Why is Sleep Important?

"I'll just watch one more episode... .""I'll catch up on sleep during the weekend." "I have so much to do. I'll sleep when I retire!"

These thoughts are too often in our daily narratives...  Due to our busy lives, many of us place sleep at the bottom of our list of priorities and never give it a second thought.  When an endless to-do list is running through our minds, why would we use up precious time to sleep?

Then we wonder why we crave sugar (want to kick sugar with us?), why our colds stick around, and why that bit of belly fat just won't go away.  Sleep is the single most important behavior that humans experience. When consistently sleep deprived, a multitude of  health issues can affect our overall well-being.  We need to place sleep as one of our top priorities to ensure a healthy body and mind.

Today, the majority of us get 5 hours or less of sleep each night.   Most of us are walking around consistently sleep deprived.

"How do I know if I am sleep deprived?"

When suffering from sleep deprivation, your body will tell you. You just have to listen and watch for the signs. One key thing to look for is whether or not you are experiencing micro sleeps. Essentially, your body is telling you it needs to rest, and when this issue is not addressed you may start to experience involuntary moments of sleep. Micro-sleeps can happen at the worst times! During a meeting, during a lecture, even during a conversation with a friend... we feel our head start to nod and are usually awakened by a concerned co-worker or peer... or even the start of drool down our cheek. Definitely embarrassing, these micro sleeps can also be extremely dangerous and even fatal. It has been reported that 31 percent of drivers have fallen asleep (micro sleep) at the wheel. These micro sleeps also lead to poor judgment. If at the wrong time, a micro sleep can put us and anyone around us in great danger.

Unfortunately, what do most of us do when we can’t shake the Zzzz's? We resort to some type of stimulant to "wake us up." Coffee, energy drinks, supplements, nicotine, etc. The list could go on and on. Stimulants fuel the awakened state of the mind and it becomes hyperactive. Essentially, we trick our brains into thinking that it is time to be awake and we disrupt the electrical functions of our brains.  We then have trouble falling asleep at night, and some of us rely on depressants, such as alcohol or sleeping aids to fall asleep; however these sedate us rather than induce healthy sleep. Only further damage occurs from here, and yet we follow the same patterns day after day.

Poor quality and lack of sleep leads to a plethora of unwanted side effects. Poor memory, poor creativity, and irritability are just a few. Aside from side effects,  improper sleeping habits can lead to weight gain, trigger our stress response, and affect our delicate hormone balance.  There are at least 10 different hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain that function improperly when we don't sleep enough. These hormone shifts lead to changes in our appetite, fertility, mental health, etc. It's no wonder we aren't the friendliest people when we are tired... everything is irregularly wired!

Healthy sleeping patterns can help prevent all of those side effects and health issues plus more. While we sleep, three major functions occur:

  1. Restoration. While we sleep, our brain rebuilds and restores the body's energy sources. It works to prepare our body for the next day’s work, ensuring that it is properly fueled and functioning.
  2. Energy Conservation.  Going along with restoring our energy sources, our body conserves energy while we sleep. This way our body is not running on empty throughout the day!
  3. Memory Processing and Consolidation. Just as any organ in the body, waste needs to be cleared out in order to ensure proper function. While we sleep cerebrospinal fluid flows through our brain, flushing out these products. A good way to think of it is as your kitchen. What would happen if you stopped cleaning your kitchen for a month? Dishes would pile up, bacteria would grow. Eventually, it would be come unlivable. Cleaning the kitchen makes space, protects from infections, etc., just as our brains do while we sleep.

"So, what can I do?"

There are many things we can do to ensure we get the proper amount and quality of sleep that our bodies need.

1)  Listen to your body! Our bodies have a unique way of letting us know when we need sleep. Pay attention to those moments when you feel exceptionally fatigued, can’t seem to focus, or you notice changes in your mood, stress levels, and overall health. Plan your day to ensure you can get to sleep by a decent time or allow yourself to take a nap in between activities. The more hours of sleep that you can get before midnight, the better!

2)  Take some time to wind down: Prior to going to sleep, chill for a bit! Turn off electronics which excite the brain and seek darkness. Avoid those late night urges to watch television in bed or scroll through the internet on your iPad or phone. Our brains register this light as daytime which stimulates them and prohibiting rest.  So instead, dim the lights about an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Use this time to allow your body to adjust and begin to calm down.

3)  Make the room slightly chilly:  Sleeping in a slightly cool and dark room is the best practice for quality sleep.

4) Watch your sugar and caffeine intake: Especially late in the day.  As we get older as well, our ability to process caffeine diminishes, so you might to be able to drink as much caffeine as you used to.

5) Have a warm beverage!  Go for a cup of chamomile tea or warm milk, both of which work natural magic on our bodies and promote healthy sleep.

6)  Take a little magnesium!  Magnesium is one of the few supplements that have studies to back up its effectiveness.  200 to 400 mg of magnesium citrate or glycinate before bed can help relax the nervous system and muscles.

7)  Make the room pitch black.  Cover all those blinking lights, better yet, unplug all those blinking lights.  If you don't have heavy curtains, it's time to invest in some.  Ideally, you shouldn't be able to see your hand in front of your face!  Even slight light has been shown to hinder melatonin production, which helps us to sleep and to restore.

All in all, pay attention to your body’s needs. Sleep is just as important as exercise and proper nutrition. It is together, that these activities ensure the highest level of health and overall wellness! Written by Ashley Green and Tammy Chang for The Nourished Belly Sources: Main, E. (2014). 9 Foods to Help You Sleep: These Food Cures Will Get You Back to Your Zzzs. Organic Gardening. Retrieved from http://www.organicgardening.com/living/9-foods-to-help-you-sleep?page=0,0 Foster, R. (2013). Why Do We Sleep? TED Talks. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep?language=en Wiley, T. S., Formbly, B. (2000). Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival. New York, NY: Pocket Books.

5 Myths About Weight Loss

Aloha Nutrition Lovers! I’ve made some exciting shifts in my practice lately. I’ve decided to start focusing on nourishing and sustainable weight loss! People have been coming to me for different sorts of things, but weight loss is a recurrent theme. And when people embrace this new way of living, many of them find that they are doing just that…. Experiencing weight loss that seems pretty effortless. So, in honor of my new title as a Holistic Weight Loss Coach, here’s a blog post about 5 common myths about weight loss and to really drive the idea home that yo yo dieting and starving yourself thin are really NOT the way to do it.

5 Myths of Weight Loss

Fat Makes Us Fat

For years, we’ve been conditioned that eating fat will make us fat. Many of us still buy low fat dairy products, don’t eat the skin on chicken, and are scared of using butter. The thing is though, our bodies need fat. We love fat. It allows us to absorb nutrients, it helps keep our blood sugar stable, and fat and cholesterol are the building blocks of many of our hormones, which we really, truly need. If you eat dairy, buy whole milk. Buy whole plain yogurt (organic of course.) Never buy something that is advertised as low fat, and eat the skin on your organic chicken! It makes things taste a whole lot better and fat is what makes us feel full.

Vegetable Oils are Healthy

I advise my clients to throw these suckers out. Maybe with the bottle you have in your cupboard, you can grease your bike chain, or clean some goo off your hardwood floors, but do NOT put this stuff into your body. You can read a bit more about why not in my blog post about cooking oils, but the basics are that vegetable oils (corn, soybean, Wessen for example) are extremely delicate oils, and most are extracted using high heat and solvents, and are often damaged before they even get to your house. Then you cook with them and damage them further. Or they are chemically processed (hydrogenated) to look like butter (margarine), and instead are just a heaping pile of transfats. Don’t

 

use them.

Diet Sodas Will Help Me Lose Weight

We drink diet sodas because we think that we don’t want any more calories, but there are studies out that show that just the sweet taste alone is enough to cause insulin secretions...which will cause us to store fat. Not to mention that artificial sweeteners have been linked to cause headaches, sleep problems, fatigue, and a whole host of other problems. There are many people who have written about this subject at length, Joseph Mercola being on them. Read more. Just the word artificial is an accost to my whole foods, nature loving sensibility. Are you with me?

I Just Need to Exercise More

Gary Taubes’ 2011 book Why We Get Fat and What do to About it, addresses the idea that it’s not as simple as eating less and exercising more. Exercise has plenty of benefits and everyone should be doing it, but it’s not the end all be all of losing weight. Taubes points out that exercise will invariably make us hungrier, and that while exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, we won’t necessarily exercise ourselves thin. Losing weight because of activity level has a lot do with our individual metabolism, and honestly and most importantly…because of WHAT YOU EAT. More fabulous info by Taubes here.

The Less I Eat the Better

Deprivation has not been shown to aid in sustained weight loss. Gary Taubes points out that according to the Women’s Health initiative, which was a 15 year research study looking at the habits of post menopausal women, women who were eating 360 calories less a day for 8 years lost an average of 2 pounds each! I often look at clients’ diet journals and see that they aren’t eating ENOUGH. When the body doesn’t eat enough calories, our metabolism slows down and we start to store fat. Instead of depriving ourselves, we need to nourish and create an awareness between the food that we eat and how we feel. You should feel happy and satiated when you eat the right things.

Ok people. Get out of the old paradigm, and into the new.

Happy Nourishing, Tammy

Bet You Didn't Know This About Your Factory Farmed Meat!

My mind has been blown yet again by reading an article in WAP Foundation’s Wise Traditions written by a small meat processor, Bob Martin, who works for a small USDA processing plant.   Now, there is already a lot of information out there about how the factory farmed meat industry in this country is a pretty foul and scary operation.  Some great books out on the subject include Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Barbara Kingsolver’s, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.   They all do a great job explaining the conditions of CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and the ramifications of eating meat and dairy products tainted with antibiotics and rBGH.  rBGH, according to organicconsumers.org was manufactured by Monsanto, who sold it to Eli Lilly.  It forces cows to boost “milk production by 10%, while increasing the incidence of mastitis, lameness and reproductive complications.”

I make it a point to buy good quality meat, and even though it is more expensive, I feel that I’m doing a favor for my body and supporting ranchers and farmers who also put an emphasis on high quality care and feed.  And even though I feel pretty knowledgable about the conditions of factory farmed animals, I’m always amazed when I find out more unsettling facts.  Read on please.

1)  Large meat processing plants can process up to 2500 animals a day, with 20-30 USDA inspectors and each of them literally have 3-6 seconds to inspect each piece of beef!  The particular plant that Bob Martin works for processes 10 animals a day and inspectors take as long as they need to.

2) Many of the animals killed at slaughterhouses have a dark red color to their meat, meaning that the animals are stressed before they are killed.  The stress releases a rush of adrenaline into their muscles which affects the tenderness of the meat.

3)  The contents of the stomachs must be removed, and for those animals being fed grain, the contents of their stomachs smell putrid and repulsive, while those being fed grass have virtually no smell.

4)  Livers are heralded as being extremely nutrient dense, but the livers of grain fed cows are often abscessed and instead of being firm to the touch you can poke your finger all the way through!  Ew!  Cows are not supposed to eat grain, so it can be very hard on their livers, making them abnormally large and filled with fatty deposits.  The liver of a healthy cow fed only on grass are firm to the touch and a normal size.

I don’t necessarily need MORE reasons not to buy meat from factory farmed conditions, but it never fails to surprise me to learn of all the different ways the health of the animal is severely compromised simply to make meat cheaper for the producer and for the public to buy.

At the very least, buy your meat organic which will ensure that your meat has not been fed GMO feed, and that your farmer has not used antibiotics or growth hormones.  Look for meat that has been grass finished, not just grass fed, because most animals are on pasture for the first 3 months of their lives.  And better yet, have a conversation with a person who sells meat at your farmers market and ask them to describe the way in which they raise their animals.

And if expense is a real issue, don’t forget about using the bones for bone broth!  Which is the best way to get nutrients and a little more protein into our diets.

Happy Nourishing….

Tammy

Bloated? Eczema? Gassy? It's probably something you ate....

I have always been a pretty healthy eater.  But for much of my life, I have had two issues plaguing my self esteem.  My skin was one.  I always broke out more than the average person, but a couple of years ago it got REALLY bad.  I became super self conscious and did not want to have any pictures taken. Being from a Taiwanese family also didn't help because my mother pointed it out constantly!   The other is the fact that normally, I would finish each day feeling bloated and GIGANTIC.  If I let my belly relax, I literally looked like I was 5 months pregnant, and that really did not do a lot for my self image.  I would just think that this was normal, and eventually I became accustomed to feeling this way.  Stretchy pants were my best friend.

It wasn’t until I went to nutrition school, that I learned about food allergies and more importantly for me,  food sensitivities.   Allergies can cause pretty severe reactions, which I never had, but food sensitivities could cause bloating, gas, acne, brain fog, weight gain and a host of other symptoms.  I had a LOT of these problems.    Lightbulb! Bing!  My “healthy” diet wasn’t really healthy anymore... at least for me.  I began playing around with different foods, taking them out of my diet and checking to see how I felt, and finally, I found out which ones didn’t work for me.  Since I've made a big switch in my diet, I know which foods make me bloat and my skin has cleared up tremendously.  Last time I went home, a family friend (Taiwanese of course)  couldn't stop raving about how my skin looked.  Taiwanese are quick to point out the good and the bad. :)

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What is a Food Allergy?

An allergy triggers the immune system. The immune system reacts to a foreign substance, or allergen (for our purposes something edible).   The body will create antibodies against this allergen and can cause inflammation and tissue damage, especially if chronically exposed.

Immediate allergic reactions are acute and can include symptoms such as hives, rashes, itching, trouble breathing, and unconsciousness.  These are the type of allergies that cause people to carry around epi-pens.  In general, however, this only affects 7.5% of children and only 1-2% of adults.

What is a Food Sensitivity?

Delayed reactions are much harder to detect because they can take several hours or up to 72 hours after to manifest.  They are often called “hidden” food allergies or also sensitivities.  Delayed reactions are much more common and affect about 25% of the population. Those with intolerances are unable to either completely digest a food or unable to handle the chemical structure of a food.  One of the most well known intolerances is lactose intolerance where a person is missing the enzyme “lactase” and therefore cannot digest the lactose in dairy products. Delayed reactions are much more insidious, because people often do not connect their symptoms (such as eczema, brain fog, ear infections, joint pain, or fatigue) to something they ate.  Uncomfortable problems can persist for long periods of time.

Some delayed reactions or intolerances can be resolved over time by abstaining from the food, and then allowing it back into the diet only occasionally.

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Explosion of Allergies

Chances are if you know any children, you know that there is an explosion of food sensitivities and allergies in children today.   I’ve worked in education for the last 10 years and I have seen it.  What has happened in the last decades that has changed so drastically? Well, let’s take a look.

 Likely culprits:

1)  Adulteration of the food supply:  antibiotics, artificial flavors and colors.  Some people are extremely sensitive to these additives, but it is also an issue to think about how all these chemicals interact with each other and over time.

2)  GMO’s:  Genetically Modified Foods.  To be clear, we are talking about when scientists go into the DNA of a plant and add usually a different organism’s DNA into its genetic code, not selectively breeding and cross breeding. The most common GMO foods are conventional corn, alfalfa, soy, canola oil, rice, tomatoes, potatoes, milk (rBGH), and cotton. There has been little research done on the safety of GMO’s and many articles have been published possibly linking the two.

3)  Increased environmental pollutants:  More pollutants mean more stress on the body, and the body can only take so much.

4)  Leaky Gut:  Leaky gut is when the membrane of your gut lining is compromised, and larger food molecules pass through into your bloodstream.  Your body recognizes these molecules as foreign, and starts to create antibodies to these foods.

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Have Symptoms?  What can you do?

Not sure if you have any symptoms?  Here are some common ones that could be from food sensitivities.

* bloating              * joint pain                                * excess weight

* gas                     * fatigue                                   * chronic ear infections

* acne                   * diarrhea                                 * depression

* eczema               * asthma                                  * chronic sinus infections

* brain fog             * Irritable Bowel Syndrome        * headaches

If you have some of these symptoms, it would be worth your while to try and take out some suspected culprits for a couple of weeks, and then add them back in one at a time, waiting 3 days between each one.   This is commonly called an elimination diet, which I often work on with my clients, and if you are experiencing a lot of symptoms, then it would be a good idea to find a health care practitioner that can support you through it.

Not sure what to take out?  Here is a list of commonly allergenic food and foods least likely to cause problems.

Most Allergenic Foods

·    Wheat

·    Nuts (peanuts, tree nuts)

·    Eggs

·    Sugar

·    Dairy (Casein)

·    Soy

·    Corn

·    Citrus

·    Yeast

·    Shellfish

Least Allergenic Foods

·        Lamb

·        Fish (cod, haddock, mackerel, and trout)

·        Artichokes

·        Beets and beet greens

·        Carrots

·        Celery

·        Fennel

·        Green Beans

·        Onions

·        Parsnips

·        Peaches

·        Pears

·        Rutabagas

Pulse Testing

Developed by Dr. Andrew Coca, pulse testing is a helpful tool in narrowing down your sensitivities.  Here are the steps:

1)  Sit quietly for 5 minutes

2)  Measure your resting pulse for one minute by counting the number of beats for 60 seconds.  Record.

3)  Ingest the suspected food.

4)  Measure immediately for 1 minutes, record results.

5)  Measure again at 10 minutes and at 30 minutes.  Record.

6)  If there is a significant increase or decrease (by 10 beats or more per minute), this indicates a likely sensitivity.

 

Good luck in finding out how to eat better and learning to avoid foods that are problematic!  Happy Nourishing :) 

 

References:

Bauman, E, and Jodi Friedlander NC. (2011) Foundations of Nutrition.  Bauman College.

Knoff, Laura J. (2010)  The Whole-Food Guide to Overcoming Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Oakland.  New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

 O’Brien, Robyn.  (2009) The Unhealthy Truth.  New York.  Random House.

http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/5-common-genetically-modified-foods10.htm

 

*LEGAL DISCLAIMER - This website (including any/all site pages, blog posts, blog comments, forum, etc.) is not intended to replace the services of a physician, nor does it constitute a doctor-patient relationship. Information is provided for informational  purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating a medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have an urgent medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Any application of the recommendations in this website is at the reader's discretion. Tammy Chang and The Nourished Belly are not liable for any direct or indirect claim, loss or damage resulting from use of this website and/or any web site(s) linked to/from it. Readers should consult their own physicians concerning the recommendations in this website.

 

 

Digestive Series: Chewing. Yes, it's Really That Important!

It’s official! The name of my holistic health and nutrition coaching practice is officially called “The Nourished Belly!” I wanted to find a name that described how I felt about food, and nourish is a word that should describe everything that we do, for ourselves and for others. The word “belly” is important because when our stomachs are happy, our entire well-being is at its pinnacle. When it isn’t, well, this is when we start to encourage and set the stage for disease. “The Nourished Belly,” thus describes the path I follow to find my own optimal health and how I encourage my clients to find theirs. So, to usher in this new name, I wanted to write a series of blog posts dedicated to nourishing your belly. The first of which, and one of the most basic things you can do to dramatically improve your digestion, is to CHEW YOUR FOOD.

Yup. It’s that simple. Many of us are accustomed to eating, and eating on the run. We often eat in front of the TV, or while reading a book, or in our cars!  According to dosomething.org, 20% of all American meals are eaten in our cars.  Yikes!  All of these habits put eating on the bottom of the list of priorities, when it really should be with the top.  Plus, it makes the nutrients from the foods less absorbable and harder on our digestive system.

Why Should We Chew?

1) It signals to our bodies to be ready for digestion. There are two modes that our bodies run in, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. Most people refer to the sympathetic mode as the fight or flight mode, so our bodies are preparing to run from that tiger.  Thus, every non-essential function is switched off. Including our digestion. When you are on the go go go, this is the state in which your body functions. I experience this most clearly if I exercise too soon after eating. I can literally tell that the food is just sitting in my stomach, and it doesn’t feel good.

When we chew, we are signaling the body that we are in a relaxed state, and therefore our digestion will switch on. We are activating our parasympathetic mode. Turning off the TV and closing that book will also help prepare your body. Eating is not a time you should be multi-tasking!

2) Digestion begins in the mouth. We have enzymes that begin to work on carbohydrates, and to a small degree, fats, in our saliva. Chewing is designed to not only break food down into digestible pieces, but to also thoroughly mix our food with the saliva in our mouths. When we don’t chew, we miss an important step.

3) Not Chewing Can Lead to:

Overworking of the Pancreas: Our pancreas picks up the slack to release whatever enzymes are still needed to break down fats and carbohydrates. Interestingly, it is often referred to as the “mother," because who picks up the slack for you? Your mother! So true.

When you are young, your pancreas might be able to keep up, but over time, the function will decrease. Plus, your pancreas has so many other jobs, not only releasing digestive enzymes, but is also a key player in blood sugar regulation and a producer of many hormones. We want it in tip-top shape!

Food Allergies and Inflammation: Not chewing enough can lead to larger food molecules being absorbed through the intestinal wall. (and also could aid in the development of a syndrome called leaky gut.) Our bodies will perceive these molecules as foreign, and create antibodies against them. This is how food allergies can develop leading to inflammation and possibly other complications.

I’ve tried to chew my food the recommended 25 - 30 times, which is much harder than it sounds, especially if you are used to eating fast, like me. But we can start at a much easier place. Here are some tips:

  • Set the stage for eating: Clear your table, turn off all distractions, and prepare your food on a beautiful plate.
  • Once you start eating, taste your food! Focus on what your food tastes like, and make sure there are no chunks before you swallow.
  • Take a deep breath when you are finished. Take a moment, savor the fact that you just took some time out of your day to nourish yourself.

Next time you eat, think about it how important chewing is for you, and just take a couple more minutes with your meal. One of my favorite sayings from Traditional Chinese Medicine is that “the stomach has no teeth.” Happy Nourishing!

Resources:

N.D.,  Your Digestive System and How it Works.  http://www2.niddk.nih.gov/.  Retrieved from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/yrdd/

 

 

Eat This Series: Nettles

Hello! First post back after the sugar challenge. I am so extremely thrilled how the challenge went for myself and for everyone involved! I have received such amazing feedback… It really shows that just a little bit of effort can make a huge difference.

Now on to Nettles! I’m excited about this post for a few different reasons. It’s the first one in my Eat This Series, although I would probably include my post about coconut oil and ghee in the Eat This category. The purpose of the Eat This postings is to show you simple and powerful foods to add into your diet for maximum nutritional benefit. The biggest bang for your buck so to speak. I’m also excited because nettles are an example of a seasonal super food. We have all become accustomed to eating foods whenever we feel like it, but when we really start tapping into what foods are available seasonally, we are increasing our awareness of nutrient density as well as tapping into the harmony of the harvest. It’s a beautiful, delicious, and healthy way to eat and live. Nettles have only recently become available in the last couple of weeks and the season usually goes through the end of April. Nettles are actually a weed, and are found all over the United States. They are also called stinging nettles, because they have stiff, bristly hairs that are found on the leaves and stems which inject a stinging fluid into the skin. An interesting note is that the sting can be used therapeutically as a treatment for increasing circulation and arthritic conditions. However, the sting isn’t pleasant, so if you find a patch to harvest, handle with care! Heat and drying destroys the sting.

Benefits

  •  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, they are considered a blood tonic and support the bladder, kidney, spleen and liver.
  • Detoxifying
  • Helpful for allergies and hay fever
  • Good for hypoglycemia because they help reduce blood sugar levels
  • Helpful for high blood pressure
  • Lowers inflammation
  • Nutrient Dense

Nettles are extremely high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, Vitamin K, Carotenes and Iron. The other day, I let the fresh nettles steep all day, and the tea turned into this amazing dark green potion! It was so thick and felt heavy and rich in my mouth. I was just simply amazed by the color! It’s SO green…. The chlorophyll just pours out of it! Chlorophyll is an excellent source of magnesium, and for maximum absorption, drink the tea while eating a bit of fat. My fellow nutrition friend Corinne Steel uses a bit of flax seed oil that she pours into her carrot juice to better absorb the carotenes. Same idea with chlorophyll; it has both fat and water soluble components. Fresh nettles can be sautéed like spinach, and are delicious! Don’t forget to add some butter for better absorption!

You can buy nettles dried as tea, and I often brew these overnight to get all the goodness out of them. Nettle and mint are a good combination. Although dried nettles are great to use, definitely take advantage of using fresh nettles if you can find them at the Farmers Market. If you are in the Bay Area, Happy Boy Farms is already selling them. Check out the market schedule here.

Have fun exploring with the amazing super food! Eat them. Send us some comments if you gave them a try…. Enjoy!

References:

McGee, Harold (2004) On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen.  New York; Scribner.

Wood, Rebecca. (2010)  The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia.  New York.  Penguin Books.  

Blood Sugar: What You Need to Know

I’ve been thinking a LOT about sugar lately, and with the 10 day Kick the Sugar Habit Challenge coming up on January 27th (There are still spaces by the way…..  challenge and register here!), it’s been on the forefront.  I often give myself “permission” on the holidays and when I’m traveling to give into my cravings.  But, once I do this it is a seriously vicious cycle.  I’m to the point right now, that when I come home at night, even if I’m coming home from eating a fabulous meal, I still want something sweet.  Currently, I have zero snacky things in my house, which helps, but I don’t want these cravings anymore.  Be gone! So, I thought it would be helpful this week to talk about what happens IN YOUR BODY when you eat sugar and those fluffy, comforting carbs.  It’s going to get a little detailed, but I think there is importance in knowing how your body responds, and how your body will, over time, become increasingly damaged from consuming these foods.

The Low Down of Blood Sugar

Your body needs around 1 tsp of glucose  circulating in your blood stream at all times….too low (hypoglycemia) and too high (hyperglycemia) are both dangerous and can lead to problems. Some Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

  • Shaking
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty in focusing
  • Sugar cravings
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Many other things too…….

Many of us have symptoms of hypoglycemia, which lead us to eat lots of quick fixes….simple carbohydrates and sugar, which eventually can lead us to the path of high blood sugar.  Here’s a simplified explanation why: Your body is constantly switching between burning fat and burning the glucose from your meals.  It’s very efficient at doing this.  When you eat a meal, preferably one that has nice fats and proteins, your body will slowly digest and glucose will be released into your blood stream at a nice, slow steady pace throughout the day.  Perfect to keep you alert and running optimally.  Usually there is a little more than you need, so your pancreas will release insulin, which is the hormone that signals your cells to take in any excess glucose from your blood stream.  Your body wants to keep your blood sugar stable. More often than not, however, we are eating foods and meals that contain too many simple carbohydrates.  You have a scone and a cup of coffee for breakfast.  Or a bagel with cream cheese for lunch with that nice glass of orange juice.  You aren’t eating enough fat, protein and fiber to slow the digestion, so the sugars from your food are quickly digested and flood your blood stream all at once. If this cycle happens too often, then eventually the cells can become resistant to the insulin that your pancreas is releasing.  They become hard of hearing.  So the pancreas releases larger and larger amounts of insulin, which will cause two things eventually: 1)        Your pancreas becomes tired from overwork. 2)       The cells stop listening altogether, so you ALWAYS have high blood sugar and high insulin. With all that extra circulating insulin, is also makes it hard for us to use the glucose stored in the cells.   We then need to eat! (vicious cycle!)   High blood sugar can cause a lot of damage.  It can damage delicate blood vessels, cause chronic inflammation, and a host of other things.  High insulin can cause problems as well, this study from 2007 found that high insulin created damage to blood vessel walls causing cholesterol and plaque to build up.  So not only is diabetes a concern, but heart disease, high blood pressure, and a host of other problems can result. The good news, is that even if we have been abusing our body for the last 10 years, and we’ve noticed abdominal fat has built up and our cells are starting to show wear and tear from all that high blood sugar and high insulin…..our bodies are highly sophisticated.  The body has a tremendous ability to heal itself once we start taking care of it.  It is never too late. Start with Challenge!  Then we can go from there…..

Alternative Sweeteners....which ones?

Alternative sweeteners are not a free pass.  The goal is to get to a place in your diet, that you simply don’t need to add any sweetener.  This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy a healthy dessert or savor that ripe piece of mango, but if you are looking for a healthy way to carry on with your sweet tooth?   Hm…there isn’t one. So I write the following post with some reservations, because again, we need to stop our sugar cravings, not simply satisfy them in an only slightly healthier way.

 The Nitty Gritty about Alternative Sweeteners.

 Not Recommended:

Brown Sugar, Sugar in the Raw (turbinado):  These are all very similar to white table sugar and although slightly less refined, really aren’t any better to use.

Artificial Sweeteners (Splenda, Equal, anything in a colored packet):  STOP! NEVER USE THESE.  Most people think that when they use artificial sweeteners they are saving themselves the calories.  But there are studies out that show that just the sweet taste alone is enough to cause insulin secretions…which will cause us to store fat.  Not to mention that artificial sweeteners have been linked to cause headaches, sleep problems, fatigue, and a whole host of other problems.  There are many people who have written about this subject at length, Joseph Mercola being on them.  Read more.  Just the word artificial is an accost to my whole foods, nature loving sensibility.  Are you with me?

Agave:  There was a huge fad to use agave for a time, and because it is low glycemic (it doesn't raise our blood sugar immediately) people thought it was the greatest thing in the world.  It is made almost entirely of fructose, and again to cite Dr. Robert Lustig, a majority of the calories from fructose will end up being stored as fat!

Recommended

Raw Honey:  Honey is one of those traditional sweeteners that should be held as a treasure.  One bee, during its lifetime, will only make 1/12 a teaspoon of honey!  So our use of it should reflect that hard work.  Quality is extremely important when it comes to honey.  Buy local and raw, and don't buy the cheapest.  A study by Food Safety News found that 3/4 of the honey bought at local grocery stores had zero pollan traces and were contaminated with cheap sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup.  Beware of honey that says it's "ultrafiltered."  This is a high heat processing that makes it difficult to trace the source of the honey, and high heat will destroy all the beneficial enzymes present.  According to Ayurvedic medicine, the medicinal properties of honey are lost in heating.

Maple Syrup (organic/grade B):  Maple Syrup is another sweetener that takes an immense amount of work.    It takes roughly 46 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup!  I use maple syrup as a sometimes sweetener because it contains more minerals and I love the flavor.  It is a bit on the expensive side, and again, you should always choose quality over quantity, but this is a reminder to use it sparingly.

The other day I was in a "natural" cafe in Berkeley, and the maple syrup they brought out wasn't real!  You have to ask for "real maple syrup."  So, don't let appearances fool you and ask your server if the syrup is pure or not.

 Brown Rice Syrup:  Brown rice syrup is made from fermented brown rice.  Enzymes (usually from barley) are added to the rice to break down starches into sugars, and then it is boiled until it thickens.  Mineral and vitamin rich, brown rice syrup, sourced correctly, can be a good alternative to use.  It tends to make things crunchy, so think cookies and granola.   Early in 2012 there were reports that brown rice and products made from brown rice syrup were heavily contaminated with arsenic.  Arsenic is naturally occurring in the soil, and for land that once used a lot of pesticides, there is still a lot of arsenic left in the soil.  Sourcing is important; the southeastern states with its heavy cotton production left a lot of arsenic in the soil.  California has much lower amounts of arsenic.   All of this is another reminder that brown rice syrup, as with any sweetener, should be used sparingly.

 Date Sugar:  Date sugar is made simply by grinding up dried dates.  I like how natural this is, but it does not dissolve in liquids and can clump, so it's ideal for sprinkling on top of foods.  Dates themselves are a great way to add sweetness, and can be used in oatmeal and ground up in desserts.  Dates are alkalizing and are great way to add minerals and vitamins to your diet.

 Sucanat:  Sucanat is sugar cane juice that is heated and dried.  Therefore, it retains many of the nutrients that sugar refining takes out.   It has a distinct flavor, so be aware when trying to use it in baked goods.  I personally like it, and this is one of the sugars that I keep in my kitchen to use when I need to make something sweet.   (Sucanat is similar to the rapadura you see in Latin stores.)

 Palm Sugar and Coconut Sugar: This is another sweetener that I keep in the kitchen to make desserts.  Palm sugar comes from the sap of certain palm trees, and is boiled down to make a thick syrup. Coconut sugar is collected from the flowers of the coconut palm.   I find that the taste is very similar to table sugar, and it often comes sold in little packed cakes often found in asian food stores.   Now, it is becoming available at natural food stores, but in a loose form.

Stevia:  Beware of white powdered Stevia, as it is a highly refined product.  Packets such as Truvia or Sun Crystals are highly processed and usually have another sugar added in, such as dextrose.  The Stevia plant itself is a wonderful, natural sweetener.  You can dry the leaves and grind them up for a natural sweetener.  Oooh…I just did a web search and found a cool source of the natural herb on Etsy.  Click Here. 

So.  indulge a tiny bit and try some of the more natural sweeteners.   The more pure and less processed something is the better.  But remember, that sweeteners are in general something to be used extremely sparingly, as ALL of them can lead to excess weight gain, or prevent you from losing anything.  There are many more whole delicious foods out there waiting for you.  Give them a try instead!  After you start taking sweeteners out, you'll find that foods like squash and sweet potatoes are all the sweetness you need :)

Resources:

Murray, M. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: ATRIA Books.

Wood, Rebecca. (2010)  The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia.  New York.  Penguin Books.

 

 

How to Make Bone Broth

If you want ONE thing you can do to improve your health….this might be it.   Save your chicken bones.  Make your own stock.  Bone broth is one of the most amazing foods you can add to your diet.  Truly. Traditionally, bone broth has been used throughout cultures as an ailment for the weak and the sick, and throughout culinary traditions as a way of adding flavor and depth to a dish.  It’s a win/win!  In ancient cultures, bones and organ meats were prized more than meat itself.  They are the most nutrient dense parts of an animal, and therefore, the most nutritious for us.

Benefits of Bone Broth

  • High in Minerals:  Due to the current food supply and the American state of health, most people are deficient in minerals.  Minerals are just as important as vitamins to our daily bodily functions.  Bones are a power house of minerals, and through prolonged simmering, we are able to extract all of these precious nutrients.  Thomas Cowan, author of A Fourfold Path to Healing, suggests that adding bone broth to our diet is the fastest way to rebuild our mineral deposits.
  • An Important Source of Gelatin: Gelatin is extracted collagen and an extremely soothing and nourishing food.  It is an excellent digestive aid and it’s extremely healing to our gut, our nervous system and for our entire body.  This is the original reason that jello is served in hospitals.  Patients were served a gelatin based food, but in the words of Jessica Prentice, worker owner at Three Stone Hearth, the jello served nowadays to patients is a “toxic mimic” of tradition.
  • High in Protein:  Included in the large amino acid profile of bone broth are glycine and proline.
    • Glycine is necessary in creating glucose when we are in need of more energy and is vital in supporting our detoxification pathways (thus, cleansing with only bone broth is a great idea.)
    • Proline is essential for the production of collagen, which helps us maintain healthy skin, bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage.

 

Making Your Own Bone Broth

Making your own broth is less time consuming than you might think, and if you have the proper tools (i.e. a crock pot!) it is extremely simple.  First off, save your bones in the freezer.  Of course, quality always matters, so at the very least you should be buying organic meats with the bone.  You can also go to the butcher and ask for bones, they are pretty inexpensive for the amount of nutrition that they provide.

Once you have a nice bag of bones, you are welcome to mix them, but I usually separate chicken from other meats due to flavor.  Place them in a large stock pot and cover with water (preferably filtered) and add a splash of apple cider vinegar.  The vinegar helps to pull the minerals out of the bones.

Temperature and simmering length are important.  The broth should be kept at a simmer, too high of heat will destroy the gelatin.   I personally leave the pot covered on a low flame over night and when I am out of the house.  The only incident I’ve run into is when I left a window open and the flame went out.  Another option is to leave the stock pot in the oven on 200.  However, if you have a crock pot, you don’t need to worry about any of this!  A crock pot has literally changed the way I cook in the kitchen, so I highly recommend you get one.  They are inexpensive and for busy people, they are invaluable.

The length of time that you simmer the bones depends on the size, basically you want to simmer them until they break apart easily.

  • Fish (don’t use oily fish and fish heads are great!): no more than 6 hours
  • Chicken: 12-24 hours
  • Lamb/Goat: 36 hours
  • Pork and Beef: 36-48 hours

This seems like a long time, but really the only attention you need to give it is in the very beginning when you put the bones in.  If you don’t have time to simmer the bones for this long, you can keep the bones and use them again until they are soft.  When I worked at Three Stone Hearth, they would simmer their chicken bones twice.  The first batch they used as chicken broth to sell and the second batch they used as a base for their soups.

If the bones you are using have a nice amount of collagen and you've kept it at a nice low temperature, the broth should gel nicely when cooled.  This is a sign that it is gelatin rich.  Great job!

So get started!  Start saving your bones!  Or get a whole chicken and use the carcass.  I just used the turkey carcass to make an amazing stock….the holidays are a great time to try it out!

References:

Cowan, Thomas.  (2004) The Fourfold Path to Healing. United States; New Trends Publishing
Fallon, Sally.  (2000, Jan 1)  Broth is Beautiful.  Wise Traditions. Retrieved from http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/broth-is-beautiful
Prentice, Jessica. (2006) Full Moon Feast; Food and the Hunger for Connection. Vermont; Chelsea Green.

 

The Right Cooking Oil (and Why)

What oil should you cook with? Before we get into that answer, it makes sense to talk about the myth around saturated fats and all dietary fat in general.   Current conventional wisdom states that saturated fats clog your arteries and dietary fat will make you fat.  I constantly hear someone referring to a burger and fries as "a heart attack waiting to happen."  It has become SO normal and so widely known that fat will kill you.  Or will it?  It turns out that we have been wrong all these years.  What's worse, is that all the dietary advice that we've followed in the last 30 years has actually worsened our health, and led to more heart disease and more girth around our waists.  So where did this start from? Well, it all started with a man named Ancel Keys, and his theory called the Lipid Hypothesis.

Keys believed that dietary fats caused chronic disease, and specifically, heart disease.  Gary Taubes, in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories, describes Keys in this way: “Key’s abilities as a scientist are arguable – he was more often wrong than right – but his force of will was indomitable.” Keys firmly believed that dietary fat caused heart disease, and in the 1950’s went about to try and prove it.  It turns out however, that he used extremely questionable practices to prove his theory.  For example, Keys had data from 22 different countries, but used only the results from 6 of them to prove his hypothesis.  Originally, even the American Heart Association came out criticizing Keys, but suddenly, changed its stance in 1957 based on a report from 6 men, including, (gasp) Ancel Keys.  Once this report was released, Time Magazine reported it and it suddenly became gospel.  Saturated fat and cholesterol were targeted as culprits, mainly in animal and dairy products, and there was a nation wide push to lower the total percentage of dietary fat.

Many people, however, have opposed the Lipid Hypothesis from the beginning. In recent decades, more people have come forward to dispel this myth.  Michael Pollan, in his fabulous book In Defense of Food, spells it out by quoting a Harvard article from 2001. “It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences.”   Ooof.

The same article did come up with a link between trans fats and heart disease.  Which, unfortunately, is exactly the type of fat that is promoted in supposedly “heart healthy” foods.   Margarine and vegetable cooking oils are the primary culprits.

Which leads us back to….what oils SHOULD you be using at home?

It turns out, that saturated fats, which have been so villainized in the past, are the best oils to use.   To make sure that you don’t create trans fats in your very own home, stay away from polyunsaturated vegetable oils while you are cooking.  Oils like corn, soybean, sunflower, and safflower are extremely delicate and will oxidize, or become rancid when you cook with them.   Imagine the molecules of these oils as squiggly lines, and at every curve and bend is a weak spot.  At these points, oxygen and heat can penetrate and damage the molecule. You’ve heard of antioxidants.  We eat them to combat the oxidative stress that happens in our bodies.  When you  eat these oils, it’s like eating a heaping bowl of oxidative stress.

The best oils to cook with are saturated fats, whose molecules look like nice flat bricks that line up nice and tight when stacked together.  (That’s why these fats are solid at room temperature)  This also means they are more stable when exposed to heat; examples are coconut oil, butter, beef tallow, and ghee.  Second best are oils that are mostly monounsaturated (imagine just one curve or bend in the molecule) such as lard, macadamia nut, and olive.

Follow the helpful chart below:

The Best Cooking Fats

(Adapted from Nina Planck’s book Real Food)

 

Heat Stable and Ideal for Cooking

Moderately Stable

Cook only at moderate heat

Unstable

Only use COLD!

Beef Tallow

Chicken Fat

Butter

Ghee

Coconut Oil

Lard

Macadamia Nut Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Fish Oil

Flaxseed Oil

Walnut Oil

 

It’s always important to think about what you are cooking in deciding which oil to use.  Temperature and flavor are important things to think about, as the wrong oil could add a contrasting flavor to your dish.  Or conversely, it can add an incredible flavor.  Remember that if the oil smokes, it’s being burned.  Throw it out.  Furthermore, don’t be afraid of these oils!  Fat, in the right proportions, is extremely healthy and it is what helps you feel full and happy.

So try a new, safer, healthier, yummier oil.  Remember, fat adds flavor! Don’t be afraid to throw out your vegetable oils, or maybe just use them to grease your bike chain.

Note:  Many people ask about grapeseed oil and peanut oil because of their “high heat” properties.  I do not recommend using either of these oils because they both have an extremely high Omega 6 content and very low Omega 3.  This can lead to excess inflammation in the body…..which is another interesting, but lengthy topic.

Planck, Nina (2006) Real Food; What to Eat and Why.  New York; Bloomsbury.

Pollan, Michael (2008) In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto.  New York; Penguin Press.

Taubes, Gary.  (2008) Good Calories, Bad Calories.  New York; Anchor Books.

 

10 Tips for Reading Food Labels

It can be very confusing at the grocery store these days, with all of the new buzz words that companies create to sell you their products.  Ideally, we are eating whole, fresh foods for the majority of our diet (nudge, nudge, right?).  But once in a while we still have to buy something packaged.  What do these words actually mean and which ones can we trust?  Here are 10 food label tips, that tell us what to look for and what words we can trust and what words we can't! 1)  Don't trust the front of the box!  Often the front of the box contains words such as "all natural," and "multi-grain."  These words don't actually have any real meaning.  Some phrases you can trust are "100% organic" and "100% whole grain."  These phrases by law are true.

2)  Just because it says "organic,"  doesn't mean all the ingredients are organic.  If the box says "Made with Organic Ingredients,"  only 70% of those ingredients have to be organic.  If it says "Organic,"  95% of ingredients are organic.  Again, look for "100% organic."

3)  Zero trans fats actually CAN have trans fats!  Trans fats have replaced saturated fats as the culprit for heart disease and other health problems.  Companies are allowed to put "zero trans fats" on a label if it has less than .5% trans fat per serving.  But hey, we know that sometimes we can eat more than just one serving of potato chips, or cookies, and not to mention that companies sometimes make serving sizes ridiculously small (can you really only eat a 1/4 cup of ice cream?) All those servings can add up to a hefty amount of trans fats, and we don't want ANY in our bodies.

4)  The most important part of the package is the ingredient list!  The only thing I look at on the package is the ingredient list.  The shorter the better.   Ingredients are listed in descending order, with the first ingredients being the most plentiful in the product.

5)  The ingredient list is a great place to look for the word hydrogenated. This word equals trans fats!  Partially hydrogenated is even worse.  If you see these words, set the package back on the shelf!  This includes margarine and all of the fake butter spreads!  Organic butter can be good for you if you can tolerate dairy.

6)  Look for food additives.  According to Liz Lipski, a leading health advocate, the average person eats 14 lbs of additives in one year.  Stay away from ingredients like "red 40, blue 6, yellow 5, or sodium benzoate."  These are artificial colors and preservatives.  A leading researcher on this topic, Dr. Benjamin Feingold, discovered in the late 1970's that children with food allergies who avoided artificial ingredients improved their symptoms and exhibited better behavior and attention span in school!

7)  When buying meat and eggs, be wary of these words:  Cage free, free range, antibiotic free, and no added growth hormones.  The terms cage free and free range do not have very much meaning and often lack oversight.  Antibiotic free and no added growth hormones also don't have a third party certifier and the latter can be misleading because growth hormones are not legal for use in either poultry or pork.

8)  Look for the words organic, pastured, or 100% grassfed and grass finished when buying poultry and meat.  Be aware though that organic fish does not exist!

9)  When buying oils, look for words such as unrefined, expeller pressed,  and cold pressed.  These ensure that the oil was not processed under high heat and solvents were not used to extract the oil.  *Remember to stay away from vegetable oils and especially do not cook with them!  These are easily oxidized and can lead to trans fat consumption.

10) When buying anything at the grocery store, remember  this rule from Michael Pollan, a leading author and researcher about food in America.  In his book, Food Rules, he recommends:

Eat only food that will eventually rot.

Yes!  So true!  This is a great rule to live by, and to remember that the more whole, fresh foods that we can eat, the more nutrition we are adding to our bodies.  Every time you put ANYTHING into your body, ask yourself the question, "is this adding to my health?"  If it isn't,  set it down!  But be gentle with yourself, and hopefully these 10 food label tips can help you buy foods that are better for you and your family.

Resources:

Blaylock, Russell L. Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. Santa Fe, NM: Health, 1998. Print.

Fallon, Sally, Mary G. Enig, Kim Murray, and Marion Dearth. Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. Washington, DC: NewTrends Pub., 2001. Print.

Main, Emily. (n.d.)  10 Food Label Lies. Retrieved from: www.rodale.com/10-food-label-lies.

Information about labels concerning meat are retrieved from: http://www.greenerchoices.org/eco-labels/