Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Love Your Gut.

Recently, I have been reading a ton of articles which directly link gut health to depression and disease. If you have read them as well, I’m sorry to be redundant.  However, if you don’t stay up late reading nerdy science articles like me, then I hope you get something out of this.

Research has shown that inflammation in the gut is very common in people with autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, cancer, and depression. Inflammation in the gut is a sign that the healthy bacteria living in there have been severely damaged or killed. These bacteria, which naturally live in our GI tract, do way more than we give them credit for. When we imbalance or kill them off, we can get sick beyond belief.

How do most germs enter our body?  That’s right, through our mouths. Maybe we didn’t wash our produce from the grocery store, or the person cooking our food didn’t wash their hands, or maybe we call out the 5-second rule too often. Your digestive system is the first line of defense against most of the bacteria that you will come into contact with. The healthy bacteria in our GI tract fight off any foreign bacteria that enters our system. That is a pretty darn important job. So, when we damage our poor little intestines with a high sugar and highly acidic diet, or too many processed foods, we are slowly wearing down that defense system and weakening our whole immune system. Weakening the immune system for a long period of time can lead to a serious illness or disease.

In addition, your gut bacteria plays a crucial roll in serotonin regulation and production. It actually produces more than your brain does. Crazy huh? Serotonin literally makes you feel good; a low level of this is directly linked to depression. So if your gut is damaged, you can be sure depression will follow.

What can you do to heal your gut and improve your overall health?

Stop the damage:
Cut back on sugar! If you know me, you know this one breaks my heart. I have a love/hate relationship with sugar. But seriously, it wreaks havoc on our bodies, and it kills that healthy bacteria we need.

Avoid processed foods. If it has an ingredient that sounds like it is out of a chemistry book, then don’t eat it! Cook from scratch more, or find foods with the most basic ingredients.  There are plenty of low-cost all natural foods that can be found at your local grocer (Trader Joe’s, Market Basket, etc).

Choose your meat wisely! Typical meat is loaded with antibiotics.  Meat filled with antibiotics can destroy your healthy bacteria.  Choose hormone free and organic meat; it is worth the extra money.

Build up your bacteria:
Eat probiotics!  Probiotics are the bacteria that live in yogurt, kefir, cheese, and fermented veggies to name a few. Put that high-sugar gogurt down!  I mean some good old fashion yogurt without any added sugar.

Eat prebiotics! These are the foods that feed these bacteria you worked so hard to build up. Keep those little guys healthy and well fed. Prebiotics are your high fiber fruits and vegetables, beans and whole grains.

Now, get off the Internet, clean the junk food out of your cabinets, and eat some probiotics!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bottoms Up!

I want to chat about hydration today. Seems simple, drink more water and feel better. Right? Surprisingly, it gets more complicated than that (as if we didn’t have enough to worry about already!). Did you know that by the time you feel thirsty you are most likely already dehydrated? I get a lot of questions about how much water is enough, and what types of drinks are best to drink throughout the day to stay hydrated.

So lets start with how much you should be drinking daily. Divide your body weight (in pounds) by 2 and that is how many ounces you should be drinking daily. For example, I weigh 130lb/2 = 65oz of water daily. I find the best way to actually keep tabs on this amount is to pick out a water bottle, and know exactly how many ounces it holds.  Do the math to find out how many refills you should have each day. 

Why is this so important you ask? First, your body is composed of 75% water. All of your organs depend on water to function in one way or another. Water disposes all of the junk out of your body, such as toxins, dead cells, and pollution particles.  Also, water allows the flow of your lymphatic system, improving immunity against illness. It does this by moving white blood cells, electrolytes, and proteins throughout the entire body. In addition, staying hydrated prevents deterioration of your kidneys (people in constant dehydration can be causing kidney disease later in life). Water helps your body circulate blood easier too, dehydration has been linked to poor heart health, because your heart has to pump harder to circulate when dehydrated. Dehydration has also been directly connected to decreased mental concentration and energy level.

Are you thirsty yet? Go grab a glass of water! Notice I said WATER, not Gatorade or juice. Nothing compares to water. If you drink juice or soda all day, you are not hydrating yourself properly. They have added sugars and coloring, which are things your body will need to remove later on. Go easy on yourself and stick with water. If you aren’t a fan of the taste, add some sliced fruits into your water bottle. I love adding strawberries to mine!  Don’t include anything but water into your daily needs discussed earlier.

Note: Some signs of dehydration are thirst and dry mouth, dark colored pee, or lack of pee, dizziness, sluggishness, or inability to focus. In more severe cases you could faint, be confused, or even die. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Start Out Strong: Kitchen Clean Out!

To eat well you need to start with your kitchen.  Improving your diet is a breeze if you have an organized kitchen.  However, if you have old snacks and sugar filled cereals hiding in your cabinets, they are sure to bring you down. Plus, isn’t it nice to have a clean and neat kitchen anyways?

Lets start with cleaning the junk out. Has anything been sitting in your kitchen not touched for more than 3 weeks? If so, ditch it.  There are plenty of people that need food, and you clearly don’t need or want that.  Make a donation pile as you are downsizing (if it is expired, toss it!).  Check out your labels, get rid of anything with high sodium, high sugar, high saturated fat or anything that contains high fructose syrup, trans fats, or any additives (if you don’t know what it is, get rid of it). Even if these are foods you like, chances are you can find much healthier versions of them. I’m not asking you to give up your favorite foods.  I am asking you to find better alternatives.  For example, my go-to food is pasta with tomato sauce. It’s so easy and delicious.  Instead of getting regular pasta with a normal high sugar sauce, I choose whole grain, or quinoa pasta with sauce that has no sugar (the only ingredients should be tomatoes, oil, and spices).  These foods are out there, and they don’t taste much different! You just need to read the labels to find them.

Condiments seem to take over the fridge, am I right? If I let my boyfriend have his way, I think that is all we would have in the fridge.  Condiments can be misleading, so you should make sure you read your labels!  A lot of them are filled with sugar, colorings, and additives.  Most ketchups (which I love, I won’t lie here) are packed with high fructose corn syrup.  That stuff is nasty!  There are plenty of alternative natural versions.  The same goes for mustard.  If your mustard has all sorts of ingredients you have never heard of, find a better alternative next time you are at the grocery store.  Won’t you feel better knowing those meals you strived to make so healthy aren’t being tainted with condiments filled with junk?

Your prep area should always be clean and have some basic tools easily accessible. How easy is it to skip cooking or prepping because you don’t feel like cleaning first? Commit to keeping one space clean at all times. Have these close by:
o   Knives
o   Vegetable peeler
o   Measuring cups
o   Plastic baggies
o   Tupperware

Now that you have cleaned out the kitchen, let’s focus on filling it with all of the good stuff.  Let’s focus on your fridge for a minute.  This is where you should find fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, and dairy.  To put it simply, these are all the foods that will go bad, like real food should. Put your fruits and veggies up high in your fridge where you can see them. In fact, put all of your easy go-to foods there, such as some hardboiled eggs, yogurts, or precut cheese?  Be sure to cut up your fruits and veggies beforehand for easy access, because who wants to do that when they are hungry? Choose meats that are organic and lean.  Also, be sure to choose dairy that is as natural as possible (think local farms, hormone free). Get high protein Greek yogurt in there too, it makes a great substitute for sour cream.

Your cabinets should be holding grains, starches, low sodium canned goods, and healthy snacks.  A couple of staples I have are canned beans, instant brown rice, protein bars, canned veggies, oatmeal, nuts/seeds, and dried fruits. Put these items up front at face height, and force yourself to choose healthy options.  If you buy a bag of pretzels or crackers, divide up the box/bag into single servings for an easy grab on the way out the door.  It will make you more conscious of how much you are eating too.

Expand your spice rack! Seriously, it took me so long to figure this one out. But spices and herbs make any meal better. Cooking black beans? Throw some paprika and cayenne in there. Add cinnamon to your oatmeal or smoothies. Vegetables are better with rosemary, or garlic salt.  Play around with different combinations.  Learn to use spices instead of salt and butter.  Your heart thanks you!

That doesn’t seem so bad.  Does it? Here is your homework for your next day off:
  •  Clean out all of the junk, and food that has been sitting around for too long. Donate anything unopened and unexpired.
  •  Look at the labels on your condiments. Find better alternatives/brands.
  •  Precut your fruits and veggies. Place them high in your fridge so that they are the first things   you see.
  •  Pick out some new spices to use.
  •   Organize your cabinets so that healthy snacks are easy to grab.
  •   Commit to keeping a prep area clean and organized in your kitchen.

Now you are ready to make some great changes! I wish you the best of luck!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Better your health the easy way. Antioxidants.

The older I become the more disease is thrown in my face. I watch close friends and family members battle high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, cancer, and the awful list goes on. Over the last few years it has become REAL to me. We should all be doing things in our daily lives to battle this epidemic that is happening across the US. Don’t you want to live your life to the fullest? Be around AND WELL for a long time to come?  I spent years in school filling my head with facts on how to improve the well-being of others. I hate that over the last few years I stopped really sharing this information. So, here are some tips to leading a healthier life. I’ll try to keep this an easy read!

First, let’s talk free radicals. I hope you know what these are, and battle them at every meal!  In case you don’t, let me explain... A free radical is a reactive atom that has unpaired electrons, which will happily bond to cells inside of your body (called oxidation). When they enter the body, through stress, smoking, pollution, toxins, and other junk that we come into contact with, they damage body tissue. This process can be very severe depending on your lifestyle. These free radicals cause us to age.  Also, they can cause autoimmune diseases, and cancers. Unfortunately, this happens to every one of us. In our developed worlds these free radicals lurk in so many places from pesticides in the foods we eat, pollution coming out of factories in the city that you live, chemicals in certain plastics we eat from, etc..  I’m not trying to scare you, but you should be aware of these things.

Thankfully there are ways to fight these little jerks wreaking havoc in your body. The answer is simple; EAT WELL! Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables will naturally interact with and stabilize free radicals, which prevents them from causing damage to our cells.  It is important to load up on as many antioxidants as possible to stabilize all the free radicals you may have come into contact with throughout the day. Do you ever hear people say that one glass of red wine can reverse the effects of a cigarette? It’s true (and awesome); it’s a balancing act.

You can find antioxidants in fruits and vegetables.  The richer the color, the better. Aim for the recommended 2 -3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits daily. Pack it with even more antioxidants by choosing super foods. Super food is just a fancy way of saying that these foods have more than your average amount of antioxidants and nutrients.  A few examples of super foods are blueberries, acai, figs, garlic, green tea, pomegranate, and macca root.  I know you have heard of this craze.  Jump on board and try some out!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Happy Spring! It's time to get outside and soak up some vitamin D!

It was a LONG winter here in Massachusetts this year. The snow has melted and the daffodils are finally starting to bloom. I don’t think I’m alone when I say I have been itching to get outdoors more. It feels like spring and summer give me unlimited amounts of energy. While winter makes me want to hibernate into a world of throw blankets and Netflix. Is anyone with me on that?

A lot of this lack or excess of energy has to do with our vitamin D levels. Here in New England it is nearly impossible to get adequate amounts of vitamin D in the winter, and supplementing just isn’t the same if you ask me.

So what is the deal with vitamins D anyways you ask? Well for starters it is needed for muscle movement. Vitamins D allows for communication between our brain and muscles. It is also necessary for strengthening bones, by allowing the body to absorb calcium (that’s why you will see D added to most calcium supplements). D is also needed for immune function to fight off any bacteria and viruses that we come into contact with.

If you are not getting enough vitamin D you may feel tired/sluggish, get sick often, and feel achy. In extreme situations you may get frequent infections, and have pain in your bones and joints.

As you know this is a vitamin, but it is really not that easy to get from food sources. Most foods we eat with D in them are fortified. The best way to get vitamin D is through sunlight. As soon as UVB rays hit your skin, a chemical reaction starts producing vitamin D. Amazing stuff huh?

Here are a few tips to help you get some more vitamins D in your life.
  • Get outside! Let some sun shine on your skin. Everyone is different, but the average person only needs about 20 minutes of sun a day to meet their daily needs. But always get inside before your burn yourself, that’s never any fun.
  • Supplement. This is great during winter, but never go overboard. Your body will store vitamin D until it is needed; if you take too much for a long period of time you could damage your liver. Stick with the Food and Nutrition Board’s recommendation of 600IU daily. You can also get a recommendation from your doctor based on a blood test.
  • Mushrooms. These are similar to our skin; they get boosted with D when exposed to sunlight. However some producers grow mushrooms in the dark. So read your labels! Make sure they contain vitamins D before you buy them.
  • Fish. Think fatty fish; like salmon, mackerel, and tuna. 3oz of salmon contains about 450IU. That’s almost the 600 you need!
  • Breakfast. Lots of breakfast foods contain D. Most cereals are fortified with it (just skip the sugary junk). Also eggs, about 40IU each yolk. Milk and Orange juice are normally fortified too. A combo of those items may help you reach your daily goal. 

So get out of hibernation mode and start making up for lost time. Go outside for some sunshine and fresh air. Your body will thank you.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Baked Oatmeal Recipe

 The other day I was talking with a co worker about oatmeal. I know that sounds weird, but I work in a food manufacturing company. We happened to be making  oatmeal that day.  We were saying how the idea of oatmeal is great since it is so healthy for you, but the taste is awful. He had mentioned how he baked oatmeal a couple times and how much better it was that way. So I gave it a shot. This is a recipe I modified from a couple different ones I was able to find. I really liked it. It reminds me of having a soft oatmeal raisin cookie. I hope you enjoy!

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • ½ cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Spray pan with cooking spray.
Mix up all of the ingredients and pour then into the pan.
Cook for 35-40 minutes at 350F.

You can really add anything to this recipe. I added a little bit of coconut, almond slices and chia seeds.

You can also top this the way you would top oatmeal; with fruit, yogurt, or milk. I sprinkled some vanilla sugar on some frozen mangos and microwave them for a topping. Yums

You could even cut this into squares and have breakfast for the week! A bowl of this in the morning is the perfect way to start the day. Oatmeal is packed with fiber. Fiber lowers cholesterol by blocking the absorption of LDL. It also regulate blood pressure and strengthens your heart. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tips On Choosing The Best Supplements

The supplement market is huge, and it can be pretty intimidating if you aren’t sure which products to choose. I wanted to give you my thoughts on supplements, and some tips on picking out which ones are right for your needs.

Your supplement needs are very dependent on lifestyle and health. Strive to get your nutrients from food sources over supplements. Nutrients from food are better absorbed, and have tons of other benefits; such as fiber or protein.  However, realistically, most of us are still lacking nutrients on a daily basis.  Supplements are great for giving us that little boost we need.

I don’t recommend taking any fat-soluble vitamins unless your lab work or doctor tells you otherwise. These are Vitamins A, D, E, and K. You body will store these vitamins in your liver, until you need them. Excess intake of these can damage your liver.  So, next time you see vitamin A being advertised to help your hair and nails grow, think twice about it. Yes, it will help your hair and nails, but it can really harm you if taken daily and in large amounts.

I also don’t recommend taking amino acids. Even just taking one specific amino acid supplement will overload your intestines and limit the absorption of other amino acids, which could lead to a deficiency in another amino acid.

I DO recommend these supplements: a multivitamin, vitamin C, and B complex.  These are good for everyone. They will not damage your body, and they will promote healing, and aid in normal body functions.

A multivitamin will cover most of the nutrients you miss throughout the day.  The main functions of a multivitamins is to prevent deficiency. Buy one with a mix of vitamins and minerals.

Vitamin C is a very powerful antioxidant. It can stop the formation of carcinogens, which reduces your risk of cancer.  It has also been shown to lower blood pressure and increases your HDL (good cholesterol), which helps prevent cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C is needed in the synthesis of norepinepherine, which is the hormone that helps you feel motivated and alert (yes please!).  I recommend taking anywhere from 500- 1,000mg daily.

B Complex is a fun little mix of B vitamins. It contains Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, B6, and Pantothenic acid. All of these are needed for the body to convert fuel into energy, relieve the body from stress, and promote growth and development.  Surprisingly, many people in America are lacking these vitamins, according to the USDA.

In addition, I recommend taking calcium if you are a woman.  Calcium is needed for bone formation, immunity, muscle function, and pH balance.  After the age of 30, women start to lose bone mass.  It is important to build bone mass throughout childhood and adolescence, to prevent osteoporosis as adults.  I recommend taking 500mg per day, because your body won’t absorb any more than that at one time.

Look for the USP seal, when choosing supplements.  USP is an outside company that tests the products to ensure that the supplements contain exactly what the labels claim they do, since the FDA is not heavily involved in the regulation of these products.

Also, avoid supplements with coloring agents (yellow #6, or red #40). Why the hell do your supplements need coloring?! Coloring agents are awful for you.  In addition, avoid any supplements that contain high fructose corn syrup. Eww that is the last thing you need in your vitamins!

When taking your supplements, do not take them on an empty stomach. Not only will you absorb less on an empty stomach, but it can also make you very nauseous. I’ve made that mistake a couple times before.

To sum up today’s lesson…
Fat soluble vitamins = No! (unless doctor prescribed)
Multivitamins, B Complex, Vitamin C & Calcium=Yes!
Coloring agents & High Fructose Corn Syrup= Bad!
USP Seal on supplement bottles = Good!

On that note, go spend some time in your local drug stores’ vitamin aisle!