Detox Cleanses: Important or Silliness?

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

How to Bring Your Nutritionist to Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tricks or Treats?

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin All the Things

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

…..the best time of the year….

….that’s right….

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

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

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

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

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

Protein-packed pumpkin spiced oats in a jar

Paleo pumpkin custard 

Pumpkin spice baked apples

Healthy pumpkin spiced latte

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

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!)

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!