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!

But How Do You Get Your Protein?!

“But how do you get your protein?!”

Vegetarians and vegans hear this question ALL too often. The fact is, there are lots of great sources of dietary protein that don’t require the consumption of animals or dairy products.

Now, having said that, I just want to go on record that I generally don’t recommend a vegan diet. It’s extremely hard as a pure vegan to eat a fully balanced diet, especially as most people are far too busy to put in the effort required to make sure they are checking all the nutritional boxes along the way. (Note: I didn’t say impossible, just extremely hard. Save the hate mail, please!) We see a lot of nutritional deficiencies, fatty acid deficiencies, and blood sugar handling problems develop over time in people following vegan diets. Vegetarians–those who do eat eggs and dairy–are generally more successful at balancing their macro- and micro-nutrients.

Having said THAT, I *DO* believe that vegan sources of protein are something everyone should incorporate into a healthy balanced diet. Following are some of my favorites.

Peas: One cup of green peas has as much protein as a glass of milk. Add peas to pesto—peas, basil or cilantro, oil, pine nuts, cheese or nutritional yeast.

Quinoa: Technically a seed, not a grain, quinoa has 8g of protein per cup cooked. Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 of the amino acids considered essential for life (and which must be eaten, as the body cannot manufacture them). Therefore, it is considered a “perfect food.” Sadly, some sustainability issues are arising, as countries that grow quinoa are becoming monocultures in order to feed our demands for it.  Serve as a hot cereal, use as a base for pasta-salad type of recipes, or make as a side dish with added herbs and spices.

Buckwheat: with 6 g of protein per cooked cup, this food comes from a plant similar to rhubarb and is not a grain at all. Buckwheat soba noodles, buckwheat flour for baking and pancakes, and buckwheat kasha groats as a side dish are just some of the ways to incorporate this.

Nuts and nut butters: Nuts contain lots of protein as well as healthy fat. Buy raw organic for best health benefits (not roasted), and butters that are just nuts and salt, with no added oils or sugars. Nuts are high in calories, but are a great part of a balanced diet.

Beans: two cups of kidney beans have 25 g of protein. And you don’t have to buy dried and soak overnight—canned organic beans are perfectly fine. And if you’re not worried about sodium (which most healthy people don’t need to be), you don’t even have to rinse them! Beans combined with brown rice are a perfect protein, together providing all 9 essential amino acids. Don’t forget about chickpeas, lentils, and all the other wonderful legumes out there.

Tofu and tempeh: Recommended with a bunch of caveats. First, organic ONLY—conventional soy is full of horrible toxins and is entirely GMO. I’m not flexible on this one. Second, soy contains compounds that make its proteins very hard on your body to digest, which leads to gastric upset in lots of people, as well as hidden stressors on your liver and pancreas. Fermenting soy, such as in tempeh or miso, removes much but not all of these compounds. There are also concerns about the estrogenic properties of soy and what it does to the body’s hormone balance. Organic soy should be treated as an occasional treat—if you can digest it—and not be an everyday staple of your diet.

Leafy greens: Greens don’t contain as much protein as nuts or beans, but a good amount is present, plus all the healthy antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Greens should be a large part of a balanced diet, whether you’re a carnivore or not.

Hemp: Hemp seeds or hearts have 10 g of protein in 2 tablespoons. They’re also packed full of minerals, and a rare vegan source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Great to add to yogurt, oatmeal, salads, smoothies, baked goods, or in the form of milk as a dairy-free milk substitute.

Chia seeds: Almost 5 g of protein in 2 tablespoons.  Full of fiber, minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Again, great in yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, baked goods.But also, when added to liquid they release a gelatinous coating that is great for creating vegan puddings. My favorite is to add ¼ cup of chia seeds to 1 cup of full fat coconut milk (from a can) and ¼ cup of unsweetened shredded coconut, plus a teaspoon of vanilla. Stir well and refrigerate, and in a couple of hours you have a delicious coconut pudding that is full of protein.

Seeds: sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, and poppy are all full of healthy protein and fats. I never eat a salad without at least three of these guys on top!

Spirulina algae: 4 g of protein per tablespoon. Sprinkle it on popcorn, add it to smoothies, bake it into energy bars. This dark green powerhouse is full of amino acids and minerals, and is very easy to digest.

One vegan protein I do not recommend: seitan. Made from wheat gluten, seitan is a concentrated hit of the inflammatory proteins that cause so many people problems. Even if you don’t think you have a wheat sensitivity, wheat creates inflammation throughout our bodies, from our joints to our bellies to our brains. While a little bit of organic wheat is ok sometimes, seitan is an enormous quantity of wheat gluten, which I don’t think is a good idea for anyone to ingest.

Fuel those New Year Workouts

So, it’s that time of year, when everyone is hitting the gym hard and vowing to get in shape. Good for you! Have you given any thought to how best to fuel your new exercise routine?

Misconceptions about fueling your training

Low fat won’t cut it: We’ve all been sold this idea since the 1980s that dietary fat is the enemy. I see so many people living on extremely low fat, high carbohydrate diets. I have a type of client I see often who I call the “unaware healthy” person: they eat chicken breasts, fat free yogurt, salads with no dressing, egg white omelets, and wraps. And they wonder why they have no energy, have to eat every 2 – 3 hours, and cannot put on muscle!

The fact is, our bodies are meant to run off of fat for long-burning fuel. Think about building a fire: if you use lots of small kindling, you burn through it quickly, and constantly have to add more. But if you use large logs, they burn slowly and last a long time. Fats are the logs of our diet, and carbs are the kindling. I work often with clients to help them convert their metabolism from a sugar burner to a fat burner.

You can’t fake (food) it: The other big mistake I see a lot is a reliance on “fake foods” for convenient fuel—protein bars, shakes, packaged performance snacks, hydration drinks. These are pretty uniformly full of chemicals, preservatives, and poorly sourced ingredients. For people who simply must turn to a protein powder occasionally, there are some wonderful ones sourced from pure grass-fed organic goat and cow’s milks/whey, as well as organic hemp and green algae. But I strongly believe you can get everything you need to sustain you through any type of workout from real, properly prepared whole foods.

Eat to fuel the machine

It’s important to note that bioindividuality is huge. What works for one person may have to be dramatically tweaked for another. But speaking in generalities, I start by having people eat a 40/30/30 balanced diet, of 40% carbohydrates (anything that comes from plants), 30% protein, and 30% fat. Just getting this much fat and protein makes a lot of difference for most people (while also reducing the carbs they have almost always been overeating). Athletes may find they need up to 40% protein, to allow their bodies to recover from all of the tissue breakdown that happens in training. They may also need to up their fat as well, as they have a greater need for energy.

Next, drink half your body weight in ounces of water a day, up to a maximum of 100 ounces. For every cup of coffee or soda (shame!) you drink, add another 8 ounces. Dehydration is the most common nutritional deficiency. Keeping hydrated allows your tissues and joints to work well, and will help prevent injury by allowing your connective tissues to slide over each other properly. And stay away from hydration drinks and vitamin waters! If you’re going to be sweating for more than an hour, add a pinch of unrefined real sea salt to your water for electrolytes.

Focus on using real food to meet your nutritional needs. This may mean more time spent planning, shopping, and cooking. It may mean you need to carry a small cooler bag with you, with your food for the day in it. In the long run, you’ll be healthier for it, and you’ll save money over eating out all the time.

To help control inflammation that occurs from training, I recommend supplementation with high quality fish oil daily. Even better is fermented cod liver oil, as it’s also full of vitamins and minerals.

What to eat before and after training

This depends on how long you have before training. If you only have a few minutes, eat some healthy carbs—banana, dates—as quick fuel for your muscles, which won’t sit in your stomach and make you sluggish. Be prepared to run out of steam pretty quickly though. Optimally, an hour before (or more), you’d eat a balanced meal that includes a good dose of protein and fat as well as carbs. The fat will help regulate the carb absorption and maintain a steady stream of energy. 4 ounces of fish, some sautéed spinach in olive oil, ½ an avocado, and a small piece of fruit would be perfect.

After training, you need to eat amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to help with muscle repair. It’s best to wait 30 – 60 minutes post-training, as otherwise your digestion may not have fully kicked back in—exercise suppresses it. Proteins that are easy to digest, such as fish, eggs, and spirulina, are best. You should also add some healthy carbs so your body can rebuild the glycogen stores you expended while training—think half a sweet potato, or a small scoop of brown rice.

Try adding these changes to your training regimen for 2015. May it be your strongest, healthiest year yet!

A Balanced Start Program Kickoff!

I’m so pleased to announce the launch of A Balanced Start, the reset-your-eating program for a healthy 2015.

This jumpstart is perfect for anyone who:

  • Vows every January that THIS will be the year they get healthy
  • Feels stuck in a rut, eating the same foods every day
  • Is looking to shake up their metabolism
  • Is curious about working with a nutritionist, but afraid of just being told what NOT to eat
  • Lives anywhere

A Balanced Start is a SUPER cost-effective way to get some personalized information and education, and the perfect kick off to a great 2015.

A Balanced Start will give you:
  • A personalized review of your current nutrition, done via 3 day food journal
  • A one-on-one phone consultation, where we will go over recommendations for changes, substitutions, and improvements to help you meet your goals
  • Handouts on foundations and principles of balanced eating
  • A seasonal healthy shopping list, to help you stock your kitchen for success
  • Select recipes targeted to meet your nutritional needs

All for just $25! 

Email me at ellen@abalancedtable.net to learn how we can get started down the road to wellness, together.