Nutrition

Peruvian Stuffed Avocado (Palta Rellena)

Snapseed.jpg

With Thanksgiving only a week away, I probably should be posting a healthy stuffing recipe or a gluten free apple pie. Buuuuut that's just not what's inspiring me right now.  Today's recipe isn't seasonal or pumpkiny and has absolutely nothing to do with Thanksgiving. Rather, it was inspired by my recent trip to Peru.

I really enjoyed exploring Peruvian cuisine, but you can only have so many heaping piles of rice and potatoes before you just want a freaking vegetable. One afternoon, while sitting in our favorite corner restaurant in Cusco, I was perusing the menu for something that resembled a salad. I had zero luck with that, but a "stuffed avocado" caught my eye. The picture on the menu didn't look like more than an avo half with a measly scoop of chicken on top. I figured what the hell, it's something other than fries. 

The meal that was brought to me far exceeded expectations. On my plate were three plump avocado halves under a mountain of chicken, veggies, and potatoes, and topped with kalamata olives. 

My first reaction: "This is like a chicken pot pie- in an avocado!"

Second thought: "I have to make this when I get home!" 

Palta rellena soon became my go-to meal when I wasn't up for ordering mystery food. I knew that I'd at least get a good serving (usually two or three) of protein, veggies, and healthy fats. 

Peruvian stuffed avocado (palta rellena)

Makes: about 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients: 

  • 1/2 lb baked or grilled chicken
  • 1 cup white potatoes, cut into cubes about 1 cm in size
  • 1/2 cup shredded or chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice (about 1/2 lime)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Kalamata olives for garnish (I used about 1/3 cup)
FullSizeRender.jpg
  1. Chop potatoes into cubes about 1 cm in size. Add them to a saucepan with enough water to fully submerge potatoes. Bring water to a boil and allow to cook for about 7-10 minutes, or until tender. 
  2. While potatoes are cooking, chop carrots and onions and put them in a medium sized bowl. Add chicken, olive oil, yogurt, and lime juice.
  3. Cut the avocados in half and remove the pits. Use a spoon to scoop the avo out of its skin while keeping its shape intact. 
  4. When potatoes are done cooking, drain the water. Allow them to cool for 10 minutes or run cold water over them to speed the cooling process. Add potatoes to mixing bowl with other ingredients and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  5. To serve, scoop the salad mixture into the avocado "bowls" and top with kalamata olives.  

Mayonnaise option:

The stuffed avocados that I had in Peru were always made with mayonnaise, like a potato salad. I've never been a mayo fan, hence the EVOO and yogurt substitution. For the mayo lovers out there, you can make this dish more authentic by using mayo instead of the yogurt and oil. 

IMG_3195.JPG
FullSizeRender (1).jpg

5 Habits for a Healthy Brain

Have you been struggling with fatigue, gut problems, weight gain, depression, anxiety, or other reoccurring health issues? The truth is, it might be all in your head. I don't mean to say that you're making it up, as these issues are very real and all too common. Rather, your health problems may be the result of an unhealthy brain.  

The human brain is a vital organ that does more than thinking and learning.  It governs everything that goes on in your body including digestion, metabolism, muscle contraction, sleep, breathing, moods, and energy. Brain problems aren't just for those with head injuries and the elderly. The health of your brain can suffer, just as any other body part can. 

Symptoms of an unhealthy brain:  

  • Brain "fog" or trouble focusing
  • Poor memory
  • Low motivation
  • Low moods or mood swings
  • Food or alcohol cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues
  • Insomnia
  • Hormonal imbalances 
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight problems
  • Anxiety, irritability, or anger
  • Impulsiveness or obsessive thoughts/behaviors
  • Poor muscle control

Ups and downs are a part of life, but a healthy brain is generally optimistic, focused, calm, energized, able to handle life's challenges, and keeps all the parts running smoothly. I'd say that's some motivation to care care of that squishy gray matter upstairs. 

Caring for your brain

Check out 5 things you can do to maintain a healthy brain. Don't want all the details? Scroll down for the summary of do's and don't's. 

1. Balance blood sugar: Your brain's main source of fuel is glucose; sugar in the bloodstream. That doesn't mean you should head to the nearest doughnut shop for some brain fuel.  It means to balance the amount of glucose circulating at any given time. It's a complicated system that involves insulin, glucagon, and sometimes cortisol, but basically- too much or too little glucose circulating is damaging to the brain. Avoid things that cause blood sugar dysregulation such as excessive sugar/carbs, large meals, skipping meals, caffeine, chronic stress, and lack of sleep. Instead, eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day that include protein, healthy fats, veggies, and complex carbs. Exercise regularly and aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night. 

2. Oxygen: Like glucose, oxygen is also crucial for optimal brain function. As we go through our day to day routines, most of us aren't giving much thought into how we're breathing. Many people (especially when stressed) breath in short, shallow bursts or even periodically hold the breath. This limits the amount of oxygen available for the brain to function optimally. Practices like meditation and diaphragmatic breathing are excellent for increasing oxygen to the brain. Also, don't forget to exercise regularly. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, allowing for more oxygen to be delivered up there. 

3. Anti-inflammatory diet: Just as our joints, muscles, and gut can become inflamed, so can the brain. This causes the communication between neurons to slow, meaning slow thinking, slow movement, and slow reflexes. Include plenty of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet such as turmeric, ginger, salmon, tuna, fruits, and veggies (especially dark leafy greens). Avoid pro-inflammatory foods such alcohol, caffeine, sugar, refined starches, margarine, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and any foods that you may be sensitive to such as gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, and/or shellfish.  Stress also exacerbates inflammation, so find healthy ways to manage the stressors in your life. 

4. Essential fatty acids: Just as your brain loves glucose and oxygen, it also loves EFA's. In fact, your brain is composed primarily of fat. In order to balance blood sugar as mentioned above, you'll want to add healthy fats to every meal. These include avocados, olives and olive oil, coconut, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, organic butter, and organic eggs. Avoid the brain damaging fast found in junk food, fast food, fried food, and conventional animal meats. Omega 3 fats are especially great for brain health, and I highly recommend including a fish or krill oil supplement to your diet. 

5. Amino acid therapy*: All of your neurotransmitters are built from amino acids, found in protein-rich foods. Eating a diet rich in protein not only stabilizes blood sugar, but gives your body the materials it needs to maintain healthy levels of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and catecholamines.  Even with a good diet, sometimes amino acid levels can be too low for ideal brain health, especially if mental health problems run in your family. If you eat generally healthy and still have symptoms of depression, anxiety, low motivation, brain fog, or fatigue, it is a good idea to have your amino acid and neurotransmitter levels tested. Taking concentrated amounts of specific amino acids can help increase NT levels and give a significant boost to your mental health. 

*The specific aminos necessary to promote healthy levels of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and chatecholamines will vary depending on the individual. Consult your holistic practitioner or contact me for more info. 

Summary

Do's:

  • Eat 3 meals per day with protein-rich snacks in between.
  • Aim for 20-30 g protein per meal.
  • Eat lots of healthy fats and omega 3- rich foods. 
  • Exercise.
  • Breathe deeply.
  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods.
  • Supplement with specific amino acids to boost neurotransmitter levels*. 
  • Find healthy ways to manage the stress in your life. 

Don't's:

  • Skip meals.
  • Eat meals high in carbs.
  • Eat excessive sugar or refined carbs. 
  • Eat unhealthy trans fats or hydrogenated oils. 
  • Consume excess caffeine or alcohol. 
  • Hold your breath or breath shallowly. 

*The specific aminos necessary to promote healthy levels of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and chatecholamines will vary depending on the individual. Consult your holistic practitioner or contact me for more info. 

Resources: 

Bauman, Ed. Therapeutic Nutrition. Vol. 2. Penngrove, Ca: Bauman College, 2014. Print.

Kharrazian, Datis. Why Isn't My Brain Working?: A Revolutionary Understanding of Brain Decline and Effective Strategies to Recover Your Brain's Health. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Pizzorno, Joseph E., Michael T. Murray, and Herb Joiner-Bey. The Clinician's Handbook of Natural Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2002. Print.

 

 

Step by Step Kombucha Brewing Tutorial

photo 1

First of all, WHY kombucha? Kombucha is a fermented green or black tea using a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). This fermented beverage contains probiotics that support a healthy gastrointestinal tract. It also contains B vitamins and enzymes which help detoxify the body. This bubbly beverages has been used therapeutically for hundreds of years, but we're still waiting on modern research to catch up.  Kombucha is not for everyone. Many people gain awesome results from drinking it regularly, and some drink it simply for enjoyment of the flavor. Others may not react to it as well or can't stand it's vinegar-y tang. If you're a kombucha newb, start with a couple ounces a day at first to see how your body reacts. Brewing your own kombucha can be a fun project that allows you to cater to your own taste preferences. Not to mention the $$$ you'll save! There are many variations to brewing kombucha, but I am sharing with you the process I use in this step by step kombucha brewing tutorial. 

Make sure to read through all the instructions carefully before starting the brewing process to avoid contamination!

Let's dive in, shall we?

You'll Need:

  1. 3 quarts of filtered water
  2. Black or green tea, preferably organic. Make sure it's pure tea and does not contain any oils (as in earl grey tea) or flavors. If you want a flavored kombucha you can add them in AFTER the brewing process. 
  3. 1 cup sugar- again, preferably organic. I like organic coconut sugar. The sugar is necessary. It's what the SCOBY feeds on to cause the fermentation. If you're trying to avoid sugar, then allow your kombucha to brew for longer. Longer brew time = lower sugar content.
  4. Glass container for brewing. I used a couple of quart sized mason jars which works fabulously. Must be glass!
  5. Airtight containers, if you want to make your kombucha carbonated. Mason jars aren't necessarily airtight, so consider purchasing some glass containers that are made for kombucha/beer brewing. I sanitize and reuse kombucha bottles that I've bought from the grocery store.
  6. Giant pot to boil water in, glass or metal
  7. SCOBY: If you know someone who brews (ahem, yours truly) you can ask them to save you a layer of their SCOBY. (The SCOBY creates new layers every time you brew a batch that otherwise have to be thrown away or stored.) You can also purchase them online. I bought mine for about $7 on Amazon. 
  8. A sample of already brewed kombucha as a starter. If you buy your SCOBY online, it should already have a little bit of this liquid included with it. 

Notes on your SCOBY: Your SCOBY is very much a princess; high maintenance and particular about its conditions. It doesn't like to mingle with other bacteria, nor does it like hot temperatures, metal, plastic, or bright light. Be sure to sanitize everything that comes in contact with your cultures and store in glass containers. 

Part 1: The Brew

1. Sanitize all the utensils you are planning to use. Some soaps have scents or oils that linger even after washing, so boiling hot water is the best sanitizer in this case. Also make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with anti-bacterial unscented soap before handling your beloved SCOBY. 

2. Brew some sweet tea. Bring 3 quarts of filtered water to a rolling boil on your stove. Let it boil for a couple minutes to make sure any bacteria is killed. Turn heat off, and add about 5 tea bags. Allow tea to brew for 3-5 minutes (less time for green, more for black). Remove tea bags and add 1 cup sugar. Make sure the sugar dissolves completely.

3.Wait. Remember that whole thing about SCOBY not liking the heat? If you add it now it won't survive. Give the tea a few hours to cool down to room temperature. 

4. Add your SCOBY. Once your tea is at room temp, transfer it to your glass container. Add your SCOBY and the kombucha liquid. Cover your container with a clean cheesecloth or other cloth to keep out bugs and other foreign substances. It does need to air out a bit, so no need for a lid just yet. 

5. Wait again. Store your containers in a warm, dark place. The warmer the temperature, the faster it will ferment. After about a week, you can start tasting your kombucha every couple days until it reaches the desired flavor. When you taste your tea, remember not to let it come in contact with anything that could contaminate it! This includes your mouth, so don't drink directly from your brewing jar. Also remember that the longer you let it brew, the less sugar it will contain and therefore have a stronger acidic taste. 

Part 2: Storage

1. Remove SCOBY: Once your brew reaches your desired flavor, carefully remove the SCOBY and some of the liquid and store in a sanitized and covered glass jar or bowl. Notice that now you have multiple layers on your SCOBY, a "baby" and a "mother" culture. If you choose to brew again, remove either of the layers and use it for the next batch. I prefer to keep the "baby" and toss the "mother" to keep it as fresh as possible. 

2. Carbonate: Transfer your brew into your airtight storage containers. If you want to add flavors, this is the time to do it! Some suggestions are fresh fruit, ginger, or herbal teas. Fasten the lid on loosely to avoid too much pressure build up, and allow to sit at room temp for 3-5 more days. It is during this period that your kombucha will carbonate. It also might be wise to let some of the pressure out every few days by unscrewing the caps and then putting them back on. If you don't want it bubbly, skip this step and store in the refrigerator. 

3. Chill: When the process is complete and your kombucha has reached your desired flavor and bubbly-ness, it is ready to enjoy. Store it in the fridge. If you don't keep it cold, it will continue to ferment! If there is fruit or other flavors added, you can either keep them in, or strain them out at this point. 

4. Repeat: You have everything you need to keep the brew cycle going. Make some more of that sweet tea and use your baby SCOBY and kombucha liquid to brew the next batch. Don't forget to sanitize! If you choose not to brew another batch right away, there are several methods of storing it safely until you use it again. 

Want some more info on live cultures and fermentation? I have found the Cultures for Health site to be very helpful on the topic.

Happy brewing!

Neuro-Nutrition: Improve Mood with Food

photo-25

Stress. Anxiety. Depression.Anyone who isn't living in a cave these days is familiar with the stress of our fast-paced and under-rested society. For some it's a healthy dose of cortisol that helps us get shit done every day. For many though, constant demands and struggles begin to slowly chip away at us until we're experiencing some form of anxiety disorder, adrenal fatigue, depression, or a lovely cocktail of all. 

There are many factors that contribute to our mental and emotional health including stress levels, sleep, social life, spiritual life, predisposition, and of course, nutrition. Whether you like or not, what you put in your mouth directly interacts with your nervous and endocrine systems. It's these two systems that govern our behaviors, state of consciousness, learning, emotional responses, motivation, memory, thoughts, and reasoning. 

Here's a little science-y information about how the mind works. Don't care? Scroll down to find out how to improve mood with food!

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers responsible for communicating along the various pathways within the nervous system. They are what transmit signals between neurons (nerve cells). Most neurotransmitters are synthesized by amino acids, and are either excitatory or inhibitory. In other words, they either initiate an action within the body or prevent an action and are therefore calming. The neurotransmitters that are most prevalent in the body include:

  • Serotonin: (inhibitory) Regulates appetite, mood, pain threshold, sleep, sensory perception
  • GABA: (inhibitory) calming, inhibit action potential
  • Glutamate: (most excitatory NT) enhances action potential, keeps us awake
  • Dopamine: (Both inhibitory and excitatory) controls motor function, motivation, emotion, libido, “reward” system-the “addiction NT”
  • Norepinephrine: (excitatory) drive, ambition, alertness, focus. Deficiencies often associated with depression, apathy, and lack of focus
  • Epinephrine: (excitatory) also known as adrenaline and raises heart rate and blood sugar, as well as prepares body for fight or flight
  • Histamine: (excitatory) allergic reactions, wakefulness, regulates HCl secretions. Elevated histamine associated with deep depression and suicidal tendencies
  • Acetylcholine: (excitatory) memory, learning, motor function

Another key player in the nervous system and therefore mental health are neuromodulators. Neuromodulators are substances other than NT’s that can act on neurons to alter their activities. Some common neuromodulators include estrogen, insulin, testosterone, oxytocin, glucagon, gastrin, and aldosterone.

Any unbalance of our NT's can cause mental and emotional disturbances. The most common are depression and anxiety. Other nervous system-related issues include ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic inflammation/infection, fibromyalgia, headaches, metabolic syndrome, and neuropathy.

Neuro-Nutrition: 

7 Ways to Improve Mood with Food 

1. Balance Blood Sugar: Because of the complexity of the nervous system, thoughts, and emotions, one of the best steps to take toward mental health is a balanced diet. Eat regular meals (3 x day) with snacks in between that contain adequate protein, carbs, and fats.  Also include a wide variety of organic fruits and vegetables, and eliminate substances that irritate the nervous system such as caffeine, alcohol, processed foods, refined sugar, and additives.

2. Gut Health:  Neurons that produce serotonin (responsible for mood, sleep, appetite) reside in the gut. The gut is in constant contact with the brain and nervous system, so disturbances in the gut can contribute to mood disorders. Include probiotic-rich foods and fermented foods in your diet such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and tempeh. Herbs and spices that support digestion are ginger, cayenne, garlic, black pepper, and cinnamon.

3. Magnesium:  Mg can help ease tension in those with anxiety or who have trouble sleeping. Mg is a natural relaxer, but is quickly depleted with ongoing stress. Best sources of this mineral are dark leafy greens, sea veggies, nuts and seeds, avocado, and legumes.

4. Tryptophan: Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin. Foods rich in tryptophan include almonds, pumpkin seeds, soybean, and cottage cheese.

5. Essential Fatty Acids: Many recent studies have shown links between depression and deficient EFA’s. EFA’s are also a key nutrient for brain health. Foods containing EFA’s are flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and fish. For further supplementation, 6g/day of DHA and 3g/day of EPA is recommended.

6. Vitamin B12 and Folate: Depression is the most common symptom of folate deficiency, and both folate and B12 are key components of many of the body’s pathways. Sources of B vitamins and folate are nutritional yeast, eggs, meat/poultry, dairy, legumes, spinach, and broccoli.

7. St John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum): St. John’s Wort is an excellent substitute for medications in relieving depression symptoms. Supplement at 300mg 3x daily. Not to be used with MAO inhibitors or prescription medications without supervision of a medical doctor.

One Last Note: Depression and anxiety disorders often have multiple contributing factors. Nutrition is but one piece of your mental health puzzle. Remember to manage stress, rest, play, and spend time with loved ones.  Also consider seeing a doctor or therapist when necessary. 

Resources:

"Anxiety Disorders: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention." WebMD. Ed. Joseph Goldberg. WebMD, 8 Feb. 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2015. <http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/mental-health-anxiety-disorders>.

Bauman, Ed. Therapeutic Nutrition. Vol. 2. Penngrove, Ca: Bauman College, 2014. Print

Pizzorno, Joseph E., Michael T. Murray, and Herb Joiner-Bey. The Clinician's Handbook of Natural Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2002. Print.

Guiltless Guacamole

photo 1

"I have complete self control when eating guacamole." Said no one. Ever.

 I myself can get down on some serious guac. I could probably eat the equivalent of 4 avocados before I even start in on the meal itself! Avacados are an excellent source of healthy fats, but for those trying to lose weight or watching caloric intake, this delicious dip can be a problem.

So, how can we have our guacamole and eat it too without feeling like we've gone overboard? A long-time client of mine recently suggested a great alternative to the traditional guacamole recipe. What is the secret ingredient you ask??

Wait for it...

Peas!

Stay with me. I don't eat peas, ever. In fact, I tend to think of peas as the vegetable that parents try to get their kids to eat when they refuse anything that's green. So this is me being an open-minded adult about a food that, until now, wasn't even on my radar.  This recipe actually turned out to be quite delicious, and I can barely taste the peas. Not only that, but this "Guiltless Guacamole" provides a bit of added protein: 3 g per 1/2 cup! See below for nutrition facts and nutrient highlights. 

Guiltless Guacamole

YieldAbout 1.5 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sized avocados 
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas (I don't recommend canned!)
  • 2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 3-4 garlic cloves
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper (optional)

Instructions

  • The easiest way to make this is to throw everything in a food processor. For a chunkier guac, puree the peas first in a food processor, then mash it with the other ingredients using a fork.

Notes

For added flavor try including some diced tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, or cilantro.

Nutrient Highlights:

  • Peas: Fresh peas are a good source of protein, fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and iron. They are also rich in phytonutrients that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, one of these rare phytonutrients, coumestrol, has been shown to be a significant factor in reducing stomach cancer risk. 
  • Avocado: Excellent source of healthy fast that can help lower cholesterol levels. They also provide vitamin E, B vitamins, fiber, and potassium. (One avocado contains about 3 times as much potassium as one banana!)
  • Garlic: Excellent source of sulfurs, which help aid the body in detoxifying. Garlic is also well-known for its therapeutic properties such as being a great anti-fungal, immune support, and digestive aid. 

Nutrition Facts:

  • Serving size: 1/2 cup
  • Cals: 162
  • Fat: 13 g
  • Carbs: 12 g
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Fiber: 7 g
  • Sugar: 2 g

I'd love to hear your opinions/variations of this "Guiltless Guacamole", especially if anyone has a good paleo version! Enjoy!

Resources

"Green Peas." Green Peas. George Mateljan Foundation, n.d. Web. 10 June 2015. <http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=55>.

Murray, Michael T., Joseph E. Pizzorno, and Lara Pizzorno. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria, 2005. Print.

Flax Oil Pesto (and 5 reasons to consume flax DAILY)

photo 4

I had the opportunity recently to chat with a new friend who is currently managing a tumor by diet alone. As I chowed down on a delicious whole foods meal prepped by this friend and his wife, I was on the edge of my seat listening to his story. Several years back he found out about a large tumor dangerously close to his thoracic spine. Long story short- he decided not to undergo any of the radiation, drug therapies, or surgeries recommended to him. Instead he dedicated himself to a clean diet and has watched his tumor decrease drastically over the years. He even let me see the photos of his MRI's. Pretty incredible. Though it was late in the evening, I was not going to leave his house without finding out what his "cancer-fighting" diet looked like. The details are a story for another day, but I bring this up because one of his daily staples is flaxseed oil. I wasn't entirely surprised. Flax is like nutritional gold, and it confirmed what I already knew about its amazing health benefits. Let's take a look:

  • Heart Health: The high content of omega 3's in flax help clear the circulatory system of cholesterol and fat deposits, minimizing risk of stroke and heart attack. Regular intake of flaxseed has been shown to lower levels of LDL-HDL cholesterol.
  • Mental/Emotional: These omega 3's are one of the brain's essential building blocks and are necessary for maintaining brain and nervous system function.
  • Digestive Health: Flaxseeds contain a unique "gel-forming" type of fiber that helps regulate the movement of food through the intestines, as well as optimizing nutrient absorption. 
  • Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory: The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of flax are their contribution to a healthy cardiovascular system. Oxidation and inflammation are often contributors to a wide variety of other health problems including immune dysfunction, GI issues, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance/ weight gain, asthma, and cancer.
  • Cancer: It is these antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that make flax a great preventative tool for cancer. Inflammation and oxidative damage are often contributors to cancer. Studies are showing that because of flax's hormone balancing properties, it is especially significant in risk reduction for breast, prostate, and other hormone-related cancers. The lignans in flaxseeds that have these hormone balancing properties also support phase II detox pathways, increasing the removal of toxins that may otherwise act as carcinogens. 

Adding just 1-2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed or oil to your daily diet is a great way to boost your overall health. Buy flaxseeds whole and grind them in a coffee or spice grinder for optimal potency. Keep ground flaxseeds and flax oil in refrigerator to prevent rancidity.  Add into smoothies, salads, baked goods (bake at lower temperature), or use the ground seeds as a binding agent. My latest fave? Flax Oil Pesto!

Flax Oil Pesto

Prep Time5 minutes

YieldAbout 1 cup pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup flax oil 
  • 2 medium garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed down
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, packed down
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts or cashews
  • 1/4 cup black olives
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  • Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Be careful not to let your machine heat up too much, as the flax oil is sensitive and we don't want to overheat it.

Notes:

If the flavor of the flax oil is too bitter or strong for your liking, sub 1/4 cup flax oil for 1/4 cup olive oil to tame it down.

I am especially diggin my Flax Oil Pesto with spaghetti squash and feta....

References

Bauman, Edward. 2014. Therapeutic Nutrition. Vol. 2. Penngrove, Ca: Bauman College, Print.

"Flaxseeds." Flaxseeds. George Maljan Foundation, n.d. Web. 06 May 2015. <http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=81>.

Murray, Michael T., Joseph E. Pizzorno, and Lara Pizzorno. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria, 2005. Print.

To Brew or Not to Brew: the effects of coffee on your health

photo 4

" So...what about coffee? Is it good or bad?" This is probably one of the most common questions I get asked from clients, students, and friends. If you are one of the 250 million Americans who consume coffee regularly, you may be wondering the same thing (and crossing fingers that my opinion supports your mild addiction).Here's my honest take on coffee: as with many foods, there is no clean cut answer. There are many factors to consider that determine whether it's a good addition to your diet/lifestyle or not. Let me give you the good, the bad, my personal experience, and the same advice I give to my clients. From there, you can be the judge.

 

The Pro's:

  • The caffeine in coffee can help boost energy and productivity. It has also been shown to increase mood and help alleviate depression.
  • Caffeine can increase physical performance and allow you to gain more from your workouts. Some studies also suggest that it helps break down fat cells to be used as energy. Therefore, a cup of joe 30 minutes before training can help burn fat and increase performance.
  • Coffee contains antioxidants and flavanoids that help fight inflammation and protect tissues. (See specifics below) 
  • Contains the following vitamins and minerals (per 8 ounces black coffee):
    • Riboflavin: .2 mg, 11% DV
    • Folate: 4.7 mcg, 1% DV
    • Niacin: .5 mg, 2% DV
    • Pantothenic acid: .6 mg, 6%
    • Choline: 6.2 mg (no DV established)
    • Magnesium: 7.1 mg 2% DV
    • Phosphorus: 7.1 mg, 1% DV
    • Potassium: 116 mg 3% DV

The Con’s:

  • Coffee is acid-forming in the body. All of our body’s tissues and organs (except the stomach) like to be at a nice alkaline pH to function optimally.
  • Caffeine creates a stress response in the body, stimulating the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. When the body is in a constant state of “fight or flight”, especially at rest, we are causing some serious wear and tear on the adrenals.
  • This increase in cortisol also elevates blood sugar levels, which contributes to insulin resistance, mood and energy swings, and excess fat storage.
  • Even if consumed early in the day, caffeine can disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Digestion: this caffeine-induced stress response impairs digestion and nutrient absorption by diverting blood away from the digestive system. It also may impair the absorption of key minerals such as magnesium, iron, calcium, and zinc.

Personal Experience: I love coffee. Love the taste, love the smell, love the buzz. In fact, I'm sipping on a 1/2 decaf americano as I write this. I especially love the kick before a hard workout or a long run/hike. But I also know that when I've been off it for at least a week I sleep better and both my energy and mood are more stable throughout the day. The biggest impact I feel personally is digestion. Caffeine seems to dampen my hunger/satiety signals. Intuitive eating (eating when hungry and stopping when full) is a huge factor in how I approach my daily diet, and I don't like when I feel out of tune with this. I'd love to say that I can avoid the stuff completely, but I do indulge here and there. I just have to weigh if the consequences are worth it for that day. 

If you just have to have it: believe me, I get it. Whether you have a deep romance with your french press or you're in desperate need of a pick-me-up, sometimes you just want some coffee. Here are some ways to help minimize any negative affects it may have on your body. 

  • Consider the quality of your coffee. Try to find an organic brand that you can brew at home, or a local coffee shop that uses organic beans. If you can, always get the real stuff as opposed to instant coffee. 
  • Be aware of what you're putting in your joe. Adding loads of refined sugars, syrups, and cream is going to add even more harmful stress on your body. Aim to reduce these additives, or opt for more natural flavorings like honey, maple, organic milk, or a non-dairy alternative such as coconut or almond milk. Cinnamon and raw cacao powder are a couple other delicious and health-promoting options. 
  • Consider what you are consuming with your coffee. As we discussed earlier, coffee is acid-forming in the body. Avoid having coffee on an empty stomach, but rather try it in conjunction with some nutrient rich foods such as fresh fruits/veggies, green smoothies, green powders, ginger, probiotics, or flaxseeds. This will help minimize irritation to digestion and keep the body alkalinized. (I like to take a shot of apple cider vinegar first thing in the morning if I know I'm going to be having coffee with breakfast. Gross, I know. But it seems to help my stomach be less pissed off.) 
  • Timing: when you have your coffee matters. Have your coffee early in the day (before noon), to avoid possible sleep disruption. Also consider what you will be doing in the hours following consumption. Try to avoid it when you know you will be fairly inactive. Again- caffeine produces a stress response in the body, and those stress hormones can be better metabolized if you get your body moving.

Summary: Still not sure? Here's what I tell people when they ask me if they "should" drink coffee. For healthy individuals, coffee in moderation (less than 2 cups daily) is probably no big deal. For people who are dealing with adrenal fatigue, chronic stress, anxiety, excess weight, sleep issues, digestive issues, or aiming to detox- I'd say you're best without it. It doesn't mean you have to give it up forever, but at least until your endocrine system, metabolism, and digestion are functioning optimally. Lastly, never discount your personal experience, as your body is the best health coach you have! Note how you feel (energy, mood, sleep, physical performance, digestion, etc) when you've gone at least two weeks without coffee. Note the same when you're having the stuff regularly. 

 

Resources:

Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. (2011). Therapeutic Nutrition. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College.

"Coffee, Brewed from Grounds, Prepared with Tap Water." SELF NutritionData. SELF NutritionData, 2014. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fnutritiondata.self.com%2Ffacts%2Fbeverages%2F3898%2F2>.

Lukaczer, D., Jones, D., Lerman, R. (2004). Clinical Nutrition: A Functional Approach. Gig Harbor, Washington. The Institute of Functional Medicine

Walsh, Bryan. "Coffee and Hormones." Precision Nutrition. Precision Nutrition, 26 Jan. 2010. Web. 18 Feb. 2015. <http://www.precisionnutrition.com/coffee-and-hormones>.

Quick N' Dirty Detox

One of my favorite nutrition topics to nerd out on is detox, and it's also a subject I get many questions about.  With numerous detox products and cleanses available, it can be difficult to know which is most effective. There are many approaches to supporting healthy liver function, but as for me, I tend to take the most sustainable approach possible. I like to eat food, so I rarely opt for juice cleanses or diets that are too restrictive (though there is nothing wrong with this approach if it suits you). Instead, I focus on cutting out substances that are going to put extra stress on the body's detox processes, and adding in plenty of liver supporting foods. This allows me to continue eating regular meals to sustain energy throughout the day while still detoxing. Read on for the deets, or scroll to the bottom for my top 5 detox tips. 

What is considered a toxin?

A toxin in the body is any substance that creates irritating and/or harmful effects. The liver is our built in mechanism to filter out toxins, but when the total load of “house cleaning” is too high, our overall state of wellness is compromised. Everything is connected; a liver that is overtaxed stresses our other biochemical functions such as metabolism, immune health, and endocrine function. Common substances that the liver detoxes include

  • Pesticides/herbicides: these are stored in our fatty tissues and organs if not eliminated!
  • Food additives: artificial flavors and colors, and preservatives
  • Hydrogenated oils
  • Synthetic hormones: in conventional meat products
  • Toxic metals: mercury, lead, aluminum, arsenic
  • Household toxins: cleaning products, cosmetics, solvents, synthetic fertilizers
  • Used hormones and neurotransmitters
  • Drugs, including alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine

Symptoms/Possible Signs of Overtaxed Liver

  • Tenderness or aches on right side, under rib cage
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue/lethargy
  • Lack of appetite/nausea/vomiting in extreme cases
  • Bloated belly
  • Inflammation
  • Weight gain: Excess toxins promote insulin resistance, interfere with metabolism, alter circadian rhythms, and interfere with thyroid function. All these are factors in weight gain

Quick N' Dirty Detox Tips

1. Decide a Timeframe: The amount of time you "detox" is up to you, but aim to give it at least a week. 

2.  Reduce/Eliminate: Caffeine, alcohol, trans and oxidized fats, excess sugar, refined sugar and starches, food additives such as preservatives, colors, and artificial flavors. Also consider cutting out common allergens such as dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, nuts, shellfish. If you choose to consume animal products while detoxing, choose organic to avoid synthetic hormones and additives.

3. Sip: Start your day with some warm water with lemon and/ or apple cider vinegar. The acid will jump start digestion and stimulate detox processes. (If you can find a way to comfortably ingest lemon peel, do it. Citrus peel contains limonene, a powerful detox agent.)

4. Sweat: Exercise and saunas help mobilize toxins to be eliminated as well as stimulates blood and lymph flow.

5. Eat: The following foods are detox superheroes. Consume them liberally while detoxing. 

  • Choline: Eggs, whey, legumes, liver
  • Liver specific veggies: dandelion, watercress, mustard greens, arugula, radishes, beets, artichoke
  • Cruciferous Veggies: Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels
  • Citrus fruits: citrus fruits and their peels (NOT grapefruit! Grapefruit actually inhibits Phase 1)
  • Sulfur: Garlic, onions
  • Cilantro/parsley: Binds to heavy metals (mercury, lead, aluminum)
  • Lipotropic agents: Improve fat and bile metabolism in liver. Choline, methionine, folic acid, vitamin B12.
  • Botanicals/herbs: Dandelion, milk thistle, rosemary, green tea, licorice root, burdock root, turmeric
  • Antioxidants: Wide variety of vegetables (esp dark leafy greens), and fruits with dark red or purple skin (blueberries, cherries, apples, etc)
  • Fiber: Binds to toxins and cholesterol for elimination

Happy Detoxing!