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.

Feed Your Good Bugs, Eat Fermented Foods!

Many of my clients and friends have heard me say, Eat something raw at every meal and something fermented every day.

Why?

Besides the fact that fermented foods are phenomenally tasty, they feed the beneficial bacteria that live in our gut. You may have heard a lot of buzz recently about the “microbiome”–this is just fancy talk for the world of bugs, good and bad, that live both on and in us. About 100 trillion bacteria colonize our body, which is more than 10 times the number of cells in your body. Of those bacteria, the majority live in the large intestine. The composition of your gut flora changes depending on diet, lifestyle, and age, but at any given time we are carrying 3 to 4 pounds of bacteria, made up of over 800 species.

The good bacteria in our guts provide protection from infection by bad bacteria, stimulate the immune system, help to digest foods, and synthesize some vitamins, such as K and B12. If fed properly with vegetables and fruits, the good bacteria produce short chain fatty acids, which contribute to the health of the cells of the gut lining and provide you with an extra source of energy. The good bugs also work to correct overgrowth of bad bacteria which cause inflammation. Bad bacteria also cause food cravings, by sending chemical messages to our brains that affect our appetite and mood, making us feel anxious and crave comfort foods like refined carbs and chocolate. A proper balance of good bugs is also thought to promote maintenance of a healthy weight by controlling appetite and cravings.

What we eat determines the kind of bugs we will grow in our gut gardens, as the bacteria follow the food. Probiotic and fermented foods include good bacteria, which aid digestion and help to balance the gut flora in a positive direction. Some great sources of fermented foods include:

Fermented dairy. Be sure that the label says it includes live and active cultures. Avoid any added fruits, as they often are very high in sugar, which is the number one bad-bug-feeding ingredient we want to avoid. Kefir is a tangy yogurt drink you might try. Other sources include buttermilk and aged cheeses. Goat and sheep milk yogurts are often well-tolerated by those who cannot digest cow’s milk–although the fermentation of any milk greatly increases its digestibility. Many people who cannot drink cow’s milk can eat yogurt with no problem. Of course, to support general health, we want all our dairy products to be organic and full fat.

Coconut kefir. Made from coconut water, this tangy fermented drink is brimming with probiotics. Sold in small bottles at Whole Foods and other health stores, you only need about a shotglass-full a day.

Pickled vegetables. These include brined pickles and olives with no added sugars or vinegars (meaning they were naturally allowed to ferment with the addition of just salt and maybe whey), unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickled beets and other vegetables. Beet kvass is a fermented drink made from beet juice, and is a great option.

Fermented soy. This includes foods such as natto and miso, but should be used in small amounts and with caution, as soy can be highly undigestible, and does contain plant estrogens.

Sourdough bread. Ah, bread. I’m talking about the real good stuff here, usually made by artisanal bakers from long-fermented sourdough starter. This is often more tolerable to people who cannot handle wheat gluten digestively.

Kombucha. Technically fermented sweet tea, look for one with the lowest sugar amount possible, meaning it was allowed to fully ferment and “eat” up all the natural sugars.

One word of caution: if you aren’t currently eating any fermented foods, you’ll want to start to slowly introduce them, thinking of them as a condiment or side dish. If your gut balance is off, adding a huge influx of good bacteria can create a bit of a “war” with the bad bugs, leading to digestive upset.

So remember, something raw at every meal, and something fermented every day!

Go Organic: Why Quality Matters

I always recommend organic food to my clients. And sometimes, I can immediately see their eyes glaze over and swear I can hear their thoughts:

“Ugh, organic is so expensive.”

“Organic doesn’t really matter. Veggies are veggies.”

“GMO…whatever. I’m not a scientist. Who cares.”

Organic foods DO make a difference to health and nutrition, and it’s something we really should all care about.

In July of 2014, the British Journal of Nutrition published a study that looked at 343 previous studies of whether organic food was more nutritious than conventionally grown. The researchers concluded that organic crops contained higher concentrations of antioxidants than conventionally grown foods, up to 40% more. At the same time, the researchers found that conventional foods contained greater concentrations of residual pesticides and the toxic metal cadmium. The theory is that organic plants produce more antioxidants and natural toxins to defend themselves against insects and other environmental threats.

Beyond being more nutritious, the lack of pesticide residues is what makes organics really pretty great. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are endocrine disruptors: fake estrogens, essentially. These bind to our hormone receptors, blocking our natural hormones from being able to act as designed, and thereby mess with everything from our gut health to our liver to our reproduction to our brain function. In the gut, endocrine disruptors are known to allow “bad” bacteria to proliferate, which is now being shown to be linked as one cause of obesity. Not only are pesticides and fertilizers known endocrine disruptors, but so are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

It’s been said that GMO really stands for “God, Move Over.”  GMOs are created by a laboratory process that transfers genetic material into the DNA of an organism. There are nine genetically modified (GM) food crops currently on the market in the US: soy, corn, cotton (oil), canola (oil), sugar from sugar beets, zucchini, yellow squash, Hawaiian papaya, and alfalfa.

Most GM crops are engineered to tolerate a weed killer called Roundup®, whose active ingredient is glyphosate. These crops, known as Roundup-Ready crops, accumulate high levels of glyphosate that remain in the food. Basically, the crops get sprayed with Roundup, the weeds die, and we eat the remaining crops that are covered in Roundup.

Corn and cotton varieties are also engineered to have their cells produce an insecticide called Bt-toxin, to make them resistant to pest damage. The Bt-toxin is produced in every cell of genetically engineered corn and ends up in corn chips, corn tortillas, and other ingredients derived from corn. The Bt-toxin produced by genetically modified corn kills insects by punching holes in their digestive tracts, and a 2012 study confirmed that it punctures holes in human cells as well. Bt-toxin survives in the milk and meat of animals that are fed GMO animal feed, and are passed on to us–80% of human fetal blood samples tested show the presence of Bt-toxin. There is even a theory that the genes from the corn can transfer into the native bacteria in our gut and start producing toxins there, essentially turning our good flora into toxin factories!

A recent analysis of research suggests that Bt-toxin, glyphosate, and other components of GMOs are linked to five conditions:

  • Intestinal permeability
  • Imbalanced gut bacteria
  • Immune activation and allergies
  • Impaired digestion
  • Damage to the intestinal wall

It is believed that the atmospheric rise in the number of cases of gluten intolerance and other food allergies in this country in recent years may well be linked to the increase in GMO crops in our food supply, as we know that food sensitivities result from gut wall damage and increased permeability. Basically, you eat a food, and particles of it escape through the damaged gut wall into the bloodstream, where food particles were never meant to be. Your immune system sees these particles as invaders, and sets up an attack, which is what we define as a sensitivity or allergy–when your body is reacting to/attacking a food and symptoms occur as a result of eating it.

There are many hidden sources of GMOs to be aware of. One major exposure is in the oils used in restaurants for cooking, dressings, and sauces, which are commonly soybean, vegetable, corn, canola, and cottonseed oils. Additionally, non-organic sugar is often from GMO sugar beets. Farmed fish eat GMO soy pellets.  And most critically, about 88% of the US corn crop is GMO.

The surest way to avoid GMOs, pesticides, and other endocrine disruptors is to buy and eat organic food. By definition, organic food must be grown without synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, genetic engineering or chemical fertilizers. My clients have heard me say that I am a stickler for only organic corn and soy (if you choose to make soy part of your diet). Anything that grows in direct contact with the soil, such as potatoes or carrots, or cannot be peeled, such as berries, really should absolutely only be consumed in organic forms.

Yes, organic food can often be more expensive than conventionally grown. Farmers’ markets are a great resource for local, fresh organic food, and frequently are less expensive. But honestly, is anything more important than the quality of what you put inside your body?

Some of the information for this blog post came from Jeffrey Smith and the Institute for Responsible Technology.

Water Water Everywhere

Water. Love it or hate it, it’s essential. It’s about 75% of you! It’s found in every tissue of the body, and makes up the bulk of the fluid in every cell. Just some of the many roles of water in the body:

  • Improves oxygen delivery to cells
  • Transports nutrients
  • Enables cellular hydration
  • Moistens oxygen for easier breathing
  • Cushions bones and joints
  • Absorbs shocks to joints and organs
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Removes wastes
  • Flushes toxins
  • Prevents tissues from sticking
  • Lubricates joints
  • Improves cell-to-cell communications
  • Maintains normal electrical properties of cells

Did you know your cartilage is up to 80% water? If you have joints that pop and click, increasing your hydration can really make a difference. Feeling a bit bloated? Increasing your water intake will actually flush out the extra water that’s making you puffy. There are so many reasons to drink up!

The body can produce about 8% of its daily water needs through internal metabolic processes. The remaining 92% must be ingested through what we eat and drink. We can’t store water, so we need to replenish it every day by staying well hydrated. Surprisingly, as many as 8 cups of water are lost each day to your basic metabolic processes, including breathing. That’s before you exercise or do anything beyond simply being alive!

Unfortunately, most people aren’t drinking anywhere near enough water to meet their body’s needs. Water is the most common nutritional deficiency in the American population.

If the body’s water level drops by as little as 2%, symptoms of dehydration will set in: fatigue, headache, anxiety, irritability, depression, cravings, and cramps. Migraines, heartburn, joint pain, back pain, and constipation will follow as dehydration continues.

Water depends on electrolytes (minerals that can conduct electricity when dissolved in water) for proper absorption and to control osmosis throughout the body. One great way to get minerals is through natural spring/mineral water or electrolyte water (in addition to eating lots of veggies and fruit!). Spring/mineral water should be bottled at the source and preferably in glass bottles, and contains tons of good stuff from all the time the water spent bubbling up through the earth. Electrolyte water is also good; it doesn’t contain sodium, which means it doesn’t taste salty, and is ok for people with sodium concerns. But note, sodium is an important mineral to consume, too! Spring or electrolyte water with sodium is a great post-workout drink—just add a pinch of real sea salt to your water bottle.

You should be drinking half your body weight in ounces of water a day, to a maximum of 100 ounces. (140 lbs = 70 oz water daily). Plus, add another 12 oz for every 8 oz of diuretics you drink, including coffee, fruit juice, and alcohol. Sip your water throughout the day–if you drink a large amount all at once, you just quickly pee it out.

I love water and drink mine plain out of a cute cup!  But if you don’t love it, here are some great ways to perk up your hydration:

  • steep fresh mint leaves in boiling water, then refrigerate.
  • add tons of cut up citrus, cucumbers, or berries
  • make caffeine-free herbal teas
  • add a drop of essential oil, like orange oil made from orange peels
  • blend watermelon, strawberries, and fresh mint, and freeze to make flavored ice cubes.

Other great hydration options that can be found on health food shelves these days include coconut water, maple water, aloe water and watermelon water. These all contain minerals, but also some calories and even some small amounts of sugar. If plain water just isn’t doing it for you, you might try diluting one of these 50/50.

The Magical Formula for Eating Like a Wellness Rockstar

A recent survey conducted by the National Cancer Institute asked Americans about their diet from the previous day. Only 9% had consumed three or more servings of vegetables or two or more servings of fruit. One in nine had no fruits or vegetables at all. In the United States, 46% of every food dollar is spent on meals and snacks away from home. The typical American consumes about 140 pounds of sugar a year. Clearly, our focus is not on healthy eating!

The decision to get rid of chronic health problems, prevent disease, and improve the quality of your life begins with changing your food choices. Real food provides your body with the fuel it needs to optimally function, as well as the raw materials to begin to detoxify and heal.

A balanced, properly prepared whole foods diet can be a powerful form of resetting the body. Too often, we don’t make the connection between what we eat and some of the symptoms we suffer. Of course, there’s much more to living a healthy balanced life than simply the food we eat. However, it’s a great start! Here are some very basic principles to help you make your food work for and not against you.

The Magical Guideline for Eating Like a Nutrition Rockstar:

Aim for 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. All day, every day.

About half the food on your plate should be carbohydrates—vegetables, healthy grains. Add a good portion of protein at every meal. Then, add some fat. It’s that simple!

Some more details…

CARBOHYDRATES (aka anything that comes from plants):

  • Vegetables: Eat huge amounts—you cannot overdo it here—especially lots of leafy greens. Go for rich color and variety. Eat something raw at every meal and all the colors of the rainbow.
  • Fruit: Eat moderate amounts of fresh fruit.
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates: The average American gets 50% of their calories from refined carbohydrates. Refined carbs (i.e. white bread, white rice, pasta, instant oatmeal) are grains that have had the fiber, vitamin E, B vitamins, bran and germ removed—all the nutrients, which stresses your digestive and endocrine system. Eating refined carbs also uses up precious vitamins and minerals to process them. Instead, try brown rice, whole grain oats, quinoa, amaranth, and millet.
  • Sweeteners: Minimal, very occasional. Less is best. If you must, opt for real sugar or maple syrup over anything artificial (NutraSweet, Sweet and Low…)
  • Avoid refined sugar. Refined sugar increases insulin and adrenal hormone production, depletes vitamins and minerals, feeds yeast and other “bad” organisms in the gut, leads to mood and energy swings, increases cravings, disrupts sleep, and increases pain and inflammation.

PROTEIN:

  • Pastured, organic, grass-fed meats, poultry, and eggs are excellent, healthy sources of protein.
  • Dairy products should be unsweetened organic whole milk-based only (no low fat, no sugar/fruit added).
  • Consider healthy sources of vegan protein as well: hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds, nuts, beans and legumes, and spirulina.

FATS:

  • For the past 60 years, Americans have been on low-fat and/or poor quality fat diets. We are a society extremely deficient in healthy fatty acids. On top of that, the fats and oils many of us have been using are refined, unstable and dangerous to consume, as the processing methods these fats are exposed to make them toxic to our bodies.
  • The research from decades ago that suggested that fat consumption was responsible for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity has now been debunked as flawed and false. Problems arise when we eat unhealthy fats, such as hydrogenated oils.
  • Fats benefit our health and wellbeing in so many ways: they satisfy our appetite, they are the building blocks of healthy hormones, they enhance mineral absorption, they provide a long-burning source of energy, they are the building blocks of healthy cell membranes, and they aid in the formation of anti-inflammatory substances in the body.
  • Good fats are vital for every aspect of health: nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter, avocado. Avoid “vegetable oil” or “canola oil”—no oils in clear bottles on the grocery shelves.

LIQUIDS: Drink good quality water throughout the day. As a general guideline, drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day.  You can add fresh citrus or mint for flavor. No sodas, juice, vitamin water, or sweetened drinks. You need water to keep your cells hydrated and protected, to eliminate waste and ensure the health of your mucus membranes. Adequate hydration will improve a number of health problems including sinusitis, constipation, inflammation, allergies, fatigue, joint pain, headaches, and many others.

Remember: Always choose the best quality products possible. When possible, choose Certified Organic.

Avoid processed foods, fast foods, chemically treated foods, and industrially prepared foods. Pay attention to the quality of the ingredients that go in your mouth. Eat foods as close to Nature as possible.  Shop, plan, and cook for yourself. Avoid packages. Just eat real food. (There is no pasta tree!)

Pay attention to how the food you eat makes you feel. If you’re getting bloated, headaches, energy crashes in the afternoon, think back to what you’ve eaten all day. Did you have enough protein and fat at breakfast? Look for patterns. Focus on the foods that make you feel good. This is a balanced way to eat that shouldn’t make you feel deprived, but rather should make you feel physically and emotionally healthy and vibrant–like a wellness rockstar! Occasional parties and splurges are a part of life, so enjoy. But you may find that you feel so healthy eating like this, the splurges just aren’t worth the physical after-effects!