In My Kitchen: my healthy cereal substitute (video blog link)
In My Kitchen: my healthy cereal substitute (video blog link)
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?
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?
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.
Many of my clients and friends have heard me say, Eat something raw at every meal and something fermented every day.
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!
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:
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. 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:
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:
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.
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):
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!
Whether you’re an athlete, a weekend warrior, or just occasionally clumsy, lumps, bumps, bruises, and injuries are a part of life. Joint pain is also something most of us will deal with at some point. We may often reach for the bottle of Advil or aspirin without a second thought. These powerful medications do indeed help with pain and inflammation, but that may not be the right thing for your body.
Inflammation and swelling is your body’s way of taking action against an insult, and starting the healing process. Let’s say you roll your ankle stepping off a curb. You do no major damage, but you create some micro-tears to the tissue in the area. By sending in inflammatory compounds and thereby inflaming the ankle, your body creates a pathway that allows the immune system to mount a defense and start the healing. That inflammation ushers the white blood cells to move in and clean up the damaged tissues. (It’s also why infected tissues get inflamed–so the white blood cells can rush in to kill off the invading bacteria.) Once the body has inflamed the area to start the healing process, it can then send in anti-inflammatory compounds to further help heal and calm the injury. So, the body’s natural process is, it must inflame before it can anti-inflame.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like Advil stop the body’s process of creating pro-inflammatory compounds, and therefore reduce pain and swelling, but in so doing they also stop the creation of the body’s anti-inflammatory compounds, and can slow healing. Aspirin and NSAIDs can also cause a host of other problems in the body, chief among them damage to the stomach lining and interference with good digestion. They will also make bruising worse.
There are some good alternative routes to help relieve pain and swelling, when it’s too much to just ride out.
First, take a good look at your diet. Both our pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory compounds are created by the body from the fatty acids (fats) we eat, which is why high quality omega 3 and 6 fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, and fish are key to the healing process. A good mixed EFA (essential fatty acid) supplement is worth adding to your daily regimen, especially during times of healing. Vitamins C, E, B3, B6, and the minerals magnesium and zinc are key cofactors to these processes as well. Fresh fruits and dark green veggies, poultry, fish, beef, mushrooms, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, avocado, beans, cashews, and prunes will give you healthy doses of these nutrients. Remember also that sugar is highly inflammatory and will slow your healing process.
Especially when it comes to joint pain, water is your friend. The cartilage in our joints is 80% water. The main key to healthy joints, and the first remedy to reach for when they start popping and clicking, is water: half your body weight in ounces daily (to a maximum of 100 ounces). For healthy collagen, the matrix of glue that holds our cartilage together, ensure your diet contains adequate protein (amino acids), vitamin C, iron, copper, and water. One major component of collagen is chondroitin sulfate. Glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate supplements can make a huge difference to joint health, but they must be consistently taken 3x/day for up to 6 weeks before you will see any effect (and must be avoided if you are allergic to sulfur). Also for joints, antioxidants combat the free radicals and enzymes that damage the joint (synovial) fluid, and EFAs help with swelling and pain–so make sure to eat lots of colorful fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, fish, and avocado.
Finally, there are some natural supplements that can be very helpful. All of these can be found at Whole Foods or other natural stores:
Stay safe out there, but know that when life takes its lumps, you have some tools to fight back!
I’m not going to be another one of those experts telling you about all the ways to make healthy choices at the holidays. Cut your wine with seltzer. Fill up on shrimp cocktail and baby carrots. Cover half your plate in veggies. Save your calories for your favorite items and pass on the others.
Ok well, actually, that’s all really good advice.
But let’s be honest. There’s a pretty darn good chance that you are going to overdo it at some point this holiday season–if you haven’t already! You’ll drink too much. You’ll keep eating even though you’re full. You’ll have some of every dessert offered. You’ll eat pie for breakfast. So, here are some ideas on how you can undo some of the damage and start to feel better, fast.
Imbibed a bit too much? Alcohol increases urination and dehydration, taking lots of electrolytes with it. Before bed, drink coconut water to try to replenish some of those electrolytes. In the morning, continue the coconut water, eat some eggs for the important minerals and amino acids found in the yolks, and drink some bone broth or homemade chicken soup for the healing minerals and soothing collagen. Avoid taking Tylenol or Advil, as these will further stress your liver. Black coffee can help with headaches by fighting blood vessel constriction.
Tummy not happy? Gastritis is the fancy term for an upset stomach, with symptoms such as pain, nausea, burning, belching, and heartburn . One of the best cures for gastritis is a supplement called DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice). DGL acts as a demulcent, which means it coats and soothes the lining of the stomach. A couple of tablets chewed up can really bring relief. DGL is widely available at Whole Foods, Sprouts, and other natural foods markets.
Stuck in a cycle of poor choices? Pie for breakfast. Donuts for a snack. Fudge just because. Cookies cookies cookies. You’re eating this stuff every day and feeling worse and worse. One of the best ways to gird yourself is to start your day with a healthy, filling breakfast. Start there, and see if you’re not inspired to make better choices later in the day. Focus on getting lots of protein and fats: eggs, healthy meats, cheese, plain whole fat yogurt, berries, sauteed plantains with coconut oil.
Bloated like Santa’s belly? Water water water! Dehydration, which will occur when we are eating poor food and drinking lots of alcohol, will cause the body to retain water. Increasing your water intake will flush that retention out, and help you beat the bloat. It sounds counterintuitive, but drink water to make the body excrete water.
Here’s wishing you a holiday season filled with good choices. But just in case, now you know what to do!
There’s nothing worse than being taken down by a cold, or even worse, the flu. Definitely puts a cramp in your plans for a week or two! As cold and flu season is upon us, there are things you can do to up your resistance, and to help you recover more quickly if you do get sick.
First and foremost, wash your hands. A lot. Touching germy surfaces and then touching your mucus membranes is how you catch a virus. End of story. Wash. Your. Hands. Antibacterial gels are good in a pinch if you can’t get to soap and water, but shouldn’t be overused. In general, keep your hands away from your face.
Immune boosting nutrients that you should be loading up on this winter include:
If a virus takes you down, some ways to make it move along a bit more quickly include:
Over-the-counter cold medications can help with symptoms in varying degrees, but often produce a “rebound effect” and leave you feeling worse than before. And remember, antibiotics are for bacterial infections only, and will do nothing to help with a cold or flu virus.
Wishing you a happy, healthy winter!