Detox Cleanses: Important or Silliness?

It’s unfortunate that detox cleanses have been broadly painted as a hoax. Detoxification, also known as detoxication in the scientific literature, is the biological process undertaken by the liver, our body’s filter. Fat-soluble compounds–things like pesticides and heavy metals–enter our bodies daily from the food we eat and air we breathe. Plus, our bodies make many undesirable compounds through the cellular processes that make up normal life. All of these things have to be processed and removed from the body. Detoxification involves combining these compounds with a variety of other molecules, through processes like methylation, sulfation, and others, so that they can become water-soluble and be excreted through our urine and stool.
The reality is, most people have some compromises to the efficiency and efficacy of their detoxification processes. Methylation, sulfation, and the other processes known as Phase II detoxification rely deeply on the body having adequate levels of co-factor nutrients, things like B and C vitamins. Adequate levels of certain amino acids are also necessary. Today’s food supply does not contain sufficient levels of vitamins and minerals, due to the systematic depletion of our soils that has occurred. Not to mention, most standard American diets don’t meet the necessary intakes on vitamins and minerals. Additionally, up to 40% of people have some form of an inborn genetic mutation to the MTHFR gene. This gene is directly responsible for the methylation process that is critical to the detoxification cycle. Mutations means that we are much less efficient at carrying out this form of detox. Finally, our toxic burden of chemicals is at the highest level seen in history. It’s estimated the average woman has 160 chemicals on her body before she walks out the door in the morning, with an estimated 80% of what goes on the skin ending up in the bloodstream. We are living in a toxic soup, and our livers are fighting hard to keep up.
 For all of these reasons–inadequate nutrient levels, genetic mutations, and our heavy toxic burdens–giving the detox process a boost a couple of times a year with a well-planned liver detox cleanse can be a great thing. For clients with skin issues, mood issues, fatigue, and hormonal issues such as heavy PMS, a 21 day liver cleanse is an important part of our rebalancing protocol.

How to Bring Your Nutritionist to Tears

I recently received this testimonial from a client, and I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it. Honestly, I get so emotional every time I read it, I haven’t been able to process it very well! But I finally decided to just share it here. I am so blessed to be able to do this work and make a difference in clients’ lives, and I am so thankful that people like Lori trust me to be a part of their healing process.

When I initially started working with Ellen in May 2014, my secret goal was to lose weight.  We spoke at great lengths about how weight loss should not be a goal.  Choose better health, higher stamina, fewer energy dips during the day – but do not choose weight loss as a goal. 

I already had gastric bypass in 2004 – which means I completely scrambled my insides – just to lose weight.  I lost 165 pounds back then but about 75 of those pounds had crept back on over the years.  We all tell ourselves we are having surgery to be healthier, but many of us don’t change our diet; we just eat less of whatever horrible foods we were eating before.  I have spent my entire life feeling like the extra weight was my problem.  Every other time I’ve had to speak with a nutritionist, they spent a ton of time telling me what not to do.  And when someone tells me not to do something, I want to do it more.  Ellen has given me the information and tools to make my own decisions. 

Not one single doctor or nutritionist has ever gotten to the root of my actual problem:  I was eating low quality foods and most likely not digesting them properly.  As Ellen has told me, I was on the Standard American Diet.  I wouldn’t have known what a healthy meal looked like if it hit me in the face.  Initially, I did the minimum with Ellen.  Yes, I made diet changes (I cut a lot of sugar from my diet).  I started making most of my food at home.  I chose higher quality supplements.  I lost some weight, which I was not so secretly happy about.  But more importantly, thanks to the proper nutrition, I felt more fantastic than I ever had.  I even started to become at peace with my still-naturally large body. 

Then in September of 2015, a new goal was thrown into my lap.  My liver panels shot up and I realized I had to get a little more serious about my health.  Ellen gave me a comprehensive plan to help heal my liver and aid in digestion (as the weight loss surgery had made me unable to properly digest most of my foods, which means I was losing out on important nutrients).  In addition to continuing to eat good foods and only do exercise I actually enjoy, I decided to stop taking my birth control pill.  I had been on the pill for 25 years, so my body never had the chance to learn how to function properly in the hormone department.  I also decided to stop taking an immunosuppressant shot for my psoriasis, which could have been adding to my liver problems. 

In January 2016, I found out that my liver panels are back down to near normal levels – something I have not seen in many years.  In the process, I even lost ten pounds over the holidays.  Again, it was not a goal, but it was a natural result of changing the foods and taking my supplements.  I do not ever count calories (or beat myself up if I eat something that is not so great for me).  I also feel like eating the proper foods helps me feel in control of my life in general.  I have spent many years being a compulsive overeater, which can lead to disordered thinking in other areas of my life.  I don’t want to say that my disordered thoughts and eating have been cured, but I will say that I have had many more calm days by following Ellen’s advice.  I have faced a few tough challenges in the last year, all of which would have normally touched off a binge.  I have not felt like binging through any of those times.  That’s a huge win for me.  Ellen has quite literally saved my life, and I will always appreciate her for that. 

Tricks or Treats?

Every year around this time, there’s a pretty vigorous debate among my colleagues as to what to do for Halloween “treats.” We spend 364 days a year educating people about the evils of sugar, working to balance blood sugar dysregulation, fighting insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome/diabetes, combating inflammation, and healing digestive and hormonal systems. So, how can we in good conscience give children–who are the fastest-growing obese sub-population in the country–CANDY, one day a year?

Some say, It’s one day a year, lighten up. Others say, There’s no point in fighting, they’re just going to get tons of candy everywhere else. Still others insist, The way to promote change is to lead by example.

Personally, I choose to do a bit of both. I do hand out candy. But I also have alternative treats for kids who might want something else, or who have allergies or special dietary needs. Glow in the dark bracelets are always popular. I don’t love handing out candy, but I do make a point to buy candy that isn’t full of artificial colors and flavors and chemicals.

If you’re having a party, there are tons of great ideas for spooky-yet-healthy Halloween treats online. I really like this roundup of recipes. Also, check out these adorable goodies!

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However you decide to balance healthy eating with Halloween fun this year, here’s one way I would definitely recommend NOT going about it!

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Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin All the Things

This is the time of year people everywhere await breathlessly….

…..the best time of the year….

….that’s right….

…..it’s PUMPKIN SPICE EVERYTHING TIME!!!!

Think this stuff isn’t popular? Check out #psl on Instagram.

Like most normal homo sapiens, I adore pumpkin spice and all the wonderful tastes of Fall that go along with it. Unfortunately though, most of the pumpkin goodies that flood the market this time of year are filled with artificial flavors, colors, and chemicals. There’s really no actual PUMPKIN to be found, which is a shame, since the lovely gourd is full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber.

I thought I’d do a round-up of some healthy pumpkin do-it-yourself things, and then I started searching…..and found recipes calling for tons of sugar, soy, and agave, among other things. (Avid readers of this blog know why these are all poor dietary choices.)

So, here are a few delightful yummies that do not feature crappy ingredients, and that will allow you to bring the flavors of Fall to your kitchen without overdosing on chemicals and sugar. If you’re searching for others, just be sure to bring a critical eye to what goes in them.

Protein-packed pumpkin spiced oats in a jar

Paleo pumpkin custard 

Pumpkin spice baked apples

Healthy pumpkin spiced latte

Pumpkin tahini grain-free porridge (I LOVE this for breakfast!)

Label Me Confused

I’ve written in the past about why I think it’s so important to buy organic whenever possible (read this!). But, with so many food labels and quality “badges” on food these days, it can be hard to know which labels are meaningful and which are just hype.

Consumer Reports has created a sister site called Greener Choices, and they’ve done a terrific job of explaining what eco-labels on your food really mean. You can search by product, category, or certifier, and easily compare labels using their report cards. Check it out here.

Below is a graphic showing some of the more common eco-label badges you’ll find in stores, and Consumer Reports’ ratings of those badges based on verifiable standards, consistency, transparency, and independence.

Interestingly, there is a movement afoot to ban entirely the use of the word “natural” in labeling. The FDA has no definition or standards for the use of that word at all, and such products can include artificial colors, flavors, synthetics, GMOs, and pesticides. Read more about bogus “natural” greenwashing here.

What’s the moral of the story?

Caveat emptor!

Courtesy of Edible Monterey Bay magazine.

Courtesy of Edible Monterey Bay magazine.

Healthy, or Obsessed?

I almost turned into a maniac in Safeway last week.

You see, I buy all my food in one of two places: Whole Foods, or the farmers market. My family has made the choice to buy almost exclusively organic, whenever possible, for both our health and the health of the planet. We buy very few things at all that come in any sort of package, and cook just about everything from scratch. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s pricier than buying conventional or pre-packaged. Yes, it’s a luxury some people cannot afford. I understand this. But we’ve decided this is our value system, that the quality of what goes in our body is worth the expense and trouble. It’s what I teach, and what I try to live. As I like to say, when it comes to health, you can pay now, or you can pay later. Your choice.

So, anyway. Every couple of months I go to Safeway for a few large items I just can’t get elsewhere. Cat litter. Heavy duty aluminum foil. Trash bags. Bounty. (Because, I love you, Whole Foods, but those paper towels you sell are ridiculous. YOU try cleaning up cat vomit with one of those tree shavings!) And I’m walking around the aisles last week, and I’m appalled.

There’s almost no FOOD in Safeway.

Sure, there are endless aisles of grocery products. Convenience packages. Big brand names. Lots of food-like substances. But all I see is an array of chemicals, additives, preservatives, factory-farmed cruelty, artificial flavors and colorings, and high fructose corn syrup. And it was all I could do to not start running around the aisles screaming, “RUN! GET OUT! Put down the bright yellow American cheese slices and the Squirt soda!  Save yourselves and your children! THIS IS NOT FOOD!!!!!”

Instead, I bought my cat litter, bit my tongue, and left.

You see, a big part of my job is understanding that everyone is in a different place on their journey. I have to honor and respect that, and not try to push people to be somewhere they aren’t ready to be. I strive to focus on living what I preach, being a good role model, and not making anyone feel bad about not being ready to make the same choices I make. I am here as an educator and guide, and I want to be respectful and know that my clients (and hopefully my friends and family) will find their way when they are at the right time.

For myself, I also have to make sure I keep a balanced perspective on things. It’s easy to start to get insulated in my home-cooked world of organic deliciousness, and to start to fear the unknown when it comes to food. I still eat out, and when I do, I choose the healthiest place with the healthiest options I can, and then I make a conscious choice to just let go. Sure, maybe they cooked my food in canola oil. Yes, that salad isn’t organic romaine. I won’t die. Not today, not in ten years, not from some conventionally grown produce. If the bulk of what I eat is healthy, I know I’m doing the best I can for my body and my planet.

There’s a new disorder you may have heard of, called orthorexia nervosa, or orthorexia. It’s defined as an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy food, and while it’s not an official clinical diagnosis yet, it’s a real thing and is on the rise. If eating “healthily” causes significant distress or negative consequences in your life, you’ve gone too far. I’ve been asked by clients if their (and my) concern about eating healthy is something they should worry about. Is it, by definition, pathological? And my answer is generally no. Your family and friends may not understand the choices you’re making–why you’re passing on the piece of birthday cake, why you don’t want any of that cream sauce. You’re doing the best you can for you and your health, and if they love you, they need to understand that.

Just don’t go nutty and start screaming in Safeway, okay?

D is for Deficient

Most of us have a vague notion that, when we expose ourselves to sunlight, our bodies make vitamin D. Most of us assume that if we spend any amount of time outside, we must be good with our D levels. In reality however, vitamin D deficiency is rampant in America.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 50 percent of children aged one to five years, and 70 percent of children between the ages of six and 11, are deficient or insufficient in vitamin D. It is estimated that 50% of the population of the US is deficient. Researchers have also noted that vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in adults of all ages who always wear sun protection (which blocks vitamin D production) or limit their outdoor activities. People with increased skin pigmentation (such as those whose ancestors are from Africa, the Middle East, or India) are also at risk, as are the elderly. It’s estimated that over 95 percent of US senior citizens may be deficient in vitamin D, not only because they tend to spend a lot of time indoors but also because they produce less in response to sun exposure (a person over the age of 70 produces about 30 percent less vitamin D than a younger person with the same sun exposure).

Vitamin D is really a steroid hormone more than a vitamin. D is a very powerful epigenetic regulator, which simply means that it triggers our genes to express and do what they are meant to. It has been estimated that D plays a hand in regulating as many as 2000 of our 3000 genes. We know that when D is present in appropriate levels in the body, it is antibiotic, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory. We also know that D works to inhibit cancer cell growth, and helps prevent autoimmune disease and infections. In autoimmune disease and with cancer, large doses of vitamin D can be beneficial in fighting inflammation, disease progression, and cell division. Vitamin D is also key to the metabolism of calcium in the body. Without adequate levels, bone mineralization cannot happen, and calcium levels cannot be maintained. Severe D deficiency results in a bone-weakening disease called rickets.

When we are exposed to the UVB rays in sunlight, our bodies manufacture vitamin D in the form known as D3, which the liver then converts into an active form for use throughout the body. Many foods and dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, in the D2 ergocalciferol form. Unfortunately, only D3, also known as cholecalciferol, is the active useful form in the body. D2 cannot be converted to D3, and is therefore toxic to the body: it halts the D3 conversion and desensitizes the D3 receptors throughout the body. It’s very important to ensure that any supplemental vitamin D is taken in the D3 or cholecalciferol form.

It’s also important to realize that only bare skin–without sunscreen–can absorb the UVB rays from the sun that stimulate D production. Sunscreen use is clearly very important to prevent aging and skin cancers, but its widespread use is contributing to plummeting vitamin D levels. SPF 8 sunscreen decreases the body’s vitamin D production by 97%; SPF 15 reduces it by 99%. Additionally, sunlight filtered through a window will not trigger D production either. The best recommendation for ensuring adequate vitamin D levels is 20 minutes of sunlight a day, directly on bare uncovered skin. Before 10 am or after 3 pm are the best times to avoid the most harmful rays of the sun.

Most people won’t ever know they are deficient, as there are few overt signs and symptoms of deficiency. However, if you have darker skin, are over the age of 50, live in a northern climate, or you have compromised digestion (meaning you aren’t breaking down the fats necessary to absorb D), you can be almost certain your levels are low. If you are overweight or suffer from depression, it’s also quite likely that you are deficient.

Determining your vitamin D levels can be a bit tricky, even though there is a simple blood test. It has been shown that the standards used in laboratory D testing vary wildly, and it is hard to standardize results across companies. To complicate matters further, some people convert their D differently, such that the standard D blood test (known as OH-25) will show low levels, even though their active levels might be adequate or high. Even so, blood tests remain the best assessment tool.

If your blood tests show you need to increase your D levels, the best supplements consist of D3 drops suspended in an oil (usually olive or sesame), that you drip directly into your mouth daily. Because D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it needs to be ingested in the presence of fat in order to be absorbed and used. Oil-based drops are an easy solution. As with any supplement, consult your physician (or nutritional therapist!!) to determine what’s best for you.

The Incredible, Edible Egg

(Anyone else old enough to remember this TV ad, from the American Egg Board?!)

Eggs have had a rough time of it over the years. Once a mainstay of breakfast tables, a couple of decades ago eggs became the enemy, said to contain high levels of dangerous cholesterol. Egg white omelets and Egg Beaters became America’s go-to breakfast choice, instead.

I like to tell my clients,  I consider a whole egg to be almost a perfect food. One large egg contains:

  • Only 77 calories, with 5 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein that include all 9 essential amino acids (see? A perfect food!)
  • Iron, phosphorous, selenium and vitamins A, B12, B2 and B5 (among others).
  • 113 mg of Choline – a very important nutrient for the brain, among other things.
  • Large amounts of the antioxidants Lutein and Zeaxanthine, which lower the risk of age-related eye disorders such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

For the love of all that is holy, EAT THE YOLKS. A whole egg is a complete package, full of proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all meant to be eaten together in one perfect little food. Egg whites, while a concentrated hit of protein, lack any of the other good nutrients.

Like most foods, quality is a huge consideration when it comes to eggs. Conventional battery-farmed eggs are lacking in nutrients, and are also a product of a very cruel industry. We buy our eggs at the local farmers market, and I recommend everyone seek out farm-raised local pastured organic chicken eggs. Eggs from these happy hens that forage in pastures, eat bugs, and scratch seeds out of the soil have dark orange yolks that are much thicker than those in store-bought eggs. Orange yolks indicate a healthy chicken diet, which means your eggs are chock-full of healthy Omega-3 fats, carotenoid antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. (Here’s a nice study from Penn State University, backing up the fact that pastured hens are healthier and make healthier eggs.)

And, don’t worry about eggs affecting your heart health–that’s old, debunked pseudo-science. Recently revised US dietary guidelines are supporting what we’ve all known for years, that eating the cholesterol contained in food DOES NOT raise your blood cholesterol levels adversely. In fact, the cholesterol in eggs can play a role in raising your GOOD HDL cholesterol, if anything. Every hormone in our body is made from the cholesterol we eat, including our sex hormones (like estrogen and testosterone) and our feel-good hormones (like serotonin). Cholesterol in our food is a good thing!

One caveat I must mention. Eggs are in the top 5 most common food sensitivities, along with wheat, dairy, corn, and soy. Unlike traditional “allergies”–rashes, breathing difficulties, things like that–sensitivities can take a variety of forms, and can be very hard to pinpoint. Eliminating eggs is often done as part of a program designed to help clients heal their guts and eliminate food sensitivities.

(Thanks to Garden Betty for some of the wisdom contained in this post!)

Top 10 Reasons to Buy Local

This list is adapted slightly from one that appeared in a publication of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (www.caff.org). I thought it was a nice summary of all the benefits received by our health, our environment, and our planet when we buy and eat locally grown food.

1. Better for you.  When fresh fruits and vegetables are locally grown, picked, and processed, the vitamins and minerals they contain are at their peak. Fresh produce loses nutrients quickly, and often spends 7 – 14 days in transit. In that delay before it reaches your table, sugars turn to starches, and plant cells shrink and lose vitality. Fresh local produce is more nutritious.

2. Taste and appearance. Local farmers can grow tastier varieties if they know they’ll be eaten locally and not trucked across the country. Local produce is more delicious because it can be picked at peak ripeness.

3. Supports farm families. When you buy directly from family farmers at farmers markets, your money goes directly to help them continue farming and growing good food. Since 1935, the US has lost 4.7 million farms, and farmers today receive less than 10 cents of the retail food dollar.

4. Preserves genetic diversity. In industrial agriculture, plants are bred for their ability to ripen uniformly, survive packing, and last a long time on the shelf. Small local farms are instead able to grow many different varieties to provide a longer season and the best flavors.

5. Lighter carbon footprint. On average, food travels 1500 – 2500 miles from the farm to plate. In that process, each calorie of food produced requires an average of 10 calories of fossil fuel inputs from travel, refrigeration, and processing. Purchasing locally grown food saves the fuel needed to transport food, reduces air pollution, and combats carbon emissions.

6. Preserves open space. Family farms are well-managed places where the resources of fertile soil and clean water are valued. Good stewards of the land grow cover crops that prevent erosion and replace nutrients. Farms also are the perfect environment for many species of wildlife. Buying locally grown food helps ensure the survival of these spaces and preserves the agricultural landscape.

7. Builds trust. Many issues and concerns of food safety can be allayed from the assurance that comes from directly speaking with growers at a farmers market.

8. Local economic strength. Buying local food keeps your dollars in the local economy, providing jobs and creating a more vibrant community.

9. Builds community. When you buy directly from a local farmer, you’re keeping the connection between grower and consumer alive, and supporting a local business. Learning who grows your food teaches you about where you live.

10. Investment in our future. By supporting local growers today, we ensure there will be farms in our community tomorrow, and that future generations will have access to nourishing and abundant food.

Multivitamins: A Magic Pill?

I recently was at a networking event and had the opportunity to have a skin scan done using the Pharmanex BioPhoton scanner. This device uses a laser to harmlessly measure your skin levels of carotenoids in about 90 seconds. This gives you a picture of your overall body antioxidant levels, and possibly therefore how protected your DNA is from free radical damage that can lead to cancer. The reading is just on a relative scale–not a measurement of units of anything–and reflects your diet of about a month prior. I held my breath, thinking, “If this comes out poorly, I’m gonna have a lot of explaining to do!”

I was super excited to see my score, as I ACED IT with an off-the-chart 74,000. (Can you tell I’m kind of competitive when it comes to test taking?) The average American scores around 25,000. When Dr. Oz, that paragon of good health, had the device on his show, he scored a 75,000. I’m feeling pretty darn good about all those raw veggies and fruits I eat every day! Here’s a short video of Dr. Oz taking the test: http://youtu.be/55jIM4pUzuA

Of course, the company that does the scans is counting on most people scanning poorly, so they can then recommend and sell their antioxidant supplements to you. I was however very gratified to hear the rep tell people that it is indeed possible to get all the nutrients you need from a well-balanced diet. HOORAY! We also talked to a few people about the fact that if your digestion is compromised, you might have the best diet in the world and not be able to absorb and utilize those nutrients you’re eating. You know, the dreaded “expensive poop.” Not to mention, if your diet is deficient in healthy fats, you won’t be able to absorb and use the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K.

So the question then is, If you know your diet isn’t full of the recommended more than 6 half-cup servings of fruits and veggies every day, and your digestion isn’t a smoothly ticking machine, shouldn’t you just start taking some multivitamins and antioxidant supplements (like Vitamins A, E and C) to cover all your bases?

NOPE.

Multiple studies have shown that supplementing with high doses of antioxidant vitamins can in fact increase your risk of morbidity and mortality from a variety of cancers. However, we know that people who eat large quantities of fruits and vegetables have lower incidences of heart disease and cancer. The difference is, Mother Nature in all her wisdom has packaged antioxidants and other nutrients in perfect little balanced bites of foods. Trying to one-up her by taking imbalanced loads of nutrients in ratios never intended to be ingested upsets the natural order of things. It seems that the large doses in fact impact our immune system function negatively, with undesirable results, rather than shoring it up as we hoped to when we swallowed the pills. This column sums up the issues nicely, if you’d like to know more: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/09/opinion/sunday/dont-take-your-vitamins.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 

I do not recommend general broad-spectrum daily multivitamins or supplementation. When I do recommend supplements, it’s because of a measurable deficiency (commonly, i.e., Vitamin D and zinc), or because we are trying to use a therapeutic dose for a set period of time to help the body recover balance and deal with a specific health issue. Popping large dose supplements because “more is better” is definitely not the way to go.