Tray currently works with the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and is expanding to other schools in California. About 138 schools and early education programs in the Bay Area participate in this program.

These two programs are making a difference in a big way. Their creation has brought local food economies to the forefront in areas where it wasn’t really considered previously, namely schools. What children eat at school every day is so incredibly important and it has a direct impact on how they perform in the classroom. Students crashing from a sugar high from their lunch or hungry all morning because they didn’t eat breakfast will not be able to concentrate on what they are learning.

It makes me happy when I read about organizations and programs that are making the world a healthier and better place. This day and age we often only hear about obesity rates and how the overall health of our country is declining, not enough of the good stories. The companies and programs who are fighting to beat this trend. I will keep my eye out and let you know of other ones that peak my interest.

Related Post: 5 Issues with American Food Culture and What We Can Do About It

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Liz West on flickr

Fat Facts

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If you had the choice between a full fat product or the fat-free version, which would you choose?  Whole milk or skim?  Fat-free yogurt or 2%?  Low-fat cheese?  Be honest!  This is a judgment free zone.

If you are a fat-free or low-fat fan, I’m not surprised.  We have been told for years that fat is bad and eating large amounts of fat can cause heart disease.  But now the tide is changing and fat (good fat at least) is back in favor.  And guess what?  Studies have shown that eating fat actually doesn’t make you fat.  Well, how about that.

So how did fat become so vilified?  I’m a fan of history, so let’s to take a trip back in time to the 1950s and 60s.  During this time scientist Ancel Keys was conducting research to find the root cause of heart disease, a condition that was a big concern in the U.S. at the time (and still is, obviously).  From his findings, he concluded that saturated fat was to blame.  Though many scientists at the time called out flaws in his research (he only selected countries that would prove his hypothesis, only reported a small portion of the participants he studied and inaccurately interpreted correlation as causation), his theory took off and played a significant part in the rise of the low-fat/fat-free movement.

When Keys’ theory took off the food industry reacted by removing fat from its products.  But it’s important to note that when fat is removed from food it doesn’t taste too great, so the fat was replaced with sugar.  And what’s sad is that we didn’t get any healthier as a result of these changes.  In fact, they backfired.  Since the 60s heart disease levels have only increased and today we are experiencing an obesity epidemic of staggering proportions.

Recent studies have shown that good fats are not only beneficial, but necessary for optimal health.  Fat is filling, satiating, not addictive (unlike fructose in sugary products), and helps fuel our metabolism.  It is necessary for brain health (more on that later), helps fight depression and contributes to healthy skin, hair and nails.  It also is necessary for absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K (i.e. if no fat is present when these are consumed, the body cannot absorb them).  

So what is fat?  Fat is a basic building block of the body and has a direct impact on its function.  The body uses fat to build cell walls.  Considering there are 100 trillion cells in our body, I’d say that the health of said cell walls is quite important.  Healthy cell walls made from good quality fats are flexible and responsive. Those made from a diet of processed foods high in poor quality oils such as corn, soy or safflower are stiff and rigid. Stiff and rigid cell walls slow cellular function and make our cells more vulnerable to inflammation.  Chronic inflammation can lead to disease.

If you take anything away from this article, it is the type of fat that matters. Not all fat is created equal. Good quality fats are key to our health, all the way down to our cells.  So what are good fats and what are bad fats?  Let’s break it down:

GOOD FATS

  • Saturated Fat – I know what your thinking…  Really, saturated fat is good?  Research has shown no correlation between saturated fat and heart disease.  It helps us absorb those fat-soluble vitamins and calcium, improves immune function and is necessary for healthy cell walls.  Good sources of saturated fat include butter, coconut oil and animal fats.
  • Monounsaturated Fat – Monounsaturated fat has been shown to decrease breast cancer, reduce bad cholesterol, lower risk for heart disease and stroke, and aid in weight loss. A great source of monounsaturated fat is olive oil.  
  • Polyunsaturated Fat – Two types of polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6.  These are two of the most important fats for the body, though it is important that we eat a good balance of the two.  When our proportions of these fats are out-of-balance we are more vulnerable to inflammation and disease.  Right now, the general population eats waaaaay too many omega-6 fats, which are common in processed food, and are deficient in omega-3 fats.  Omega-3 fats help to decrease inflammation, decrease triglycerides (bad fats in the body) and boost good cholesterol.  Sources of omega-3 fats include cold water fish (salmon), omega-3 rich eggs, organic canola oil, walnuts, Brazil nuts and sea vegetables.  If you don’t have many of these things in your diet supplementation is also an option.

BAD FATS

  • Trans Fat – Trans Fat is created when polyunsaturated fats are damaged due to heat.  It is common in processed and packaged foods as it helps to extend shelf life and also fried food.  Beware of trans fats!  They are no good.  They are now specifically called out on food labels if they are present, so read your labels and learn what’s in the food you are eating.
  • Inflammatory Vegetable Oils – As mentioned above, these include oils made from corn, soy and safflower.  Also common in processed foods as they are cheap and abundant.

With the rise of Alzheimer’s and dementia, brain health is a hot topic these days.  Our brains are actually 60% fat, most of which is an omega-3 fat called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).  DHA is needed to spark communication between cells.  Having a diet containing good quality fats boosts cognition, happiness, learning and memory.  Omega-3 deficiencies have been linked to depression, anxiety, dipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Below are some of my favorite sources of healthy fats:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts:  almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts
  • Seeds:  pumpkin, sesame, chia and hemp
  • Fish:  wild salmon is rich in omega-3 fats as well as sardines, mackerel and herring
  • Extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil are my go-tos in the kitchen (coconut oil has a high smoke point so is great for sauteeing)
  • Grass-fed, organic and sustainably raised animal products (eggs, beef, chicken and pork)

As always, a balanced diet is necessary for optimal health.  This includes a healthy amount of protein and carbohydrates as well as fat with each meal and snack we consume.  If you want to learn more about protein, check out my previous post on the topic here.

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Photo credit:  Image courtesy of lchunt on flickr

Why Gut Health Matters

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I’ve been reading some really interesting things lately about the gut and microbiome, many of which have discussed that the health of our gut directly impacts our physical, mental and emotional health.  This new information, coupled with what I have learned from my own health journey, has really opened my eyes to a new way to pursing health.

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician known as the father of modern medicine, once said that “all disease begins in the gut.”  It’s taken us a while, but I think we are finally realizing that this ancient medicinal wisdom is actually true.  Studies have shown that poor gut health has been linked to autoimmune conditions, mental health disorders, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, among other things. 

So what exactly is the microbiome?  It is made up up approximately 100 trillion living microbes (bacteria, fungi and viruses) which mainly live in our gut (i.e. large intestine).  These 100 trillion living microbes have about 3.3 million genes.  For comparison purposes, we have about 10 trillion human cells in our bodies and the human genome contains 23,000 genes.  In other words, the microbiome is HUGE.  It is made up of many diverse bacterial species, this diversity specifically being touted as very important to our health.  The bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with their human hosts; we could not exist without them and they without us.

About 75-80% of our immune system is in our gut.  So, what we eat has a direct impact on how we feel and the overall health of our gut.  As I mentioned before, the diversity and balance of the bacteria within our microbiome is necessary for our health.  If we eat foods that are damaging to the bacteria in our gut, such as sugar and processed food, this bacteria can become imbalanced.

Eventually, our microbiome becomes weak, not able to properly absorb the nutrients in the food we are eating.  It can become compromised and the intestinal lining (which is one cell thick) damaged, allowing undigested food proteins and bacteria to pass into the blood stream.  When this happens (a condition commonly known as “leaky gut syndrome”), the immune system reacts to protect the body and inflammation is produced.  Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to disease.

I read a fascinating article recently arguing that gut inflammation is actually the root of depression.  What’s the reasoning behind this revolutionary idea?  Well, the author discussed that the vast majority of the “happy” neurotransmitter serotonin is actually made and stored in the gut, impacting the brain via the vagus nerve.  There are also more serotonin receptors in the gut than in the brain.  The microbiome is also in direct communication with the enteric nervous system (ENS, known as your “second brain”), the autonomic nervous system (“fight or flight” and “rest and digest” branches of the nervous system) and the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).  This also helps to explain why anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with digestive issues.

What you eat truly does impact how you feel.  I never fully understood this until I gave up processed food and starting cooking my meals from real food on a daily basis.  I am happier when I eat real food.  I am more positive and upbeat, my fatigue, which plagued me for years, subsides.  I am able to think more clearly and am more confident that I can achieve my dreams.  I even don’t get sick as much.

I have been taking the “gut first” approach recently with regards to my thyroid health.  As I mentioned in a previous post on hypothyroidism, 20% of our thyroid hormone is converted in the gut.  So even if your thyroid is working correctly, if your gut is compromised, chances are your thyroid will feel the effects.  So right now I am focusing on gut healthy foods such as fermented foods, avoiding foods that compromise the gut such as sugar, processed food, dairy and gluten, and am taking probiotics and digestive enzymes. 

And I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, healing my gut could be the solution that I am looking for.

~Peace, love and gut health~

Sources:

Photo credit:  CC image courtesy of Take Back Your Health Conference on flickr

The New Nutrition Facts Label

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For two decades it went unchanged.  It was outdated, hard for some to understand.  It wasn’t clear on some artificial things that food companies have been adding to our food lately.  And now, despite the millions of dollars of lobbying major food companies and their associations have poured into the political system, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally released a new nutrition facts label.

Hallefreakinglujah.  We desperately need a change.  Something to shake up the system that has resulted in approximately one-third (34.9% or 78.6 million) of obese adult Americans (according to the CDC).  That doesn’t even include the 17% of obese children.  Obesity, which has been linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Bravo that the government was able to overcome the special interests hired by powerful and rich food companies that fought to keep the new “added sugars” line off of the label.  Bravo that they were able to do what was right for everyday Americans and the future health and financial wellbeing of our country.  And bravo to first lady Michelle Obama, who unveiled the new label and was a pivotal figure in the entire process.

We all want to be healthy.  Who doesn’t?  Now we have a label that will help us to make better decisions about the food we purchase for ourselves and our families. 

So what’s different?  Here are the highlights:

  • Larger font size for calories, servings per container and the serving size declaration.
  • Bolding the number of calories and the serving size to highlight the information.
  • Manufacturers must declare the actual amount, in addition to the percent daily value, of vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium.
  • Added sugars, in grams as well as percent of daily value, will now be included in the label underneath the normal sugars measurement (sugars will be the total amount while added sugars will be indented to show that it is part of the total sugars measurement).
  • While continuing to require total fat, saturated fat and trans fat on the label, calories from fat will be removed as research has shown that the type of fat is more important than the amount.
  • Serving size measurements will also be updated.  Law requires that serving sizes be based on amounts of foods and beverages that people are actually consuming, not what they should be eating.
  • As package size typically affects how much people eat, for packages that are between one and two servings, the calories and other nutrients will be required to be labeled as one serving because people typically will consume the entire thing in one sitting.
  • For certain products that are larger than one serving but that could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings, manufacturers will have to provide “dual column” labels to indicate the amount of calories and nutrients on both a “per serving” and “per package/per unit” basis.

Manufacturers must comply with these new label requirements by July 26, 2018.

I gotta say, this is pretty awesome.  Especially the new added sugars line.  That is a BIG DEAL.  Added sugar is everywhere, from canned beans to oatmeal to the tomato sauce you put on your pasta. 

And how much sugar should we be eating? The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that, for optimum health, we should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day.  How does that translate to what we see on a food label?  Well, four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon.  So if we do the math right, 6 teaspoons a day equals 24 grams of sugar.

The average American consumes more than 100 pounds of sugar and sweeteners per year.  Case in point, today my grandmother, bless her, showed me the Welch’s grape juice she loves to drink every morning.  The label said “100% grape juice” with “no sugar added” and “2 servings of fruit”.  Okay looks alright from the front, but what did the label say?  Well, one serving (which is 8 ounces) contains 36 grams of sugar.  One glass is more than the entire recommended daily intake of sugar for optimum health.  Doesn’t matter whether it is “natural” sugar or added sweetener, our body processes it the same way.

Lordy.  It just goes to show that no matter what the claims on the front, the label tells the entire story.  I saw a great quote recently from nutritionist Ashley Koff, RD, which said about food packaging, “the front is everything they want you to hear; the back is the truth”.  Read your labels folks.  It is one of the keys to purchasing healthier, more wholesome food.  Want a refresher?  Check out my post on Food Label Reading 101 for some tips on what to look for.

Thankfully, with the announcement of this new and improved label, we are one step closer to conquering this unhealthy epidemic that has taken our nation by storm.

~Peace, love and healthy eating~

Source:  FDA

5 Reasons to Quit Added Sugar

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I’ve talked a lot on this blog about sugar and how a diet high in added sugar can have devastating effects on our health.  How it is one of the main reasons behind the obesity and disease epidemic we are experiencing in our society today.  How it has wriggled its way onto the ingredient lists of many of the foods lining supermarket shelves (even the ones you don’t expect).  And how a seemingly healthy diet may actually turn out to be one high in added sugar.

Sugar is sneaky, it is deceptively delicious and keeps us coming back for more.

Sugar is a topic that I am extremely passionate about.  It wasn’t until l truly understood the impact that sugar had on my health that I grasped how it is so important to keep added sugar to a minimum in our diets.

When I finally broke the cycle of cravings it was like my head came out of a cloud.  My emotions leveled out, I lost some unnecessary weight I previously hadn’t been able to shake, and I felt like I finally had energy for the first time in a while.  Real energy, not the kind manufactured with the help of a steaming mug of coffee (served by your local barista with a heaping dose of added sugar).

I teamed up with my close friend and fellow health coach Laura LaBeau and we launched our very first 21 Day Sugar Detox last summer with a group of awesome participants.  It was a joy for me to teach others what I had learned through my own experience.  After all, teaching about nutrition and using food as medicine and nourishment for our bodies is why I write and what I strive to do as a career someday.

So what’s all the fuss about sugar anyways?  Why is it so bad?  Why should you entertain doing cleanse to help eliminate it from your diet?

Well, here are 5 very excellent reasons:

1. Consumption of high amounts of sugar can lead to Type 2 Diabetes.  Sucrose, or table sugar, is made up of equal amounts glucose and fructose. Fructose is the kind of sugar you find naturally in fruit and is also what gives sugar its sweetness. While your cells metabolize glucose, fructose is processed primarily in the liver. If you eat too many simple sugars, which are quickly digested (soft drinks, candy), your liver breaks down the fructose and produces fats called triglycerides. A lot of these triglycerides are pushed into the blood. Over time blood pressure increases and cells become progressively more resistant to insulin. The pancreas responds by producing even more insulin to try to make up for this resistance. Eventually a condition known as metabolic syndrome kicks in, which is normally characterized by obesity. If not addressed, Type 2 Diabetes will develop.

2. Research has shown that sugar stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain as heroine and cocaine.  And just like heroine and cocaine, it is highly addictive.  So why do we crave sugar?  Let’s take a trip back to caveman times, where sugar was extremely rare and only found in naturally growing fruit. Due to its scarcity, our bodies became efficient processors of fructose, storing it all as fat to help the body survive during the lean winter months.  Additionally, sugar provided the body with instant energy to survive in the wild.

3. Fructose is stored in our bodies as fat.  Fructose can only be processed by the liver. When the liver is overworked (say when you are consuming a sugary beverage), it relies on the pancreas to help it out. The pancreas then releases insculin, an energy storage hormone which stores the sugar your body is processing as fat. At the same time, insulin blocks messages from getting to your brain that you are full. The result? Excess fat is stored while at the same time your body feels hungry, tired, and cranky.

4. Insulin resistance in our cells has also been found to impact the health of our brains.  We all need insulin.  It is produced and released by our pancreas to help our cells absorb the blood sugar (aka glucose) they need for energy.  Insulin resistance develops when cells are called upon to absorb glucose from the blood too often, as I described above.  Insulin keeps the blood vessels that supply the brain healthy and encourages brain cells and neurons to absorb glucose, allowing them to grow and become stronger.  Low levels of insulin lead to reduced brain function but, on the flip side, too much insulin damages the blood vessels that supply nutrients to our brain.  In addition, just like the rest of the cells in our body, our brain cells can become insulin resistant from a steady diet of too much sugar and processed junk.  When this happens, our brain cells stop absorbing the levels of glucose they need to thrive and grow, resulting in decreased brain function, loss of memory and disorientation.

5. Fructose is making us sick.  In addition to Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s, research has shown that fructose inhibits our immune system’s ability to fight infection, can mess with fertility, speeds up the aging process and can cause a rapid rise in adrenaline, which can lead to hyperactivity, anxiety and loss of concentration.

So why am I sharing this with you today?  Well, Laura and I are back at it and are launching another round of our 21 Day Sugar Detox, running June 6th-26th.

The cost is just $30, which includes daily inspirational emails straight to your inbox, invitation to a private Facebook group for accountability and support, a packet of cleanse-friendly recipes and weekly shopping lists to make your grocery outings less stressful.  You will also have the opportunity to work one-on-one with Laura or I for a discounted rate of $50 (a $75 value!).

Interested in joining us and making this investment in your health?  Click on the link below to sign up today!

http://goo.gl/forms/K2N7Gj13mTFXjww82

~Peace, love and veggies~

Photo credit:  Image courtesy of CeresB on flickr

Natural Solutions for Thyroid Health

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Last week in Part I of this two-part series, we discussed what hypothyroidism is and what are the common signs and symptoms of the disease.  If you are just visiting for the first time, head on over to Part I to get up to speed before reading this article.

As we discussed in Part I, we must address hypothyroidism comprehensively and not just rely on medication, as is so often done today.  How can we do this?  Through positive and healthy lifestyle changes to help resolve the underlying issue for why the thyroid became compromised to begin with.

We learned that conversion of inactive thyroid hormone (a.k.a T4) to active thyroid hormone can be influenced by age, prolonged caloric deprivation, mineral deficiencies (zinc, iodine, magnesium, iron and selenium), chronic lack of sleep, chronic stress and imbalance in our microbiome (a.k.a large intestine, where 20% of our T4 is converted).  So, the first place to start after being diagnosed by a physician is to take a closer look at these items.  

While we can’t change our age, we can work on our sleeping habits and stress and we can eat a healthier diet to improve the health of our gut and get adequate levels of minerals our thyroid needs.

When it comes to stress, it’s important to note that high cortisol levels impose a low thyroid state on the body.  This includes physical, mental and emotional stress.  No good.  If there is something that is stressing you out, address it head on.  You can remove yourself from this stressor completely (ideal but not always doable in the near term) or do something to help counteract this stress, such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing and taking walks outside in nature.  Regardless, do something.  Your body (and future medical bills) will thank you.

If you are having trouble sleeping, do an inventory of your caffeine intake during the course of the day.  Perhaps you are drinking too much or too late in the day?  Stress can also impact sleep (see previous paragraph).  Drinking chamomile tea at night and reducing your exposure to technology up to an hour before you go to bed may also help.  If you have tried everything and still aren’t seeing results, check out the book Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.  It is chock full of natural ways to address sleep issues.

Now on to food, which is always my favorite topic to discuss!  There are some foods that should be minimized when you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and some foods that you should eat more of to make sure you get all the nutrients your little thyroid needs to function properly.

Foods to avoid/minimize

  • Raw cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, turnips and bok choy) should be minimized.  These foods contain goitrogens, which disrupt the production of thyroid hormones by interfering with iodine uptake and high amounts of these can impose a hypothyroid state.  By “high amounts” doctors mean more than 1 cup 3-5 times per week.  When these vegetables are cooked the compounds are destroyed, so if you want to eat these veggies (and I do!), I recommend cooking them first.
  • Gluten should be minimized or eliminated completely, especially in the case of autoimmune hypothyroid, which is known as Hashimoto’s disease, and Celiacs disease.  Put in the simplest way possible, about 80% of our immune system is housed in our gut.  If we eat foods we are sensitive to, for example gluten, the lining of our small intestine (which is one cell thick) can become compromised.  When this lining is compromised, the immune system is more likely to create an immune reaction to what is in your small intestine.  This can lead to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s and also allergies.  For a more indepth article on this, read here.
  • Caffeine has been shown to disrupt the absorption of thyroid medication, so it is recommended that you do not drink coffee within 30 minutes of taking your medication in the morning.  I also wouldn’t recommend drinking coffee on an empty stomach, as that can throw your entire delicate system off and lead to a spike in cortisol.

Foods that help your thyroid

These include foods that are high in zinc, iodine, magnesium, iron and selenium, which are minerals necessary for optimal thyroid function.  Buy organic, grass-fed/pasture-raised when economically possible.

  • Fish, shrimp and seaweed are great sources of iodine.  Iodized salt (as the name suggests) is as well.  It is important to note that the salt you eat in prepared foods is not iodized salt, nor is most sea salt.  I recently found an iodized sea salt at my grocery store.  Fresh fruit such as strawberries and cranberries, yogurt, navy beans, raw cheese and potatoes (eaten with the skin on) are also great sources of iodine.
  • Spinach, lettuce, collard greens and other leafy greens, as well as fish, avocado, bananas and dark chocolate (emphasis on dark) are great sources of magnesium.
  • Nuts and seeds such as cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and Brazil nuts are great sources of iron, magnesium and zinc.
  • Other foods high in iron include animal protein (meat and fish), beans, and dark leafy greens.
  • The best food sources for selenium include Brazil nuts and other nuts and seeds (sunflower, sesame, flax), fish, meat, eggs and whole grains.
  • Add zinc to your diet with oysters, crab and lobster, animal protein (beef, pork, chicken), legumes (hummus, chickpeas, lentils, black beans), mushrooms, spinach, and whole grains.

I hope Part I and this week’s article have helped you to obtain a better understanding of what hypothyroidism is, what causes it and how you can address it through a holistic approach along with your medication.  If you suspect you may have an underactive thyroid, I encourage you to check out the resources below so that you can have an informed discussion with your doctor. These are all resources that I found extremely informative for my own personal health.

  • I love the podcast called The Model Health Show by Shawn Stevenson, the author of Sleep Smarter (the book I recommended for sleep issues above).  He did a show recently on thyroid health with Dr. Jillian Teta, a naturopathic doctor.  After listening to this podcast I finally understood what hypothyroidism is all about.  Dr. Teta explains it phenomenally.  Check out the podcast here.
  • Dr. Jillian Teta also has a five day thyroid-gut school that is completely free.  I did it and she spells out everything you need to know, plus discusses how gut health can impact the health of your thyroid.  If you are thinking of discussing thyroid health with your doctor, check this out first.  You will get one email every day for five days. Believe me, it’s worth it!  To sign up go here.

Peace, love & health,

The Yogi~Foodie

Photo credit – CC image courtesy of Mel Edwards on flickr