Beating heart, flowing veins

Cardiovascular Health

Low calorie, low fat, right? Avoid eggs, red meat and I’m good to go, right?

Nope. In fact, enjoy those eggs and healthy animal fats. The real culprit behind cardiovascular disease is sugar. Cholesterol jumps in to help save the day, and has gotten much of the blame off and on for many years. What’s really going on? Inflammation.

Eggs and spinach

Eggs and spinach

Cardiovascular health myth: follow a low-fat diet if you have high cholesterol. The Reality: Often people associate high cholesterol with dietary cholesterol intake and hence cut out nearly all of the fat from their diet, thinking it will reduce their bad LDL cholesterol levels. Excellent, beneficial foods such as nuts, olive oils, and guacamole get eliminated. Unfortunately, slashing fat intake too drastically can cause ‘good’ HDL levels to drop as well. Foods rich in monounsaturated fats like nuts, olive oil, and avocados help to lower total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol, without dropping good HDL cholesterol.  Atherosclerosis is progressive, but it’s also preventable.

Atherosclerosis is the hardening of the arteries, a fatty buildup along arterial walls throughout the body. It is an underlying condition leading to heart attacks, strokes, and central to all forms of heart disease. Atherosclerosis is caused by the formation of plaque along the walls of the blood vessel. Plaque formation is a gradual process that occurs over several years. As plaque accumulates, it narrows the arterial lumen and restricts blood flow.

1. Oxidative damage to the endothelium (arterial wall) induces secretion of growth factor[1] and causes plaque to form. This layer protects the endothelial cells. Result: endothelial cells are exposed to damage by free radicals.

2. White blood cells migrate to the site of injury and attach to the endothelium. Plaque begins to form. The white blood cells also initiate an inflammatory reaction. In response to the inflammation, cholesterol and other immune cells are deposited at the site of the injured arterial wall to help repair the damage.

3. Cells from smooth muscle layer also migrate toward the lesion.

4. The deposits lose their endothelial covering, allowing blood platelets to adhere and secrete potent growth factors.

5. The endothelium may remain intact, but growth factors secreted by smooth muscle and endothelial cells continue to enlarge the plaque.

Clogged blood vessels increase the risk for clot formation (blood doesn’t flow smoothly through vessels) by increasing platelet aggregation (blood thickens). Clots in an artery that lead to the heart are what cause a heart attack, clots that lead to the brain are what cause strokes.

Cholesterol numbers. There are several types of cholesterol that can be tested from the blood. 

  • Total cholesterol: shows the total number of each of the following. Alone it is not very useful as it includes both HDL nad LDL (good and bad) levels of cholesterol. The ratio between these is much more important and informative to cardiovascular health
  • LDL (low density lipoproteins, recommended to be lower than 130mg/dl), and VLDL (very low density lipoproteins) are the ‘bad’ cholesterol numbers.
  • HDL (high density lipoproteins, recommended to be greater than 35mg/dl) is the ‘good’ cholesterol number.
  • Triglycerides (recommended to be lower than 150 mg/dl) show fat levels in the blood, which can be raised by high intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates. How
  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Low antioxidant intake (veggies & fruit)
  • Low levels of essential fatty acid intake
  • Mineral deficiencies
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • High cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Abdominal obesity
  • Uncontrolled Stress
  • Excess alcohol intake

Nutritional Protocols

The foundation of prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis is based on minimizing oxidative damage and inflammation. The following are major nutrients for treating and preventing atherosclerosis. The best protocol is to remove the substances that cause harm: environmental toxins, especially smoking, oxidative foods such as rancid oils, hydrogenated oils (trans fats), sugar, and processed foods; and increase vegetables and health-promoting fats.

  • Increase fiber (aim for 35-50g/day), fiber has a number of jobs in the body. Primarily it helps slow the absorption of glucose (sugar) to balance blood sugar levels, and it also helps ‘clean’ the digestive track, keeping good bacteria and getting rid of all the ‘junk’.
  • Reduce sugar as it causes systemic inflammation.  Sugar: refined sugar, refined carbohydrates (reduce/eliminate gluten), and artificial sweeteners (they create an insulin response in the body).  Reduce processed foods and table salt (processed foods are often also loaded with sugar and highly processed sodium).
  • Eat ‘real’ food. Turn to produce for carbohydrates, get more vegetable based proteins, increase dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (chard, kale, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts). ‘Cleaner’ meats and dairy, such as pasture raised, hormone/antibiotic free, will contain less toxins that that body will not have to process (which results in more stress on the liver, and oxidative stress in the blood).
  • Increase vegetables: The more vegetables you can consume, the more fiber and phytonutrients your body will have to combat disease and ‘clean’ out the systems for a healthy body.
  • Omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFA): will provide the nutrients that every cell in the body needs to survive, and help to raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.  These fats are absolutely essential to keeping cells healthy, well lubricated, and help protect against oxidative damage. Examples are avocados, nuts, seeds, fresh fish, olive oil, etc.

Antioxidants are very important to combat oxidation in the body, they block the formation of harmful compounds:Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Flavonoids (found in red wine, berries, grape seed extract, and pine bark extract),Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), Essential fatty acids (EFA) (tuna, herring, salmon, mackerel and sardines, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts). Fish oil, such as cod liver oil, is a good supplement to add to the routine (2,000-3,000mg+/day), and magnesium, potassium (Swiss Chard, yams, spinach, papaya), and calcium (tofu, sesame seeds, sardines, goat milk, collard greens, spinach).

Focus foods

  • Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, kale, chard, collards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage
  • Garlic, onions
  • Dark berries, nuts, seeds, flax seeds, walnuts.
  • Flax seed oil or fish oil (cod liver oil, i.e.).
  • Cold water fish: mackerel, herring, halibut, salmon
  • Eggs, legumes, ancient grains (amaranth, quinoa, etc.), poultry

Lifestyle recommendations

  • Exercise: pushes the big muscles of the body, strengthens the heart, reduces stress reactions in the body, and helps maintain a healthy weight (or reduces obesity). Minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity (increase heart rate!) 5 days a week.
  • Limit alcohol (more than one drink for women, one or two drinks for men, per day).
  • Quit smoking &/or exposure to cigarette smoke. Smoking contains chemicals that can directly tear and damage arterial linings, increases clotting risks, increases blood pressure.
  • Reduce stress. Stress has a direct chemical reaction in our bodies. The hardworking body does not know the difference between a mountain lion attacking or stressing over bills, work, a big test: it reacts the same chemical way. Stress can affect everything from food cravings (leading to obesity) to exhaustion/fatigue, and poor health.

[1] Growth factor is a protein molecule, a naturally occurring substance made by the body. It regulates cell division and cell survival.

The most important.

What is the first thing you consume in the morning? Is it something to hydrate, nourish, stimulate, or something that smells good, looks good to you along your daily commute? What do you consume and why?

It was a busy morning rushing around getting the dogs walked, cleaning up little messes, getting to the grocery store, and my fridge was bare to the condiments. I knew I needed something soon, least my cranky, unfocused, and unmotivated empty tummy monster emerges. I grabbed some left over green juice from the night before. WOW! It has been a while since I’ve had blended greens for breakfast. I had forgotten how much of a punch they pack in the energy department. The punch is way more potent than what coffee ever gave me, and it lasted much longer.

ZING!Why is this meal so darned important? It’s important, so very important, because it sets up our metabolism for the day. It helps feed the adrenal glands (these puppies work hard to help us deal with stress of all kinds) and strengthen our cortisol output (this naturally rises and falls throughout the 24-hour day). If we give the body what it needs at the start, it can function exponentially better the rest of day (&/or better deal with whatever junk we toss it later, food or stress). If we set up our metabolism so the organs (brain included) have the nutrients they need to function well, cravings diminish, excessive weight drops off, moods improve, afternoon slumps dissipate, and our hormones are regulated. All this is from good nutrition, good day-starting nutrition.

What is the best way to start the day: pack in the greens, good fats, protein, and carbohydrate from a vegetable/fruit source (sweet potato, beets, carrots, apple, pear, peach, etc.). With a nutrient dense breakfast the body is ready to roll with the fuel it needs most. If you give it sugar and caffeine only, you’ll have problems later in the day. The mid-day crash will be hard, food cravings will increase (especially for quick boosting, and consequently fast energy dropping, foods such as refined sugar and processed carbs, caffeine), and likely sleep will be disrupted from the blood sugar and hormonal imbalance from the sugary and caffeinated ‘pick me up’ foods.

Guidelines

Ideally we should replenish the body within an hour of waking up. If you work out first thing in the morning, have a small snack before your workout, and a full meal after. If not, your body will quickly go into ‘starvation mode’ and the cravings can get out of control, fat can be stored and muscled burned for energy. I’ll write more another time on athlete nutrition and how to turn the body into a fat burner instead of muscle burner.

Greens/veggies, protein, fat, vegetable carbohydrate. I start each day with some eggs, greens, or left overs from dinner the night before. Dinners usually have a lot of good breakfast components, so don’t be shy in digging in to the yummy goodness of last night’s chili. Soups are also a quick and easy to-go breakfast. Boiled eggs, or a salad are also an easily packable breakfast. Here are some egg combinations I love.

My favorite egg dishes are usually two eggs and left overs (over yesterday’s chili, or roasted veggies, or salad). Here are seven of my favorite combinations. Note: I cook them in butter (more good fats), but I also recommend coconut oil for cooking. You can see more here about eggs.

  • 2 eggs over medium, half an avocado, Celtic sea salt, dash of hot sauce
  • 2 eggs, spaghetti squash, spinach, salt
  • 1 egg over green chili, 1t goat cheese, roasted butternut squash
  • 2 eggs, spinach, ½ avocado, lime juice, salt, dash of hot sauce
  • 2 eggs, kimchi (or other fermented veggies), avocado, spinach, sea salt
  • 2 eggs, 2T onion minced, 1/4c yellow squash (or any kind), ½ avocado, lime juice, turmeric, sea salt
  • 2 eggs, mixed greens (lettuce, kale, chard), shredded raw (or cooked) beets

Blend it. Is that still too much work for what you have time for? Skip it and juice it all up! See my post on Green smoothies 101 for some blended goodness you can toss in your to-go mug and hit the day.  Just make sure that you get some fat for the fat soluble vitamins in your greens: toss down a handful of nuts, or add some chia seeds (good omega 3 fatty acid!) or flax seeds into the blender.

What will you make for breakfast tomorrow?

Estrogen, the masked villian

Estrogen tends to be the culprit behind many symptoms of PMS and menopause, specifically estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is where the hormonal balance is offset (the whole endocrine system plays a dance that keeps us health, full of energy, sane and happy) and there is too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. Hormonal function relates to the health of the whole body, not just estrogen or progesterone, the health of the ovaries, liver, lymphatics, and thyroid are all affected. The whole body needs to be functioning well for there to be proper hormonal balance. There are many drugs out there given for this, but there are also FOODS we can eat to help bring balance back to our bodies.

The endocrine glands work in concert with one another. If one system fails, others will suffer, which can lead to various issues: digestion, infertility, weight gain, mood changes, depression, apathy, sleep disorders, immune system, etc.

3-5lbs a week of cruciferous veggies!

3-5lbs a week of cruciferous veggies!

Chronic stress and liver congestion are considerable contributors to excessive estrogen levels. This is a functional imbalance for which most doctors do not test because it is not a clinical diagnosis.

Some symptoms of low progesterone/ high estrogen (around the menstrual cycle): PMS, heavy bleeding, spotting, clotting, cramping, water retention, bloating, weight gain (especially common in pre/menopausal women), headaches/migraines (could also be not enough estrogen), depression, breast tenderness, lumpiness, post menstrual headaches/migraines, irritability, anxiety, anger, nervousness, decreased sexual response, endometriosis (low progesterone), infrequent menses.

Estrogen and the Liver. If the liver is stressed by excess toxins it can result in a hormonal imbalance. Examples of toxins are: processed foods, trans fats/partially hydrogenated oils, sugar (including gluten, which acts like sugar in the digestive tract), infections (especially mononucleosis).

The endocrine glands secrete hormones that need to be altered and eliminated by the body. This job falls to the liver. The liver excretes these waste products into the bile, which then gets eliminated by the bowel. If the liver is not functioning properly (or is over taxed by environmental and/or dietary toxins), there may easily be an excess of hormones circulating in the body. A poorly functioning liver is often a primary reason for excess estrogen.

Balancing estrogen starts with the liver: eliminating environmental and dietary toxins that are over stressing the liver.

Correcting excess estrogen also involves increasing the body’s ability to detoxify (i.e., estrogens and toxins), and addressing the health of the whole body. Nutrition that can help in these processes, especially with liver detox of estrogen, are:

  • Only eating organic produce, pasture-raised, hormone free meat & dairy, wild caught fish
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Lots of cruciferous vegetables (3-5lbs/week, fermented, cooked, or raw), such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
  • Whole food sources of vitamin B: sardines, salmon, tuna, chicken, venison, kombucha, turmeric, dark berries, potatoes, spinach.

Supporting progesterone. Progesterone cream can help some, adrenal gland support (see section on adrenals), Iodine (sea vegetables, meats, Celtic sea salt), Chase tree (vitex) in the morning to support the ovaries. It strengthens the link between the brain and the ovaries—stimulates the pituitary to send a message to the ovaries to produce more progesterone.

 Xenohormones. Other major contributors to imbalance of hormones are xenohormones. These are man-made substances that have hormone-like properties. Most have estrogen-like effects on the body; however, they are foreign to the body and can cause many menstrual and fibroid issues. Common sources of xenohormones are:

  • Birth control pills
  • Conventional meat sources (beef, chicken), which are fed estrogen to fatten them up faster
  • Pesticides, herbicides (nearly all are petro-chemicals)
  • Solvents/adhesives (nail polish and remover, glue, cleaning supplies)
  • Car exhaust
  • Emulsifiers (soap, cosmetics)
  • Plastics (BPAs)
  • PCBs (industrial waste)

What harm can they do? Decrease fertility, increase reproductive cancers, decreased sperm count, lower testosterone levels and abnormally small penis size, increase incidence of retracted testicles, increase PMS issues, estrogen dominance.

How can they be avoided?

  • Organic meat, dairy, and produce
  • Avoid all synthetic and horse hormones (oral contraceptives, and conventional HRT, hormone replacement therapy)
  • Reduce/eliminate conventional pesticides, lawn and garden chemicals
  • Do not cook or heat in plastics, substitute with glass

Adrenals & hormone balance. Stress is the most common interrupter of hormonal balance. If the female body is in a chronic state of stress its likely going to shut down a system that requires 9 months-to several years of attention.

During times of stress, the adrenal glands will trigger an overproduction of cortisol and DHEA (precursor hormone to estrogen and testosterone). Chronic overproduction eventually leads to adrenal gland exhaustion, in which state the body can no longer respond to stress adequately. Depleted DHEA leads to less available reproductive hormones and, hence, poor reproductive health.

Diet: Adrenals need essential fatty acids, from a quality source. Omega 3s: fish oil, cod liver oil. Chia seeds, flax seeds (fresh ground), salmon, sardines, whole eggs, and real butter, olive oil. Eat whole fat, skip the ‘low fat’ or ‘non’ fat; it will contribute to adrenal exhaustion as well as poor cellular health (which equals poor overall health).

What to do:

  • Try to get 8 hours of quality sleep (this will go a long way for hormonal balance.
  • Take time to rest (or better, meditate) each day.
  • Reduce/eliminate sugar (including gluten, acts like sugar).
  • More protein in the diet, to help energy stabilization.
  • Opt for Celtic or Himalayan sea salt, over conventional (processed) salt.
Breathe.

Breathe.

Sources: Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements, scientificpsychic.com, phytochemicals.info, Dr. Bob’s Drugless Guide To Balance Female Hormone, Robert DeMaria

Golden-egg goodness

I’ve dabbled in just about every diet out there, as much as it pains me to say that, since I never thought of myself as a chronic dieter. But sure enough, one by one, the various diets slipped into my life, some incognito and not by their popular names. One of the diet habits I picked up was low-fat, low-calorie foods. Egg whites were a staple for many years. I wouldn’t even give that richly colored yoke the time of day. Although, somewhere deep inside of me, it hurt to toss it away. I’m sure my cells cried at the great nutrient loss I was discarding. Now, I am much more enlightened by science and nutrition to the golden goodness of that gem of a yoke (and my tummy is definitely more satisfied and full).

Eggs and spinach

Eggs and spinach

Whole eggs really are nutrient-dense gems. One beautiful whole egg contains significant levels of choline, tryptophan, selenium, iodine, vitamin B2, protein, molybdenum, vitamin B 12, phosphorus, vitamin B 5, and vitamin D. Choline (an egg yoke contains about 113 mg of choline) is an essential nutrient for good general health and brain/nervous system health. The choline in eggs also reduces inflammation (chronic inflammation has been linked to a wide range of conditions including heart disease, osteoporosis, cognitive decline). Eggs can help improve your cholesterol profile, help prevent blood clots potent (proteins in yokes are inhibitors of human platelet aggregation), help protect against age-related macular degeneration and cataracts (high in lutein), protect eye sight, provide energy and are rather filling. Egg yolks are the richest source of choline, followed by soybeans. More than 90% of Americans are deficient in choline.

Eggs, veggies, spices

Eggs, veggies, spices

My favorite egg dishes are usually two eggs and left overs (over yesterday’s chili, or roasted veggies, or salad). As eggs pare so very well with vegetables it makes for a tasty way to knock out some servings of greens first thing in the morning! Here are seven of my favorite combinations. Note: I cook them in goat butter (easier for me to digest than cow butter), but I also recommend coconut oil for cooking.

  • 2 eggs over medium, half an avocado, Celtic sea salt, dash of hot sauce
  • 2 eggs, spaghetti squash, spinach, salsa, salt
  • 1 egg over 4-grain ancient cereal (amaranth, teff, quinioa, millet), salt
  • 2 eggs, spinach, ½ avocado, lime juice, salt, dash of hot sauce
  • 2 eggs, kimchi (or other fermented veggies), avocado, spinach, sea salt
  • 2 eggs, 2T onion minced, 1/4c yellow squash (or any kind), ½ avocado, lime juice, turmeric, sea salt
  • 2 eggs, mixed greens (lettuce, kale, chard), shredded raw (or cooked) beets

What are your favorite egg combinations?

Happy New Year, and Enjoy!

For more information, sources, and summaries of some studies on the egg check out World’s Healthiest Foods website.  

Feed me, Seymour! FEED ME!

Sadly, one very important point has been neglected more and more as the standard American diet (aka S.A.D.) dives into processed, refined, genetically modified foods: how we feel. How does food make you feel? These days we tend to eat more to satisfy cravings, hunger, emotional stress than to heal our bodies and enjoy feeling good. Think about how food makes you feel, not just emotionally, but physically. Do you feel energized and happy, restored, revitalized after a meal or a snack? Do old aches feel better? Do you sleep better?

It’s taken me a long time to make the connection between food and how I feel, and as long to make adjustments to my own diet. Not just physically but emotionally. Food is more than something fun and tasty to shove in our mouths, it provides essential, vital nutrients to make us function well, and not get sick. How long has it been since you last got sick? If it’s less than a year ago, something is not functioning well. Nutrition could very well be the reason: an irritation or a deficiency in most cases.

Making changes to eat better is not easy. I’ve been there, I know intimately the processes. When I gave up gluten I had mini panic attacks, “where will i get carbs for running?!” I had considered myself a ‘really good’ eater back then, too. Nope. There was so much to be improved on to feel better. Fortunately, I stuck with it, continued to evaluate and make changes, and today am feeling tremendously better.

Best (or worse, depending on your view point) is that I didn’t even realize how bad I was feeling previously. I had learned to live with low energy, brain fog, headaches, endless mix of digestive issue. That was my ‘normal’. Doctors didn’t have any revolutionary diagnosis for me to play with, just meds to help with the symptoms. In the end, it was my diet that was the culprit.

My friend Aly picking up a massive purple cabbage from my garden.

If you look to your skin, your GI tract, your mind, your energy; is that how you envision your ideal ‘normal’ to be? Do you wonder if something can be done? What are you feeding your body?

Ahh, the sweet stuff! CRACK!

How do I break my sugar habit? I’ve been getting this question a lot lately. I’m thrilled that my message of “SUGAR IS BAD! BAD! BAD!” is getting through to those around me. If asked one thing to cut from our diet: Sugar.  Big bad: refined sugar, wheat (any refined grains), high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, etc. Honey is a border line one. In moderation it’s ok, as it at least offers some trace nutrients.

Sugar, the Big Bad, has many disguises that have thickly woven into the standard American diet over the past 50-60 years especially. The biggest disguise, I think, is wheat. Yes, even whole wheat. It has a higher glycemic index than a candy bar. Here are some more common places the Big Bad likes to slip into our systems: sauces, salad dressings, protein/performance bars, applesauce, cereals, Starbucks drinks, smoothies, protein powder, peanut butter, soup, medications, processed/frozen foods, milk, cheese, fruit juices, pretty much just about anything in a package. Don’t think artificial sweeteners are the answer either; they are equally bad, if not worse. They affect our brain chemistry, taste sensors, and appetite control centers.

Why, do you ask, is it the Big Bad? Isn’t it a natural, all-American product? Yes it is an all-American product. Natural, definitely not. It’s been so overly processed that sugar has been compared to cocaine, and not just in texture, but how it affects the body (and I’m just talkin’ about the white refined sugar; corn, rice, etc. syrups are even more refined/processed).  Check out the movie Hungry for a Change.

Sugar is deficient in nutrients. Processed sweet foods contain calories with no other nutrients, aka empty calories.  Other than the ones your parents and dentist warned you about, dental caries (bacteria in the mouth ferment sugar and produce an acid that dissolves tooth enamel), dental plaque (gummy mass of bacteria that grows on teeth; builds up depends on chemistry of saliva and genetics), tooth decay (starches and sugars begin breaking down to sugars in the mount), there are physiological effects it has on every system in our bodies: immune, cardiovascular, reproductive, neurological, etc.

Sugar and its effects. Don’t feel too bad about yourself at this point. Sugar creates cravings that are psychological.  There is a chemical reason behind these cravings. Sugar causes big spikes and big dips in serotonin. Serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter essential to brain function, levels are responsible for our moods, i.e., mellow, peaceful, relaxed.  It also, if in balance, increases impulse control, allowing you to ‘just say no’ (to that piece of cake). Low levels of serotonin are shown in depression cases, craving simple carbohydrates, the later which helps tryptophan move thru the blood brain barrier to make serotonin. By eating too much sugar, substituting nutrient dense foods with sugar, we are creating a vicious cycle (among other potentially very hazardous conditions) that messes with our brain chemistry, leaving us depressed, waiting for that next fix of goodness. Then dropping down to bottom again. Repeat. Great book on this topic, if you want more information is Potatoes Not Prozac, simple solutions to sugar sensitivities, by Kathleen DesMaisons, PhD, Addictive Nutrition.

What’s going on elsewhere? Here are some bullets on what sugar does to us.

  • Suppresses the immune system
  • Upsets the body’s mineral balance, chromium and copper deficiency
  • Causes kidney damage
  • Reduces HDLs (good cholesterol)
  • Causes inflammation in the body and increases blood pH, which is the source of many of the big illnesses we face today (vs back in the late 1800s, we were a lot less sick then than now): cancer of the breast, ovaries, intestines, prostate, and rectum.
  • Can cause/exacerbate (inflammation again) arthritis, asthma, candida, gallstones, hermorrhoids, varicose veins, increase cholesterol, cause food allergies, contribute to eczema in children
  • Interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium.
  • Weakens eyesight
  • Produces an over-acid stomach
  • Raises adrenaline levels in children
  • Causes tooth decay and periodontal disease
  • Contributes to aging (inflammation, again)
  • Leads to anxiety, difficulty concentrating (kids and adults)
  • Leads to insulin resistance, leptin resistance, diabetes

Now, how to kick the habit? You can go cold turkey. I did that once, on a dare, gave up sugar for a year. And it was right between Halloween and Thanksgiving. NOT EASY! Kind of close to hell, actually. But I’m stubborn, so couldn’t lose the bet. I had a serious sugar addiction, and as addictions go, I still do. But I keep it under control. And the best way I’ve found to that is education and action. When I have a craving, I think about what I’ve eaten. Cravings, of any sort, are a sign of some nutrient deficiency.  Here are some tips and guides for gradually kicking the habit or going cold turkey.

  • Be aware of what you’re eating. Read labels, pick products that have less or no added sugar.
  • Drink more water, get more fiber. No brainer? Maybe. But we need to flush out the bad stuff and these two lovelies are the studs that can get the job done.
  • Try crowding the sugars out: fill your bowls and plates with nutrient dense foods. Aim for a minimum of 8 servings of vegetables a day (shocking how hard that might actually be). Green smoothies are a very quick way to do this. See my post on green smoothies: http://mariahehlert.com/2012/03/11/green-smoothie-101/
  • Pay attention to how you FEEL. A good friend said, after all the diets, numerous nutritionists, that only one of them ever asked how she FELT after eating crap food vs good food. You will notice a difference. Eventually you’ll become so sensitive that you’ll feel the sugar spike in your system from a few crackers (gluten free even).
  • Add bitter. Add bitter foods, our taste buds adjust to what we eat. Add in foods that taste bitter. Gradually! I started having lemon juice in my water when I learned how beautifully it helps the liver out and to help balance blood pH (=healthy. Good.). However, it was so bitter, I couldn’t stick to it. Next I tried a little lemon juice in warm water. That did the trick. After a couple weeks, I was able to add crazy amounts to my cold water. Added benefit to this: your tastes buds come alive! You’re able to taste flavors that you weren’t able to previously (masked by the sweetness).
  • Chew longer. Chewing combines digestive enzymes in your mouth with your food, and guess what? The food turns sweeter with this action. Chemistry is cool. So eventually that bitter veggie will start to not only have flavor, but taste kind of sa-weeeeeeet.
  • Craving replacements: Fruits are initially a good grab when a craving hits. Sugars from complex carbs such as vegetables, legumes, fruits come in a natural nutrient-dense package of fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.  All things our bodies need.
  • Exercise. Aside from the plethora of benefits of exercise, this will also help brain chemistry, which will help keep cravings at bay, and help flush out toxins from sugar (detox).

Nutrient dense foods. In the end, we need to fill our bodies with what they need most: nutrients. Not empty calories that harm us. A diet made up of nutrient dense foods exclusively (think veggies, fruits, well-raised animal protein, seeds, nuts) is not only therapeutic, but promotes longevity, energy, and that all-over good feeling. When we are getting what we need, the cravings will go away, as will excess weight.

Good luck, fight the good fight! Let me know if you have any other tips!

Summit Salad!

I love hiking mountains. I love living in Colorado. There’s so much wonderful playground.

My two hiking buddies, Beth and Indigo, watching the sun rise as we ascend.

Hiking with dietary restrictions and standards is challenging. I don’t eat sandwiches, which seem to be the general standard to pack to the summit for lunch. Every time I go out, I struggle in this area. I have taken protein bars (gluten, dairy, corn free), nuts, dried fruit. But it’s still tough. How many protein bars can you eat before you’re REALLY sick of eating them? Doesn’t take me too long.

Back at my house, I’m getting ready for our mountain adventure, and the thought came to me: salad. Why not? It’s not going to take up much room and I have a big pack, so there’s always some extra room for winter hiking, more layers. The salad isn’t going to weigh much more than a bunch of protein bars. And unlike running, I don’t have to worry about eating as I’m moving. We usually take a nice break when we summit, to chow down, recover some, and take several million pictures.

Me, Beth, and Indigo, our 15th summit of one of Colorado’s 14k’ mountain tops (Indy’s 10th)

Hence, the Summit Salad was born! I have made it for two big (and very long) hikes now. Beth even took the hint (guilt? envy?) and made one for the pictured hike of Belford & Oxford mountains. It was fantastic. Refreshing, delicious, colorful, and perfectly filling. There was no ‘gut brick’ feeling, which can follow dense protein bars. Why didn’t I think of this before? Real food. On the trail, with real food. Perfect! So what was in my delicious, awesome salad? Here’s a picture of mine (loaded with nutrients, naturally, and good portions of protein, fat, carbohydrates), but you can put anything that tickles your fancy in yours.

Yummy fuel!

Summit Salad 

  • 1/2-1c roasted sweet potato, cubed
  • 1/4-1/2c black beans
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced
  • sesame seeds
  • mixed greens
  • parsley
  • cilantro
  • sprouts (any kind!)

I used a little plastic to-go dressing holder for my dressing, so the lettuce didn’t get soaked. Put all the ingredients in a tupperware container. Toss in pack. Hit the trail.  Smile. Take lots of pictures.

What are your favorite real food trail treats?

Say whaaa?!? Detox?

Yep. Detox. Otherwise known as using food as medicine, to heal.

Our bodies have natural buffer systems in place to processes daily toxins (breathing, exercise–lactic acid, acidic foods). The more we consume processed foods, refined sugars, refined grains, alcohol, the less we manage stress, the greater our bodies (specifically the liver) have to work to detoxify and maintain our required blood pH (7.35-7.40). Stress has a major roll in the ‘toxifying’ process. Stress creates cortisol levels that increases acid in the blood, aids in raising blood sugar levels, suppresses the immune system, and decreases bone formation. This is good if you’re in a fight or flight situation and need the increased adrenaline levels. However, constant stress can and will cause a lot of damage to our bodies: poor digestion, sleeplessness, weight gain, illness, disease, and so much more, the list is very long.

Detoxifying is not some hippy dippy idea or extreme diet fad (although, there are many out there with this name). The more abuse we do and the more crap we put into our bodies, the harder our systems have to work to equalize and ‘detoxify’. The harder our bodies are working, the more stress is put on our bodies, and the more energy is taken away from other systems:  nervous, immune, digestion, repair, etc. (get the picture?).

For optimal function and health (moving, breathing, athletics, brain health, disease free, joints, fertility, strong immune system) and increased energy (body doesn’t have to work as hard = more energy), incorporate a detox routine and help out your one and only bod!

How? You can do what works for you: Add detoxifying foods &/OR remove toxic foods (and lifestyle habits).

1. Eat, or better yet, juice (hits your system faster) foods that will assist this process. Powerhouse detoxifiers: celery, lemons, cucumbers, parsley, cilantro, KALE, beets, garlic, sea vegetables, almonds. Hmm, green smoothie?  Drink more WATER, WATER, WATER. Green tea, too. My personal favorite (which I didn’t like it initially) is warm water with some lemon juice in the morning. I’ve now moved on to lemon juice in all my water. Even when hiking or running. It’s an easy way to add an extra boost to help out my systems. Breath. Taking slow deep breaths helps two-fold. It helps kick in your parasympathetic nervous system (relax, digest, heal) and also gives your body a good dose of clean oxygen, which is required for cellular function. Practice stretching, yoga, and yes, even mediation will do the same job. A short note on meditation: you don’t have to sit facing a wall for hours every day to get the benefits (though, that can be pretty amazing, if you can work up to that level). An easy entry into mediation, I’ve found, is to find a yoga studio, ask instructors if they offer ‘guided’ mediation. Even just learning a few tools (mental exercises) to do before going to bed at night or to start the day off can be a huge help in relieve stress and balance blood pH levels.

2. Remove the processed foods and alcohol from your diet, eat whole foods. Stay clear of alcohol (no brainer), drugs (again, a no brainer), corn, high weekly servings of red meat, refined sugar, wheat (yes, even whole wheat, which has a higher glycemic index than a snickers bar). Remove major stress triggers from you life, if you can.

Be healthy, very healthy, feel good, feel energized. Start by adding a few foods or practices into your daily routine. Start with small steps so you’re not overwhelmed, such as lemon juice in your water or tea, taking a minute at the desk, or during your day to take a few deep breaths.

Here’s a picture of a cucumber, lemon, celery, and parsley juice I made. I am not used to this level of bitter/tart (yes, you can ‘build up’ to tastes), so I watered it down. Next time I will only use half a lemon and maybe a sweet fruit, i.e., pear or an apple.

Help heal (aka ‘detox’) your body with food.

Live long, feel strong salad

Yesterday’s salad was 80% from my garden. It is exciting to be able to grab the scissors and basket and step out the door, snip, snip, snip, rinse, and eat! I found myself deconstructing my salad for a number of curious fellow lunch goers (it also made for an attractive combination of good food). “I didn’t know you could eat wild rice uncooked!” Yep, sure can. It’s a seed, not a grain. Soak it to soften it up, about 3 days or so, changing the water each day, in the fridge. Not cooking it also preserves many nutrients and enzymes. The more processed a food, the less the bioavailable nutrients and the more trouble can occur in our bodies from the end-processed ‘food’ product. One friend said they love, love to eat salads and could eat them every day. I responded, “you should!” She looked almost shocked, “really? Well I guess I could!” Huh, well now, there’s a good idea.

Edible landscape

This salad is absolutely packed, PACKED full of good nutrients, i.e., vitamin A, K, E, C, omega 3 fatty acids, phytonutrients, fiber, energy, and all bioavailable. Your skin, cells, whole body will thank you for these goodies. It is a gorgeous, tasty live long, feel strong nutrient dense salad.

For quantities, it really is to taste. I used a couple handfuls of the greens, and one serving of salmon.

  • Salmon, wild caught grilled
  • Spinach
  • Red chard
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Butter crunch lettuce
  • 1c—½c chopped cucumber
  • ½ avocado
  • 2-3T soaked/drained wild rice
  • 1-2T dried unsweetened sour cherries
  • 2T Bragg’s Olive oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic and ginger (that’s it, no sugar, no added nothing, and It’s delicious!) dressing.

Eat with chopsticks to enjoy longer, allow for better digestion and chewing (which also aids digestion by creating more saliva that is rich with enzymes – and makes a ‘sweeter’ taste).

  • Desert: dates (good source of potassium)
  • Drink: ginger kombucha (great source of probiotics and B vitamins)

Combined, the meal is packed with probiotics, whole foods, good fats, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, energy, and all bioavailable, it is a live long, feel strong nutrient dense salad.

Chicken Lime Cilantro Soup

It was a cold rainy day (a rarity here in Sunny Denver) and I was craving soup. And I had just finished about half a dozen books on various forms of body typing, metabolic typing, hormones, fat cells, and nutritional support for improving any conditions therein. The result: chicken lime cilantro soup. Makes 2-3 servings.

Cut into bite sized pieces and marinate 1 (2 halves) chicken breast (of course it’s free range, grass fed, locally raised) in fresh lime juice with a touch of cayenne pepper. Grill.

Soup, simmer the following ingredients together until onion is soft:

  • 2-3 cups vegetable (or chicken stock) in a pot.
  • handful of mushrooms
  • apple cider vinegar (preferably Braggs raw), about 1/4 cup (to taste)
  • fresh ground pepper
  • dash of sea salt
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1T turmeric
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
Toppings
  • cilantro
  • chives

1/2 avocado (per serving)

Place avocado in bowl, sprinkle with lime juice, add grilled chicken, spoon soup over. Eat.

For leftovers, I heated up the soup with the chicken and added spinach when: highly recommend.

Nutrients

  • Chicken: tryptophan, vitamin B3, protein, selenium, vitamin B6, phosphorus, choline. Getting protein with every meal helps support neurotransmistters (healthy brain chemicals) and helps maintain blood sugar levels.
  • Avocado: fiber, vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, vitamin B5, potassium, vitamin B6, plus some serious anti-inflammatory properties, cellular support, omega 3 fatty acids: GOOD STUFF!
  • Mushrooms (crimini): selenium, vitamin B2, copper, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, choline, protein, folate; unique immune system support, reduces risks of hormone-dependent breast cancer, and so much more!
  • Onions: vitamin C, fiber, molybdenum, manganese, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, tryptophan; a lot of research pointing to the mighty onion as having cardiovascular benefits (avocado too), supporting bone and connective tissue.
  • Cilantro: Such a sweet little plant that packs a hellofa nutritional punch. It contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C and E. I’ll spare you the science, but it’s also known as the ‘anti-diabetic’ plant, and for its anti-inflammatory benefits, and is also used for fighting high cholesterol (LDL/triglycerides).
  • Apple cider vinegar: it has antiseptic property, which helps deter the growth of unwanted bacteria and yeasts in the digestive track; it can increase stomach acidity (the good kind) and improve digestion and nutrient absorption.
  • Turmeric. Suffice it to say it’s an AMAZING spice. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and has been used in medicine, ancient to present, for a large variety of conditions (jaundice, menstrual difficulties, bloody urine, hemorrhage, toothache, bruises, chest pain, colic, gas, muscle repair). My favorite turmeric story so far is from a long distance African runner. His recovery drink after long runs was a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, small dash of salt, and 1-2 tablespoons of turmeric. Beauty.

Enjoy!

Green smoothie 101

What are they: blender creations of various vegetables and fruits. Don’t wrinkle your nose just yet. Give it a chance. I always, always feel better, workout better, eat better (throughout the day), and think more clearly when I’ve had my green smoothie in the morning.

What do they do: exponentially enhance health by providing bioavailable nutrients in an easily absorbable form. Our cells need nutrients to stay strong, pliable, and in order to do their jobs. Our cells keep us alive and thriving if we give them what they need (versus empty nutrients that harm and greatly hinder our sweet, extraordinarily hard working cells).

Increasing our green vegetable intake also raises the body’s alkalinity. The more alkaline we can make our bodies the greater our resistance (significantly) to disease, illness, cancer, colds, headaches (which I’ll be writing more about soon in a future post!).

Because the ingredients are also all ‘live, raw’ foods, there is an incredible amount of available enzymes (which are killed in the heating/cooking process), which are needed in every metabolic process of our bodies: digestion, muscle repair, thought, immune system functions, everything. Every chemical reaction in our bodies requires enzymes to happen. The more enzymes we provide through diet, the greater our machines will work; and the great our health, energy, and sense of wellness. HUZZAH!

Short form, what does this mean? Joints feel better, the ticker pumps better, blood vessels and arteries run smoothly, blood pressure will make your doc do a happy dance, and you’ll feel full of energy. GO GREEN! Assuming the junk in the diet is taken out (don’t worry, I’m still working on this myself).

Green? Yes! Green! How? You can use any veggie and/or fruit you have around. It’s great for finishing up extra veggies in the kitchen. Since these are going directly to your blood stream, vegetables are highly susceptible to chemicals as are our cells and body systems, so it’s always best to buy local, organic to get the cleanest nutrient packed vegetables possible (or better yet, grow them yourself). But at the end of the day, Wal-Mart produce is still better than no produce.

An important point for your green smoothies, try not to get stuck in habit of using the same ingredients every time. The variety will introduce new nutrients and facilitate better health. Be creative. Anything goes, and it’s all good!

Tip: put leafy greens in first with water (or coconut water, which also sweetens it up some), and then add in the more solid foods, it’ll make the blending process smoother.

Beginners. Green smoothies can take some getting used to. As of now, I can make mine pretty green, but still not as hard ass as some seasoned greenies. For beginners, I suggest more sweet fruits, less bitter greens to start with. Gradually add in more variety, experiment, see what you like, what you don’t. Here’s a list of milder veg/fruit that tend to be easier for the newbie greenie. If you start with just spinach in a blender with all fruit, you won’t even taste the spinach. It’s a great place to start. Eventually, for the nutritional and health benefits, you’ll need to branch out from the safe-in-spinach place and add more greens.

  • Cucumber
  • Spinach
  • Pear
  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Blueberries
  • Parsley
  • Coconut water
  • Avocado
  • Mint
  • Kiwi

For the more seasoned, or adventurous greenie:

  • Kale
  • Sprouts, these come in a wide variety of flavors, some are very spicy, others (broccoli, mung) are much more mild.
  • Celery
  • Wheat grass (definitely on the more adventurous side, can be bitter)
  • Any leafy green
  • Anything green
  • Ginger root
  • Cabbage
  • Cilantro
  • Dandelion
  • Bok choy
  • Swiss chard
  • You get the picture: anything

 Good luck, enjoy, and please let me know how it goes! 

Nutrients for Muscle Repair & Recovery

Being an athlete of sorts and seasoned in injuries, I’ve come to appreciate speedy recovery. There’s a million products out there for this type of injury. However, here is my approach, a holistic one, using real food. And, no, the answer is not too pile on the protein. Too much protein can stress your liver and strip calcium from your bones, leaving you with other issues to address.

The following nutrients will greatly assist in muscle recovery and repair and help control inflammation.

Copper, a mineral that assists muscle repair indirectly by maintain healthy blood vessels, which also supports good immune function. It is found in found in sunflower seeds, cashews, spelt, seafood, turnip greens, crimini mushrooms.

Zinc, a mineral directly involved in wound healing, tissue repair, and immune system function. Sources include seafood, sesame seeds, turkey, scallops, venison.

Vitamin A, an antioxidant that helps maintain tissues, i.e., skeletal muscles, bones, and mucus membranes. Good sources are dark leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, KALE, and eggs.

Vitamin B6, helps with protein synthesis, to repair muscle tissue. It can be found in tuna, salmon, venison, chicken, potatoes.

Vitamin C, a gold star antioxidant. It directly helps in tissue repair and growth throughout the body, as well as boosting the immune system and healing wounds. It can be found in fruits and vegetables such as brussel sprouts, turnip greens, grapefruit, mango, broccoli, kiwi, papaya, bell peppers, strawberries.

Meal idea? How about a salmon steak, roasted sweet potatoes, a mixed green salad with bell peppers, slivered almonds, and for desert strawberries and mango with some fresh whipped cream, and sprinkle of cinnamon.