Mindfulness and Meditation…Do They Really Work?

Well…yes, they do really work. The fact is, science shows definite health benefits for people who use mindfulness and meditation.  Before we dive in, let’s just make sure we’re on the same page when we say “mindfulness” and “meditation.”

“Meditation” is the ancient practice of connecting the body and mind to become more self-aware and present. It’s often used to calm the mind, ease stress, and relax the body.

Practicing “mindfulness” is one of the most popular ways to meditate. It’s defined as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness meditation is well studied in terms of its health benefits. I’m going to talk about a few of them below, and refer to it as “mindfulness” for the rest of the post.

 

The link between mindfulness and health = stress reduction

Have you heard the staggering statistics on how many doctors’ visits are due to stress? Seventy-five to ninety percent!  So, if you ask me, it makes a ton of sense that anything that can reduce stress can reduce health issues too.  Mindfulness reduces inflammation, reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and improves sleep. All of these can have massive effects on your physical and mental health.  I’ll briefly go over the research in three main areas: mood, weight, and gut health. But know that the research on the health benefits of mindfulness is branching into many other exciting new areas too.

Mindfulness for mood

The most immediate health benefit of mindfulness is improved mood.  In one study, people who took an 8-week mindfulness program had greater improvement in symptoms according to the “Hamilton Anxiety Scale.” They were compared with people who took a stress management program that did not include mindfulness. It seems that the mindfulness training was key to lowering symptoms.  Other studies show that mindfulness has similar effects as antidepressant medications for some people with mild to moderate symptoms of depression.  While mindfulness isn’t a full-fledged cure, it can certainly help to improve moods.

Mindfulness for weight

Studies show that people who use mind-body practices, including mindfulness, have lower BMIs (Body Mass Indices).  How can this be?  One way mindfulness is linked with lower weight is due to stress-reduction. Mindfulness can reduce stress-related and emotional overeating. It can also help reduce cravings and binge eating.

Another way it can work for weight is due to “mindful eating.” Mindful eating is a “non-judgmental awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating.” It’s the practice of being more aware of food and the eating process. It’s listening more deeply to how hungry and full you actually are. It’s not allowing yourself to be distracted with other things while you’re eating, like what’s on TV or your smartphone.

People with higher mindfulness scores also reported smaller serving sizes of energy-dense foods. So it seems that more mindful eating = less junk.

**Mindfulness about food and eating can have some great benefits for your weight.**

Mindfulness for gut health

Recent studies show a link between stress, stress hormones, and changes in gut microbes (your friendly bacteria and other critters that help your digestion).  In theory, mindfulness-based stress reduction could be a way to help prevent negative changes in the gut’s microbes.

Also, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) seems to be linked with both stress and problems with gut microbes. In one study, people with IBS who received mindfulness training showed greater reductions in IBS symptoms than the group who received standard medical care.

The research here is just starting to show us the important link between stress, gut health, and how mindfulness can help.

Conclusion

Science is confirming some amazing health benefits of the ancient practice of mindfulness meditation. For moods, weight, gut health, and more.  Do you regularly include it in your life? If so, have you seen benefits? If not, would you consider trying it?  Let me know in the comments below.

Tip: Relaxing Herbal Teas

There are many relaxing herbal teas that would be great after meditation.  Try any of these by steeping in boiling water:

  • Green tea (has a bit of caffeine, or you can choose decaffeinated green tea)
  • White tea (also has a bit of caffeine, or you can choose decaffeinated white tea)
  • Rooibos tea
  • Peppermint tea (or steep fresh peppermint leaves)
  • Ginger tea (or steep slices of real ginger)

Serve & enjoy!

BONUS Guided Meditation “Recipes” (videos, apps & podcasts)

How to Meditate video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0y1Lu0L8nU&index=5&list=PLerdqrUWzOkd7m9HQj1yfJiI09pwVhPcD

How to Meditate in One Minute or Less Every Day video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtG8No-MMOM&list=PLerdqrUWzOkd7m9HQj1yfJiI09pwVhPcD&index=10

Calm App

https://www.calm.com/

Headspace App (free 10-day trial)

https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app

Daily Meditation Podcast

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/daily-meditation-podcast/id892107837?mt=2

Hay House Meditations Podcast

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hay-house-meditations/id955266444?mt=2

 

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditation

https://www.dietvsdisease.org/benefits-mindfulness-meditation/

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm

https://authoritynutrition.com/mindful-eating-guide/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341916/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4454654/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26186434

Foods that Help with Cravings

When you think about food cravings, typically the first thing that comes to mind would be some type of junk food.  Something that is high in calories, low in nutrients, processed and quite unhealthy.  Is that what you tend to crave when a craving kicks in?  What is your go-to craving — chocolate chip cookies?  A big bowl of ice cream? I tend to crave salty crunchy snacks these days – especially at the end of the day when I’m tired.

I’ll be honest with you — I believe in a balanced life.  I’m not saying to never enjoy a sweet treat again.  The issue with ingesting processed foods and the chemicals that come along with them on an ongoing basis is the danger of addiction.  We absolutely don’t want that, as it can disrupt the way our bodies function and wreak havoc in more ways than you can imagine.

So, if you feel like you may be addicted to sugar and/or processed foods, there is something you can do to help.  There are many foods you can add into your diet to balance your microbiome and get your good bacteria back to a healthy place.  These foods are generally fermented foods that are filled with the good bacteria that your body needs to balance itself again and rid you of those cravings.

These fermented foods can include kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir to name a few.  I’d love for you to choose at least one of these to add into your diet this week and get that good bacteria back into your body (I’m a fan of kombucha – feels like a treat since I tend to stick to water throughout the day).  Taking a probiotic on a daily basis will help balance your bacteria as well — my favorite brand is USANA.  You can check out a cute, short  informational video here.

 

Food Swaps for Popular Cravings…

Another of my favorite ways to combat cravings is to trade out unhealthy foods with beneficial ones.

If you’re craving potato chips… Try some raw veggie sticks & healthy dip (hummus, Greek yogurt, black bean etc) instead for that crunch.  You can also try some nuts or clean, gluten free crackers like Mary’s Gone Crackers or Simple Mills.

If you’re craving soda… Try some sparkling water such as La Croix.   There are so many flavors to choose from; you’re bound to find one you love — and you can finally ditch that soda!  As mentioned above, I love kombucha so I also recommend that as a soda replacement. Synergy has some amazing flavors.

If you’re craving a milkshake… Try a green smoothie instead to quench your desire for something cold and sweet.  If greens aren’t your thing yet, blend frozen banana with dairy free milk and cocoa powder for a chocolatey treat.  Frozen banana blended with your favorite berries is also a nice replacement for ice cream.

Another helpful tip that I implement is to indulge mindfully.  When you do decide to have a treat, enjoy a smaller portion than you’d even like to have.  Teaching yourself restraint and how to indulge mindfully is an incredibly useful tool that you will carry with you always.

Remember – the more nutritious your food is (whole foods that are minimally processed), the less your body craves junk.

As always, I leave you with a recipe.  Today you get a crucnhy, savory snack:

Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas

Adrenal Fatigue: What Is It?

Stressed? Tired? Craving sugar? Can’t sleep?

All of these can be related to the constant stress we feel in our lives. We know that stress can have a huge impact on our health and wellness.  Since your adrenal glands produce stress hormones, adrenal fatigue (or “HPA Axis Dysregulation,”) is a popular theme lately.

Your adrenal glands look like walnuts that live on top of both of your kidneys. These important glands produce many hormones, including stress hormones.  What happens when they become “overworked?”  You’ve heard of “adrenaline junkies,” right?

Adrenaline and cortisol are the stress hormones that give you the commonly known adrenaline rush; when you’re totally alert and living in the moment. This feeling is known as your body’s “fight or flight” response.  Some people (perhaps you?) just love that intense feeling.

The release of hormones in the fight or flight response is your body’s normal reaction to stress.  Stress can sometimes be positive, like when it helps you swerve and prevent a crash.  After a short time, the flight or flight response dissipates, your body goes back to normal, and all is good.  But what would happen if you felt constant stress? Like all day, every day? Like “chronic” stress?

It wouldn’t feel like an awesome (once-in-a-while) “rush,” anymore would it?  What do you think happens to your poor adrenal glands when they’re constantly working?  They’d get fatigued, right?

 

Do I have adrenal fatigue?

When your adrenal glands start getting tired of secreting stress hormones day in and out, you can start getting other symptoms.  Symptoms like fatigue, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, weight loss or gain, joint pain, sugar cravings, even frequent infections like colds and the flu are signs that your adrenals are overworked.

First off, I have to tell you that there aren’t medically accepted blood tests for adrenal fatigue. In fact, it’s not recognized by most medical professionals until the point when your adrenals are so fatigued they almost stop working. At that point, the official diagnoses of “Adrenal Insufficiency” or “Addison’s Disease” may apply.

However, if you do have symptoms, you should see your doctor to rule out other conditions. He or she may even be open to discussing adrenal fatigue, or at the very least, wellness strategies that can help to reduce your stress (and symptoms).

What to do if I have these symptoms?

There are many actions you can take to reduce your stress and improve your health and energy levels.  Ideally, if you think stress is starting to burn you out, stress reduction is key. There are tons of ideas how you can reduce your stress. My favorites are meditation (lots of great free apps to download), taking a hike and cleaning – I know, I’m weird.

Of course, I also recommend reducing sugar and processed food intake and eating more fruits and vegetables. Better nutrition can only help your body. So go ahead and do it.

Conclusion

Your adrenal glands produce hormones in response to stress. After long-term daily stress, they may get tired. Adrenal fatigue is a controversial disease that doesn’t have a true diagnostic test, nor specific telltale symptoms.  The most important thing you can do is to get tested to rule out other potential conditions. You can also try stress reduction techniques like meditation, walks in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or even a lovely bath.

Taking some time to for self care is key.  It can be hard to do on your own.  If you are interested in a 5 day detox that will help you to plan out your days to reduce stress, eat better and learn self care techniques with the support of a group of people doing it alongside you, check out my upcoming Gentle Fall 5 Day Detox.  Go on, treat yourself!  Below is a suggested bath for those following my detox:

Recipe (Stress-reducing bath salt): Lavender Bath Salts

Per bath

2 cups epsom salts

10 drops lavender essential oil

As you’re running your warm bath water, add ingredients to the tub. Mix until dissolved

Enjoy your stress-reducing bath!  Tip: You can add a tablespoon of dried lavender flowers.

 

References:

https://www.thepaleomom.com/adrenal-fatigue-pt-1/

https://www.dietvsdisease.org/adrenal-fatigue-real/

Coffee – Who can drink it and who should avoid it?

Coffee is one of those things – you either love it or hate it. You know if you like the taste or not (or if it’s just a reason to drink sugar and cream). You know how it makes you feel (i.e. your gut, your mind, etc.).  Not to mention the crazy headlines that say coffee is great, and the next day you should avoid it!

There is actual science behind why different people react differently to it. It’s a matter of your genetics and how much coffee you’re used to drinking.

NOTE: Coffee does not equal caffeine. Coffee contains between 50-400 mg of caffeine/cup, averaging around 100 mg/cup. Coffee is one of the most popular ways to consume this stimulant. But… a cup of coffee contains a lot of things over and above the caffeine. Not just water, but antioxidants, and hundreds of other compounds. These are the reasons drinking a cup of coffee is not the same as taking a caffeine pill. And decaffeinated coffee has a lot less caffeine; but, it still contains some.

Let’s look at caffeine metabolism, its effects on the mind and body, and whether coffee drinkers have higher or lower risks of disease. Then I’ll give you some things to consider when deciding if coffee is for you or not.

Caffeine metabolism

Not all people metabolize caffeine at the same speed. How fast you metabolize caffeine will impact how you’re affected by the caffeine. In fact, caffeine metabolism can be up to 40x faster in some people than others.

About half of us are “slow” metabolizers of caffeine. We can get jitters, heart palpitations, and feel “wired” for up to 9 hours after having a coffee. The other half is “fast” metabolizers of caffeine. They get energy and increased alertness and are back to normal a few hours later.  This is part of the reason those headlines contradict each other so much – because we’re all different!

The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body

NOTE: Most studies look at caffeinated coffee, not decaf.

The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body also differ between people; this is partly from the metabolism I mentioned. But it also has to do with your body’s amazing ability to adapt (read: become more tolerant) to long-term caffeine use. Many people who start drinking coffee feel the effects a lot more than people who have coffee every day.

Here’s a list of these effects (that usually decrease with long-term use):

  • Stimulates the brain
  • Boosts metabolism
  • Boosts energy and exercise performance
  • Increases your stress hormone cortisol
  • Dehydrates

So, while some of these effects are good and some aren’t, you need to see how they affect you and decide if it’s worth it or not.

Coffee and health risks

There are a ton of studies on the health effects of coffee, and whether coffee drinkers are more or less likely to get certain conditions.

Here’s a quick summary of what coffee can lead to:

  • Caffeine addiction and withdrawal symptoms (e.g. a headache, fatigue, irritability)
  • Increased sleep disruption
  • Adrenal Fatigue
  • Lower risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  • Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Lower risk of certain liver diseases
  • Lower risk of death (“all cause mortality”)
  • Mixed reviews on whether it lowers risks of cancer and heart disease

Many of the health benefits exist even for decaf coffee (except the caffeine addiction and sleep issues).

NOTE: What’s super-important to note here is that coffee intake is just one of many, many factors that can affect your risks for these diseases. Please never think regular coffee intake is the one thing that can help you overcome these risks. You are health-conscious and know that eating a nutrient-rich whole foods diet, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep and exercise are all critical things to consider for your disease risk. It’s not just about the coffee.

Should you drink coffee or not?

There are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should drink coffee. No one food or drink will make or break your long-term health.

Caffeinated coffee is not recommended for:

  • People with arrhythmias (e.g. irregular heartbeat)
  • People who often feel anxious
  • People who have trouble sleeping
  • People who are pregnant
  • Children

If none of these apply, then monitor how your body reacts when you have coffee. Does it:

  • Give you the jitters?
  • Increase anxious feelings?
  • Affect your sleep?
  • Give you heart palpitations?
  • Affect your digestion (e.g. heartburn, etc.)?
  • Give you a reason to drink a lot of sugar and cream?

Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether these reactions are worth it to you. If you’re not sure, I recommend eliminating it for a while and see the difference.

Recipe (Latte): Pumpkin Spice Latte

 

Serves 1

3 tbsp coconut milk
1 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
¼ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp pumpkin puree

½ tsp maple syrup (optional)
1 cup coffee (decaf if preferred)

Instructions: Add all ingredients to blender and blend until creamy.  Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can use tea instead of coffee if you prefer.

References:

https://www.healthambition.com/negative-effects-of-coffee/

https://authoritynutrition.com/coffee-good-or-bad/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-coffee

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/a-wake-up-call-on-coffee

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-your-coffee-habit-help-you-live-longer-201601068938

http://suppversity.blogspot.ca/2014/05/caffeine-resistance-genetic.html

https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-coffee-should-you-drink/

 

The Truth Behind Artificial Sweeteners

You probably know the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars” like in soda pop, candy, baked goods, and many commercially-available cereals, just to name a few.  Added sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store.

Yes, ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues.  A while ago, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great, was artificial sweeteners.  The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories; like when you have a “diet pop” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.

But, it doesn’t always work out the way we think it will…

 

Types of Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar.  Today we’ll specifically discuss “artificial sweeteners,” which are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.

They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners,” and include things like:

  • Saccharin (Sweet & Low),
  • Acesulfame potassium,
  • Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and
  • Sucralose (Splenda).

 

Health Effects of Artificial Sweeteners

Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, and while many studies show effects, others don’t. Cancer? Maybe yes, maybe no. Heart disease? Maybe yes, maybe no. Not to mention that much of the research has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people.

I do want to point out one ironic thing, to do with artificial sweeteners and weight.

One study found that people who tend to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who don’t.  Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.

While these results don’t apply equally to everyone, they do somehow seem ironic, don’t they?

 

How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?

Now that’s a million-dollar question!  There are so many ideas out there to try to explain it, but the reality is we don’t know for sure; plus, it might play out differently in different people.

  • Is it because people feel that they can eat cake because they’ve switched to diet soda?
  • Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste worse, and veggies taste terrible?
  • Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more (real) sweets?
  • It can be that the sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar; but, because we didn’t actually ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings.
  • Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it.
  • Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.

 

Conclusion:

Understand that added sugar is not good for you, but the solution may not be to replace them all with artificial sweeteners.

I highly recommend reducing your sugar intake, so you naturally re-train your palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn’t overly sweet.  This way you’re reducing your intake of added sugar, as well as not needing to replace it with artificial sweeteners.

Try having ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink. Try reducing a ¼ cup of the sugar called for in some recipes. Try diluting juice with water.

Your body will thank you!

 

Recipe (naturally sweetened): Sweet Enough Matcha Latte

Serves 1

  • 1 teaspoon matcha powder
  • 1.5 cup almond milk, unsweetened (or any non-dairy milk of choice – Hemp is a good one here too)
  • 1-2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (optional)
  1. Heat almond milk and maple syrup/honey (if using) in a small pot.
  2. Add matcha powder to cup.
  3. When almond milk is hot, add about a ¼ cup to matcha and stir to combine.
  4. Add rest of the milk to cup.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can steep a chai tea bag in the milk if you prefer chai tea over matcha.

 

References:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030

https://authoritynutrition.com/artificial-sweeteners-blood-sugar-insulin/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-review-splenda-is-it-safe

https://chriskresser.com/the-unbiased-truth-about-artificial-sweeteners/

How Do I Keep My Blood Sugar Stable?

Oh, the words “blood sugar.”  Does it conjure up visions of restrictive eating, diabetes medications, or insulin injections?

Blood sugar is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood. You need the right balance of sugar in your blood to fuel your brain and muscles.  The thing is, it can fluctuate. A lot.

This fluctuation is the natural balance between things that increase it; and things that decrease it. When you eat food with sugars or starches (“carbs”), then your digestive system absorbs sugar into your blood. When carbs are ingested and broken down into simple sugars, your body keeps blood sugar levels stable by secreting insulin. Insulin allows excess sugar to get it out of your bloodstream and into your muscle cells and other tissues for energy.

 

Why keep my blood sugar stable?

Your body wants your blood sugar to be at an optimal level. It should be high enough, so you’re not light-headed, fatigued, and irritable. It should be low enough that your body isn’t scrambling to remove excess from the blood.  When blood sugar is too low, this is referred to as “hypoglycemia.”

When blood sugar is too high, it is referred to as hyperglycemia.  Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels (chronic hyperglycemia) can lead to “insulin resistance.”

Insulin resistance is when your cells are just so bored of the excess insulin that they start ignoring (resisting) it, and that keeps your blood sugar levels too high.  Insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia can eventually lead to diabetes.  So let’s look at how you can optimize your food and lifestyle to keep your blood sugar stable.

 

Food for stable blood sugar

The simplest thing to do to balance your blood sugar is to reduce the number of refined sugars and starches you eat.  To do this, you can start by dumping sweet drinks and having smaller portions of dessert.

Eating more fiber is helpful too. Fiber helps to slow down the amount of sugar absorbed from your meal; it reduces the “spike” in your blood sugar level.  Fiber is found in plant-based foods (as long as they are eaten in their natural state, processing foods removed fiber).  Eating nuts, seeds, and whole fruits and veggies (not juiced) is a great way to increase your fiber intake.

FUN FACT: Cinnamon has been shown to help cells increase insulin sensitivity. Not to mention it’s a delicious spice that can be used in place of sugar. (HINT: It’s in the recipe below)

 

Lifestyle for stable blood sugar

Exercise also helps to improve your insulin sensitivity; this means that your cells don’t ignore insulin’s call to get excess sugar out of the blood.  Not to mention, when you exercise, your muscles are using up that sugar they absorbed from your blood. But you already knew that exercise is healthy, didn’t you?

Would you believe that stress affects your blood sugar levels? Yup! Stress hormones increase your blood sugar levels. If you think about the “fight or flight” stress response, what fuel do your brain and muscles need to “fight” or “flee”? Sugar! When you are stressed signals are sent to release stored forms of sugar back into the bloodstream, increasing blood sugar levels.  So, try to reduce the stress you’re under and manage it more effectively. Simple tips are meditation, deep breathing, or gentle movement.

Sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, you tend to release stress hormones, have a higher appetite, and even get sugar cravings. Sleep is crucial, often overlooked, factor when it comes to keeping your blood sugar stable. Make sleep more of a priority – it will do your blood sugar (and the rest of your physical and mental health) good.

 

Conclusion

Your body is on a constant 24-hour quest to keep your blood sugar stable. The body has mechanisms in place to do this, but those mechanisms can get tired (resistant).  Long-term blood sugar issues can spell trouble.

There are many nutrition and lifestyle approaches you can take to help keep your blood sugar stable. Minimizing excessive carbs, and eating more fiber, exercising, reducing stress, and improving sleep are all key to having stable blood sugar (and overall good health).

 

Recipe (blood sugar balancing): Cinnamon Apples

Serves 4

2 apples, chopped                                                                                                                             1 tbsp coconut oil
½ tsp ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp vanilla extract

Place chopped apples into a small saucepan with 2 tbsp water. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes the apples will become slightly soft, and water will be absorbed.  Add 1 tbsp coconut oil. Stir apples and oil together.  Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring every minute or so.  Add cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Stir well.  Cook for another few minutes, stirring until the apples reach your desired softness.
Serve and enjoy!
Tip: Keeping the peel on increases the fiber, which is even better for stabilizing your blood sugar.

 

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/15-ways-to-lower-blood-sugar/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-review-blood-sugar

Ch Ch Ch Chia!

 

Chia Seeds

You love them, hate them or don’t know what the heck to do with them.  Am I right?  I am constantly being asked how to incorporate them into a healthy diet (in an easy way).  Chia Seeds are one of my favorite super foods.  They are an edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family that grows abundantly in southern Mexico.  Yes! They are the same seeds you saw growing on Chia Pets.

 

Superfood Status

Nutritionists generally agree that foods with  higher than usual antioxidant, fiber or essential fatty acid content can be called superfoods.  Let’s break this bad boy down:

  • Chia is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids, even more so than flax seeds.  The Omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants in Chia are fantastic for maintaining healthy, supple skin – a quick search for skin loving smoothies will direct you blend berries, water/juice with Chia.
  • The high volume of healthy fats in Chia also protect your heart by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol & inflammation
  • Chia is so rich in antioxidants that the seeds don’t deteriorate and thus can be stored for long periods without becoming rancid. Unlike flax, they do not have to be ground to make their nutrients available.
  • Chia seeds also provide fiber, as well as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, and zinc.  They’re high fiber content make it great for people managing diabetes or working to lose weight as they are also low in digestible carbs.  Fiber is a must in a healthy diet – and especially important for weight loss as it adds bulk without adding extra calories becasue it passes through the body undigested.
  • They’re a Mood Booster!  Chia Seeds can actually make you happier because of the amino acids and tryptophan found in them.
  • They are an Energy Booster!  Chia seeds fight dehydration, provide a considerable amount of energy, reduce joint inflammation and accelerate post-run recovery.

I know it’s  a long list of goodness but there’s more.  Chia is an excellent staple for Vegans.  When added to water and allowed to sit for 10 minutes, chia forms a gel, which works well as an egg replacer in many baked goods.

If you’re ever feeling constipated or just need a little help, take one to two heaping tablespoons daily (it’s a gentle form of fiber).  Add to your green smoothie or your water bottle along with some slice citrus or other fruit.

Chia seeds are incredibly easy to use and can be added to smoothies, salads, and even breakfast cereals.  I gave one of my clients a bag of Chia Seeds which she took to work.  She told me she added it to salads and most recently she sent me this picture.  She added it to her Tuna Salad on crackers.  Genius!

You can buy chia seeds in many health food stores. They are usually located in the raw foods or bulk sections. If you don’t have a health food store near you, you can get chia seeds online.

 

OK, today’s recipe is provided by cocooncooks.com:

 

Ingredients

4 cups filtered water
1 cup | 135 gr. blackberries
2 limes
3 tbsp chia seeds
3 tbsp maple syrup

 

 

STEP BY STEP

Start by gathering, preparing and measuring all of the ingredients. This will improve your dynamic in the kitchen.

  1. In a high speed blender, combine 3/4 cup | 100 gr. blackberries with the juice of 1 1/2 limes, the maple syrup and 2 cups of water.
  2. Blend until completely smooth.
  3. Strain this mixture with the help of a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth.
  4. In a large jar or bottle, combine the chia seeds with 2 cups of water and stir thoroughly, making sure the seeds do not form clumps.
  5. Pour in the blackberry and lime mixture and stir again.
  6. Drop in the remaining blackberries and the lime half, cut in thin slices.
  7. Place the jar in the fridge and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.
  8. Serve on ice and enjoy!

 

Resources:

http://www.cocooncooks.com/blog-en/blackberry-lime-chia-fresca

The Benefits Of Chia Seeds And How To Add Them To Your Diet – Infographic

 

Why You Should Eat Chia Seeds?

16 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Five Weight-Loss Friendly Snacks You Will Love

I just returned from a short 2 day stay in Las Vegas.  If you’ve been there, you know its all about excess!  Even though I like to indulge every now and then, I always balance it out with healthy options the rest f the day.  There is no reason to turn an indulgent treat into a downward spiral that lasts days that lead to weeks and well, you know what I mean.  So, when you’re staying in hotels, you don’t have the ability to cook your own meals.  I am pretty good at maneuvering through a menu to create a healthy meal with the help of my server.  But how much control do you really have over your vacation meals?  In comes snacks.   A must when you’re walking miles a day on the strip and all the other fun adventures that may be building up an appetite.  Prep these items before you head out (pack a cooler if you’re driving).  You’ll save time, money and your sanity!

Now, the words “weight-loss” and “snacks” often appear in the same sentence.   But that might also bring thoughts of “tasteless,” “cardboard,” and “completely unsatisfying.”  Right?  Let me give you my best weight-loss friendly snacks that aren’t just nutritious but also delicious ( I packed several for my trip – and many are staples in my day to day)!  What’s my criteria you ask?  They have to be nutrient-dense whole foods where a little goes a long way;  foods that contain protein and/or fiber.

1 – Nuts

It’s true – nuts contain calories and fat, but they are NOT fattening!  Well, I’m not talking about the “honey roasted” ones, of course. Those probably are fattening.  Studies show that people who eat nuts tend to be healthier and leaner. By the way, nuts also contain protein and fiber, which means a small amount can go pretty far in terms of filling you up. Not to mention the vitamins and minerals you can get from nuts.

Did you know that almonds have been shown to help with weight loss? At least 10% of the fat in them is not absorbed by the body, and almonds can also help to boost your metabolism!

Tip: Put a handful of unsalted/unsweetened nuts into a small container and throw it in your purse or bag.

 

2 – Fresh Fruit

As with nuts, studies show that people who tend to eat more fruit, tend to be healthier. (I’m sure you’re not too surprised!)  Yes, fresh fruit contains sugar, but whole fruits (I’m not talking juice or sweetened dried fruit) also contain a fair bit of water and fiber; not to mention their nutritional value with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And fresh fruit is low in calories.

Fiber is something that not only helps to fill you up (known as the “satiety factor”) but also helps to slow the release of the fruit sugar into your bloodstream and reduce the notorious “blood sugar spike.”  Win-win!  Try a variety of fruit (apples, pears, berries, etc.) and pair that with a handful of nuts.

Tip: Can’t do fresh? Try frozen. Plus, they’re already chopped for you.

 

3 – Chia Seeds

This is one of my personal favorites…

Chia is not only high in fiber (I mean HIGH in fiber), but it also contains protein and omega-3 fatty acids (yes THOSE omega-3s!). As well as antioxidants, calcium, and magnesium.  Can you see how awesome these tiny guys are?  They also absorb a lot of liquid, so by soaking them for a few minutes, they make a thick pudding (that is delicious and fills you up).

Tip: Put two tablespoons in a bowl with ½ cup of nut milk and wait a few minutes. Add in some berries, chopped fruit or nuts, and/or cinnamon and enjoy!  Here’s a link for some delicious recipes.

 

4 – Boiled or Poached Eggs

Eggs are packed with nutrition and most of it is in the yolk.  They contain a lot of high-quality protein and a good amount of vitamins and minerals.  Recent research shows that the cholesterol in the yolks is NOT associated with high elevated cholesterol or heart disease risk.  Yup, you read that right!

Tip: Boil a bunch of eggs and keep them in your fridge for a super-quick (and nutritious) snack (try them with a little cajun seasoning – yum)!

 

5 – Vegetables

I don’t need to tell you how great these are for you, but just maybe I need to sell you on the delicious “snackability” of these nutrition powerhouses.  Veggies contain fiber and water to help fill you up, and you don’t need me to tell you about their vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, right?  You can easily open a bag of baby carrots and/or cherry tomatoes and give them a quick rinse (they’re already bite-sized).  Peeled and chopped jicama & cucumber sprinkled with a little chili and lime make another yummy snack.

Tip: Use a bit of dip. Have you put almond butter on celery? How about trying my hummus recipe below?

 

Conclusion:

Go ahead and try one, or more, of these healthy snacks. Prepare them the night before if you need to. They will not be “tasteless,” like “cardboard,” or “completely unsatisfying.” Trust me.

 

Recipe (Vegetable Dip): Hummus

Makes about 2 cups

1  can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained (keep liquid & set aside) & rinsed

⅓ cup tahini

1 or 2 garlic cloves

2 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp lemon juice

salt to taste

pepper to taste

Put all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. You may need to thin it out with a bit of the liquid you set aside from the can, so add it 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time and blend.  Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Don’t like sesame? Use an avocado in place of the tahini, and olive oil in place of the sesame oil.  Feel free to add your favorite spices like paprika and/or cumin.  Sometimes I add in some fresh jalapeno or roasted bell pepper.

 

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/20-most-weight-loss-friendly-foods/

https://authoritynutrition.com/foods/almonds/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/encyclopedia/food/almonds/

https://authoritynutrition.com/is-fruit-good-or-bad-for-your-health/

https://www.dietvsdisease.org/best-fruits-diabetics/

https://authoritynutrition.com/foods/apples/

https://authoritynutrition.com/fresh-vs-frozen-fruit-and-vegetables/

https://authoritynutrition.com/11-proven-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/encyclopedia/food/eggs/

Raw vs. Cooked – Which Contains More Vitamins and Minerals?

Let’s finally put an end to the debate of raw vs. cooked.

Of course, in the grand scheme of a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, varied, whole foods diet, the cooked vs. raw debate isn’t that critical for most people.  Where this can become a consideration is for vitamin and mineral deficiencies (or “insufficiencies”). These may be due to digestion or absorption issues, or avoidance of certain foods (due to allergies, intolerances, or choice).  And I’ll tell you that the answer isn’t as simple as “raw is always better” or “cooked is always better.”  As with most nutrition science, it depends on several factors. Some vitamins are destroyed in cooking, while others become easier to absorb (a.k.a. more “bioavailable”).  Here is the skinny on vitamins and minerals in raw foods versus cooked foods.

 

Foods to Eat Raw

As a general rule, water soluble nutrients, like vitamin C and the B vitamins, found mostly in fruits and vegetables, are best eaten raw.  The reason why is two-fold.

First, when these nutrients are heated, they tend to degrade;  this is from any heat, be it steaming, boiling, roasting, or frying. Vitamin C and the B vitamins are a bit more “delicate” and susceptible to heat than many other nutrients. Of course, the obvious way to combat these nutrient losses is to eat foods high vitamin C and B vitamins in their raw form (like in an awesome salad) or to cook them for as short a time as possible (like quickly steaming or blanching).

Fun fact: Raw spinach can contain three times the amount of vitamin C as cooked spinach.

The second reason why foods high in vitamin C and the B vitamins are best eaten raw is that they’re “water soluble.”  So, guess where the vitamins go when they’re cooked in water?  Yes, they’re dissolved right into the water;  this is particularly true for fruits and veggies that are boiled and poached but even for foods that are steamed as well.  Of course, if you’re a savvy health nut, you’ll probably keep that liquid to use in your next soup or sauce to preserve those nutrients that are left after cooking. Just don’t overheat it or you may lose what you were aiming to keep.  But, how much loss are we talking about?  Well, of course, it ranges but can go from as low as 15%, up to over 50%.

In short, the water soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins degrade with heat and some of what’s left over after they’re heated dissolves into the cooking water. So be sure to cook your fruits and veggies as little as possible, and keep that cooking water to use in your next recipe.

 

Soaking nuts and seeds

Regarding raw nuts and seeds, it may be beneficial to soak them. Soaking nuts and seeds (for several hours at room temperature) allows some of the minerals to become “unlocked” from their chemical structure, so they’re more absorbable.

 

Foods to eat cooked

Cooking certain orange and red “beta-carotene rich” veggies (e.g. tomatoes, carrots, & sweet potatoes) can help make this pre-vitamin A compound more absorbable.  Fun fact: One study found that absorption of beta-carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than in raw carrots!  Of course, eating your fat-soluble vitamins with a bit of fat will help you to absorb more of them, so that’s one factor to consider.

 

One vegetable that’s best eaten both raw and cooked

Spinach!  And I’m not just saying this to get everyone to eat it any way possible (although, I would love for this to happen).  Spinach contains so many beneficial compounds that it’s great eaten both raw and cooked.  Eating raw spinach preserves the water-soluble vitamins C & the B vitamins.  Eating spinach cooked allows the pre-vitamin A, as well as some of the minerals like iron to be better absorbed. Not to mention how much spinach reduces in size when it’s cooked, so it’s easier to eat way more cooked spinach than raw spinach.

 

Conclusion:

The old nutrition philosophy of making sure you get a lot of nutrient-dense whole foods into your diet holds true. Feel free to mix up how you eat them, whether you prefer raw or cooked just make sure you eat them.

 

Recipe: Sauteed Spinach

Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 (or more) cloves minced garlic

1 bag baby spinach leaves

1 dash salt

1 dash black pepper

Fresh lemon

  1. In a large cast iron pan heat olive oil.
  2. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.
  3. Add spinach, salt, pepper and toss with garlic and oil.
  4. Cover pan and cook on low for about 1 minute.
  5. Stir until all the spinach is wilted.
  6. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top.

Serve & enjoy!

Nutrition Tip: Enjoying the cooked spinach with the vitamin C in the “raw” lemon juice helps your body absorb more of the iron.

Pro Tip: Buy peeled garlic and process in food processor until it’s all minced.  Store in a glass container and add Olive Oil until the spinach is completely submerged.  Keep in Fridge and scoop out as needed when cooking.  (Sometimes I add chili flakes and/or sun-dried tomatoes while processing)

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/cooking-nutrient-content/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/10-ways-to-get-the-most-nutrients

The Coconut Oil Craze – Who’s Right?

I was surprised to see the American Heart Association’s new conclusions about coconut oil for heart health. To understand why they are wrong, check out Dr. Michael Cutler’s post here.  To find out why it’s an amazing superfood and which type to include in your diet, keep reading.

Coconut oil is a special kind of fat

Coconut oil is fat and contains the same 9 calories per gram as other fats.  It is extracted from the “meat” of the coconut. Coconut oil is a white solid at room temperature and easily melts into a clear liquid on a hot day.

The idea of adding coconut oil to your diet is NOT to add on to what you already eat but to substitute it for some of the (possibly) less healthy fats you may be eating now.  And here’s why – Because not all calories or fats are created equal.

Coconut oil contains a unique type of fat known as “Medium Chain Triglycerides” (MCTs). In fact, 65% of the fat in coconut oil are these MCTs.  What makes MCTs unique is how your body metabolizes them;  they’re easily absorbed into the bloodstream by your gut, where they go straight to the liver, and they’re burned for fuel or converted into “ketones.”  This metabolic process, unique to MCTs, is what sets coconut oil apart from other fats.

 

Coconut oil MCTs may help with fat loss

Coconut oil’s MCTs have been shown to have a few different fat loss benefits.

  • #1  It can help to increase feelings of fullness, which can lead to a natural reduction in the amount of food you eat.
  • #2 Because of their unique metabolic route, MCTs can also increase the number of calories you burn;  this happens when you compare the calories burned after eating the same amount of other fats.  In fact, a few studies show that coconut oil may increase the number of calories you burn by as much as 5%.
  • #3 Some studies show that eating coconut oil can help reduce belly fat (a.k.a. “waist circumference”).

Just remember not to add coconut oil to your diet without reducing other fats and oils!

 

How much coconut oil should I eat?

Many of the studies that showed increased fullness, increased metabolism, and reduced belly fat only used about 2 tablespoons per day.  You probably don’t need any more than that.

 

What kind of coconut oil is the best?

There are so many coconut oil options available in grocery stores these days that it can make it difficult to know which is best.  I recommend you stay away from “refined” ones, and opt for “virgin” coconut oil. That is because it is processed at lower temperatures and avoids some of the chemical solvents used in the refining process;  this helps to preserve more of the oil’s natural health-promoting antioxidants.

Pro Tip: Always (and I mean ALWAYS) avoid “hydrogenated” coconut oil. It can be a health nightmare because it contains the infamous “trans fats.”

One thing you should also consider is that each oil has a specific high temperature that you should avoid surpassing (e.g. its “smoke point”). For virgin coconut oil, that temperature is 350F. That means you can safely use it on the stovetop on a low-medium setting, as well as in most baking.

 

Conclusion:

Substitute some of the fat you eat with virgin coconut oil;  this may help you to lose weight and belly fat by naturally helping you to eat less, as well as slightly increasing your metabolism.  Oh, and it tastes great too!

 

Recipe (Coconut Oil): Homemade Healthy Chocolate

Serves 12

⅓ cup coconut oil, melted

1 cup cocoa/cacao powder

4 tablespoons maple syrup

2 dashes salt

4 tablespoons slivered almonds

  1. Melt coconut oil, and whisk in maple syrup, salt, and cocoa/cacao powder until smooth.
  2. Stir in slivered almonds until evenly distributed.
  3. Pour into an ice cube tray (or on wax paper lined tray) and freeze.
  4. Store in fridge or freezer to avoid melting.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Substitute other seeds, chopped nuts, or dried fruit instead of the almonds if you wish.  Add a dash of cayenne, cinnamon or even a drop or two of your favorite essential oil or extract (think peppermint, orange, or almond) to make it your own.  Today I made it with coconut nectar because I was out of maple syrup.  I’m sure honey would also be another delicious substitution.  I made a double batch.  First batch was as listed above.  Second batch had peppermint extract and sesame seeds.  Happy dance!

 

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/

https://authoritynutrition.com/coconut-oil-and-weight-loss/

https://authoritynutrition.com/20-most-weight-loss-friendly-foods/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/encyclopedia/food/coconut-oil/

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-brain-coconut-oil