Category Archives: Food & Cooking

Choosing Quality Food in the Modern Age

digestive-health-acupunctureShopping can be so difficult these days. We are told to look for labels like organic, local, grass-fed, gluten-free, extra virgin, free-range, wild-caught and free-trade. Between all of those demands, finding good quality food can be exhausting. Sometimes the search for suitable food is seemingly impossible and ultimately boils down to the choice between the lesser of two evils. In a world where food markets are mostly filled with cheap, poor quality food, it can feel like swimming upstream…

broccoli-thyroid-inhibiting-foodsBut before you give up and settle, I wanted to give you health conscious people some encouragement to continue to seek out the best possible food you can find. To give some context for this task, consider how difficult the task of finding good food was for our ancient ancestors. Wether we daydream about the lives of peoples 200 years or 2000 years ago, we can be certain that the search for food was much more difficult than it is today. In addition, the search likely took much more time each day. Imagine how challenging is to gather and identify a seasonal 4-leaf plant to make a bitter salad. Think of how many other plants look similar, have 4 leaves, but are actually poisonous. Picking the wrong plants could cause stomach pain or worse symptoms if you mistakenly eat it.
Wild mushrooms can also be hunted and gathered as a good source of protein. But hunting for mushrooms is notoriously difficult and can even be fatal. Most wild mushrooms are poisonous and the ones that are edible often look very similar to the ones that will kill you.
Lastly, there is hunting for fish and animals. Here, at least we can be relatively certain that most animals are safe to eat. But the matter of hunting them down is another undertaking. It could take a well-seasoned hunter all day to land some meat, and even then hunters often come home empty-handed.

cleansing-vegetables-santa-monicaI write all of this so that we can take a moment to think back to the trials of a more ancient way of life. A way of life where selecting and preparing food takes hours each day. Through this lens of food hardship in ancient times, it may make it a bit easier to take a minute to read the food label, choose gluten-free or spend the extra couple of dollars on wild-caught fish. With this in mind, it can be a joy to drive a few blocks further to shop at the organic market, instead for the regular big-chain supermarkets. With this in mind, it may be a bit easier to take the time to chop and prepare beautiful organic vegetables, instead of opting for some easy processed food. These small efforts are almost inconsequential compared to hiking up a mountain to find a small harvest of bitter greens or waiting behind a tree all day with spear.

So stick to your values and find the best quality foods available. Spend a few extra dollars for the organic. Make a trip to the local co-op or farmer’s market once a week. Talk to farmers, get informed, read the ingredients, or even better, purchase foods that don’t need ingredients (like spinach, for example). Get curious about new foods and notice how different foods make you feel both while eating them and for hours afterwards.

Wishing you endless fields fo organic, local, grass-fed, gluten-free, extra virgin, free-range and free-trade deliciousness! It is worth the effort.

Sleep and Insomnia – Natural Foods and Supplements

insomnia-acupunctureIf you are having difficulty getting good quality sleep, you are not alone in your search for rest. A variety of surveys report on average 10% of the American population struggle with sleep issues. From an natural view, there are so many helpful ways to improve both sleep quality and duration. There are options to try from food and supplements to exercise and mediation. Some people will only need to change 1 or 2 things in their life to improve sleep, while others will need to change as many habits as possible. In this post will focus on the food and nutrient side that supports restful sleep. In future posts I will cover some exercises and meditation techniques that can be useful.

I.) Foods for Improving Sleep:

While high stress remains the most common cause of insomnia, eating the wrong foods can be a major contributing factor and even make stress worse. The major problematic food classes include: sugar, caffeine, alcohol, gluten and poor quality fats (industrial seed oils). Therefore, removing some of these problematic foods and improving diet overall is an important first step toward towards more restful sleep. After removing problematic foods, start adding nutrient rich foods such as:

a.) Almonds:

A rich source of Magnesium, almonds are one of the best foods for treating insomnia. Found in food and supplement form, Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxing mineral and also works to calm the central nervous system. The Journal of Research in Medical Sciences (12/2012) published a study which found that magnesium can “improve subjective measures of insomnia, such as ISI score, sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, early morning awakening, and likewise, insomnia objective measures, such as concentration of serum renin, melatonin and serum cortisol, in elderly people.”

b.) Cherries:

Cherries and especially products made from tart cherry juice have been linked to improved sleep. Some studies have shown that tart cherry juice concentrate can help to raise total melatonin levels, which are critical to deeper quality.

c.) Bananas:

Banana is well-known for boosting energy, but it also supplies many of the nutrients critical for sleep. Rich in magnesium, potassium and tryptophan, bananas contain the “magic trio” of sleep helpers. The amino acid Tryptophan is especially effective since it is a critical precursor to the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin (both are needed for sleep).

II.) Supplements for Insomnia

Below is a list of supplements shown to be helpful for insomnia. Dosages will depend on the individual, and ideally, should be based on the advice of a health care professional.

a.) Magnesium (glycinate or malate) – 200-600 mg/day.

b.) Passion Flower Extract – Taken as a liquid extract or capsule – passion flower can enhance GABA production to produce a calming effect

c.) L-theanine is a relaxing amino acid found in green tea, also available as a supplement. Clinical studies have shown L-theanine to induce a sense of calm in patients with anxiety. At typical dosages (100-200 mg) L-theanine does not act as a sedative, but it does significantly improve sleep quality. Hence it is a good support agent to melatonin and other supplements.

d.) Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is the most popular herbal sedative. Several double-blind clinical studies have substantiated valerian’s ability to improve sleep quality and relieve insomnia. In fact, it has shown effectiveness equal to benzodiazepines. The advantage of valerian is that it does not cause daytime sleepiness, diminished concentration or impairment of physical performance. The dosage for the standardized valerian extract (0.8% valerenic acid content) is 150-300 mg 45 minutes before bedtime.

e.) Other Supplement Options:
-GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid)
-Phosphatidylserine (PS)
-Melatonin

Healthy Fats & the Paleo Diet

There are so many health advantages to eating more good quality fats, getting fewer calories from carbohydrates, and moving towards a vegetable-based diet. The principles here are commonly referred to as the “Paleo diet”, a food plan where there is a conscious shift away from whole grains and legumes.  As with all food choices, quality is important when choosing fats and oils, so make sure to choose the right types and also the freshest packaging to avoid rancid oils.

Below are some reasons that fats can be so beneficial:

1.) Satisfaction: fats are digested quite slowly when compared to carbs or protein. Because the digestive process takes longer to metabolize fat, you stay satisfied longer. During this process, fat in the stomach triggers the release of satiety hormones that tell your brain that it can pause the hunger signaling process.

2.) Energy: fats are efficient energy and a more sustained source of energy than carbohydrates. The brain can adapt to run in a much higher performance state when fat ketones become available as a energy source.

3.) Fat-soluble Vitamins: Essential vitamins A, D, E and K cannot be absorbed without having fat present in the diet. For example, eating steamed vegetables or salad without any fat source means these fat-soluble vitamins from the vegetables cannot effectively be absorbed.

4.) Cell Health: Fats play a structural role forming the membrane of every cell in the body. This cell membrane is made up of phospholipids which are about 1/2 saturated fat, when in optimal health.

5.) Fat-soluble Nutrients: Fat-based lipoproteins are used in the body to transport fat, cholesterol, vitamins E and K in the blood. These lipoproteins carry essential nutrients to cells and organs where they are needed for life functions.

6.) Protection: Although it sounds simple, it is important to have a fat layer to protect and support our organs and additionally to prevent skin wrinkling and dehydration.

7.) Anti-inflammatory Effects: Omega-3 fats, such as EPA and DHA have been shown in countless studies to have an anti-inflammatory effect.

8.) Anti-microbial: Certain types of fat, including lauric and caprylic acid, actually help kill bacteria, viruses and fungal overgrowth. These types of fat can be found in coconut oil and palm kernel oil.

9.) Blood Sugar: Getting a dose of fat along with carbohydrate at meals helps to stabilize the blood sugar as the carbohydrate is digested.  The presence of fat allows for a slow release of glucose (blood sugar) into circulation.

9.) Taste: Last, but not least, fats make everything taste better. Bland veggies can be transformed into buttery deliciousness. With the addition of nourishing fats, a healthy diet is easy to follow because it becomes more satisfying and enjoyable. Children may actually eat their Brussels sprouts when served with coconut oil, ghee or butter.

With all the good reasons to eat healthy fats, you may be wondering, what are the best sources of fat? Below is a list to get you started.

Best Oils:
Avocado Oil
Butter (grass-fed)
Cacao butter
Coconut oil
Ghee (clarified butter)
Macadamia Oil
MCT Oil (coconut oil extract)
Olive oil

Second-Best Oils:
Cream (dairy)
Duck fat
Lard
Palm oil
Schmaltz (chicken fat)
Suet
Tallow

High-Fat Foods:
Almonds
Avocado
Beef (grass-fed)
Chia seeds
Coconut meat and milk
Egg yolks (pastured)
Fish (cold water, fatty fish)
Hazelnuts
Macadamia nuts
Olives
Pecans
Pistachios
Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Sunflower seeds
Walnuts

Processed Fats to Avoid:

soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, margarine and other spreads, shortenings or hydrogenated oils, commercial mayonnaise and salad dressings.

Tips on getting fat at each meal:
1.) Choose fatty cuts of grass-fed or pastured meats. However, avoid high fat cuts of conventionally raised meats because of their high pro-inflammatory omega-6 content.
2.) Eat pastured eggs regularly (with the yolks).
3.) Using generous amounts of ghee, lard from grass-fed cows or coconut oil to cook food (or add after cooking).
4.) Add butter or ghee to vegetables.
5.) Add avocado to salads.
6.) Include bones and bone marrow when making stews.
7.) Prepare curries with coconut milk or coconut cream.
8.) Eat bacon (ideally nitrate-free and from pastured pigs or wild boar).
9.) Dip foods in homemade mayo (made at home with healthy oils) or guacamole.
10.) Add extra virgin olive oil, macadamia oil or homemade salad dressings made with healthy fats.

Note: If your gallbladder function is impaired or if you were previously eating a low-fat diet, gradually increase fat intake. Over time, the digestive system will adjust by secreting adequate amounts of digestive enzymes and bile. In some cases, people will benefit from digestive enzymes and/or ox bile to facilitate fat digestion.

Foods for Glowing Skin

Want glowing skin? Get the glow back by eating foods that make skin cells radiant from the inside. Eating plenty of “good fats” during the dry winter months can be especially helpful to nourish the skin from the inside and maintain moisture.
Below is a short list of the best skin nourishing foods:

1.) Cucumber: One of the most alkaline foods on the planet, cucumber is fantastic as a cleansing aid. The skin of cucumber contains lots of silicon and a variety of other “green” nutrients. Choose organic to avoid pesticides.

2.) Hemp Seed: Help is a complete nutrient food – containing all 9 essential amino acids. It is one of the best vegetarian protein sources and high in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and minerals. You can buy help seeds raw or purchase a hemp protein powder to add to smoothies.

3.) Coconut & Coconut Oil: Full of healthy saturated fat, coconut contains lots of antioxidants and has been show to help control blood sugar levels. In addition, coconut can boost thyroid health and help in skin repair. Coconut can be eaten straight, used for cooking, or blended into smoothies and even used topically on the face and body.

4.) Avocado: Full of the “good fats” and high in vitamins and minerals, the nutrients in avocados are especially beneficial for skin glow. Some of the nutritional power-houses found under the peel include: vitamins E, C, K, B6, selenium, zinc, folate, potassium, beta-carotene and healthy fats.

5.) Olives & Olive Oil: Get lots of vitamin E in your olive oil; This fat-soluble vitamin is well known as a source of beauty that helps the skin by rebuilding connective tissues. Olives are full of vitamins, minerals and mono-unsaturated fats that work together to keep the skin moist and smooth, especially during the dry winter season.

6.) Arugula & Spinach: Greens are great to alkalize the body and provide nutrients such as vitamin A & sulfur. The nutrients in these super-greens can help protect skin from oxidizing sun damage. Acne is often improved by adding vitamin A, as are other skin conditions.

Eat the Yolk!

It amazes me that people still eat egg white omelets.  I guess everyone isn’t yet aware that the low-fat diet didn’t work… and that cholesterol does not actually cause heart disease.  Egg yolks have so much to offer when it comes to health. Starting your day with whole eggs can help regulate blood sugar, so it is more likely that you will make good food choices throughout the day.  In addition, eating eggs anytime of day can help with weight management because eggs are an easy way to get satisfying protein and healthy fats into the diet. Always buy the best eggs you can afford preferably from organic, pastured chickens that do not eat soy (note that most organic eggs are from soy-feed chickens).

1. Egg yolks are a good source of  the essential mineral chromium which helps to maintain proper blood sugar levels, lower body weight, increase lean body mass, reduce triglycerides and cholesterol. (Murray,2005). Eating just two 2 eggs yolks provides nearly 400 mcg of chromium which is double the suggested amount needed per day. (Murray,1996)

2. Whole eggs are an excellent source of Vitamin K which is vital for strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. (Murray,2005)

3. A whole egg only has 65 calories 5.3 grams of fat, only 1.3 grams is saturated. One egg also has 6 grams of protein.(Murray,2005) Saturated fat is good for you but if you think it isn’t maybe this will convince you.

4. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who eat four whole eggs per week had lower cholesterol than people who ate just one egg per week. (Murray,2005). Our hormones are made from cholesterol and it is a healing substance. Read more about the powerful benefits of cholesterol here.

5. Eggs yolks are rich in choline which is vital for healthy brain function. Choline has been shown be to be crucial for helping to prevent depression and Alzheimer’s.(Murray,1996) Whole Eggs are a good source of Vitamin B-12 and Folate which work together to protect the brain from degeneration and produce healthy red blood cells. (Murray,2005)

6. People who ate eggs rich in choline have 20% lower levels of inflammation than those who do not get enough choline. (whfoods.com,2010)

7. In a study of obese people lasting 8 weeks whole egg eaters lost double the weight of people who ate bagels for breakfast. They also lost 80% more inches and had more reported having more energy. (whfoods.com,2010)

8. Eggs rich in choline are important for heart health because choline regulates homocysteine which in excess can damage blood vessels. (whfoods.com,2010)

9. In another study children who ate eggs everyday for two months improved their LDL particle size which reduces their risk of heart disease. (whfoods.com,2010)

10. Egg yolks are a good source of Vitamin D and selenium  both of which can help prevent breast and colon cancer. (Murray,1996)

Stress-Calming Foods – Naturally

Yes, food effects the way you feel!  This is especially true when it comes to managing stress and mood.  Refined sugars and carbohydrates will give a short-term high and then bring the inevitable long-term low in a matter of hours. This blood sugar roller coaster can influence so many aspects of performance including concentration, mood, energy and sleep.

When it comes to stress and mood, sugar metabolism is not the only factor at-play.  Nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, are essential for adapting to stress.  These nutrients are best absorbed through food sources – taken in the way that we were meant to absorb them.  Here are some great stress-lowering food choices:

Spinach contains plenty of Magnesium which helps to relax nerves and muscles.  Magnesium, along with hydration, also helps prevent muscle tension, muscle cramping and fatigue. Spinach is a magnesium powerhouse, and also a good source of Vitamins A, C, Iron and Folate (B9). Buy organic spinach because the conventionally grown version is relatively high in pesticides.
* Other foods high in Magnesium: halibut, basil, pumpkin seeds and peppermint.

Basil contains anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial for a variety of inflammatory conditions – from tendonitis to IBS. Boost the taste of your food by adding fresh basil leaves and you get a dose of iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium and vitamin C.  Add basil near the end of the cooking to preserve most of its natural flavor.
* Other herbs that reduce stress: Lemon balm and chamomile.

Dark chocolate contains Tryptophan – an essential amino acid which is used by the body to create serotonin, a neuro-chemical that relaxes the brain and make you feel at-ease.  In addition, dark chocolate, contains heart-boosting antioxidants.  Choose a chocolate that is high in cocoa solid but low in sugar to get the maximum health benefit.
* Other foods high in Tryptophan: almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, nuts, oats and red meat.

Brazil nuts are high in Selenium.  A deficiency in selenium has been linked to higher rates of anxiety, depression and generalized fatigue. Selenium is only needed in small quantities.  Just a handful of mixed nuts, or 2 Brazil nuts each day will be enough to keep you feeling good.
* Other foods high in selenium: shitake mushrooms, tuna, cod, salmon.

Broccoli has a good dose of potassium.  Lower potassium levels in the blood can cause muscle fatigue and generalized fatigue can make you feel irritable and anxious. Broccoli is also high in beta-carotene, vitamin C and E which all work together to strengthen immune system.
* Other sources of potassium include: avocado, beet greens, banana, kale, cabbage, winter squash, and tomatoes.

Green Tea is a great source of L-theanine.  L-theanine is a naturally occuring amino acid mainly found in tea leaves.  Recent research has shown that this substance reduces stress, promotes relaxation and enhances mood by stimulating alpha brain waves (a calmer and more relaxed state).  In addition, green tea has been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, reduces blood pressure and promotes weight loss.
* Black tea and oolong tea also contain L-theanine and some of the anti-oxidizing properties found in green tea.

Kiwi and other fruits contain Vitamin C.  The human brain needs adequate amounts of vitamin C to convert tryptophan into serotonin. In fact, the brain has a specialized Vitamin C pump that pulls this vitamin out of the blood and pushes it into the brain.
* Other vitamin C-rich fruits include: strawberries, papaya, orange, grapefruit and guava.

Lastly, be sure to stay clear from moldy grains and legumes which contain some highly toxic, cancer-causing fungi.  Mold and fungus from grains and other improperly stored foods can quickly make you feel bad, causing symptoms like headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, etc.

Natural Mood Enhancers

Feeling good is all about chemistry.  Studies show that taking specific nutrients can enhance mood. The benefits of these suggestions below will likely be greater when you combine them with a good diet, a bit of exercise and more time in the sun (see Vitamin D, below):

  • Vitamin B-12 & L-Tyrosine (taken together) – The amino acid L-tyrosine is a building block of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, which contributes to positive moods.  This effect if amplified with the addition of B-12 helps create neurotransmitters that influence your mood and sleep.
  • Vitamin B Complex – As a general function, B vitamins help convert protein building blocks into functional neurotransmitters;  In addition, they are involved with creating usable energy from carbohydrates. Vitamins B-3 (niacin) and B-6 (pyridoxine) have the most effect on mood.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – The active components of fish oil are EPA and DHA. These fatty acids have been shown to support brain development and a positive mood.  Part of this effect is accomplished by  helping in the development of neurotransmitters and increasing the health of brain cell membranes, which all facilitates communication between cells.
  • SAMe – This natural compound which may help produce serotonin and other neurotransmitters. It also helps neurotransmitters work better, leading to healthier moods.
  • Vitamin D – New research shows that low levels of vitamin D may play a role in mood health, especially during the shorter days of fall and winter.  Not to mention that Vitamin D is also essential for proper immune function.

Pain Relief – Food as Medicine

With so many Americans in chronic pain, it only makes sense to consider foods that are helpful in reducing inflammation and pain.  Below is a list wholesome pain-relieving foods that are also delicious:

1. Cherries – studies have found that tart cherry extract is 10 times more effective than aspirin at relieving inflammation. Only two tablespoons of concentrated juice need to be taken each day daily for effective results. Sweet cherries have also been found to be effective.

2. Berries – A variety of anti-oxidants and anti-pain compounds are found in berries like blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries

3. Celery and Celery Seeds – The book “Green Pharmacy”, lists more than 20 anti-inflammatory compounds in celery and celery seeds, including a substance called apigenin, which is powerful in its anti-inflammatory action. Celery seeds can be added to soups, stews or as a salt substitute in many recipes.

4. Ginger – Ginger has been shown to reduce pain-causing prostaglandin levels in the body and has been widely used in India to treat pain and inflammation. Multiple studies by Indian researchers found that ginger is an effective treatment for muscular pain. The recommended dosage of ginger is between 500 and 1,000 milligrams per day.

5. Turmeric – Turmeric (curcuma longa) the common orange/yellow spice has been shown to be a more effective anti-inflammatory than steroid medications when dealing with acute inflammation. Its main therapeutic ingredient is curcumin. Research shows that curcumin suppresses pain through a similar mechanism as drugs like COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitors (without the harmful side effects).  Dose a standardized extract with 1500 mg of curcumin content per day.

6. Omega-3s Fatty Acids – Many fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and herring contain Omega-3 oils.  These oils convert in the body into hormone-like substances that decrease inflammation and pain. According to the National Institute of Health, fish oil is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Fish oil acts directly on the immune system by suppressing 40 to 55 percent of the release of cytokines, compounds known to destroy joints. Many other studies also demonstrate that eating moderate amounts of fish or taking fish oil reduces pain and inflammation, particularly for arthritis sufferers.

If you are looking for additional help reducing pain, here are a few options:*

  • Proteolytic Enzymes
  • Vitamin D if your blood levels are low
  • Boswellia (Frankincense)
  • MSM, Glucosamine & Chondroitin
  • White Willow Bark (for short-term use)

* Discuss taking any supplements with your doctor before making any changes.

Treating Joint Pain with Anti-inflammatory Foods

Many factors can lead to chronic joint pain. More often than not, the root cause is systemic inflammation, not old age. The pain that you experience is your body’s way of telling you that it’s irritated and needs some help. So instead of brushing it off or tuning it out with a pill or two, take the time to listen. One way to address the condition is to group foods as “Inflammatory Hot foods” vs “Anti-inflammatory Cooling foods”.  A summary of these food categories is given below:

Inflammatory Hot Foods – Avoid These:

  • Fried foods
  • Red meat from corn-fed animals raised with antibiotics and/or hormones
  • Partially hydrogenated (trans) fats (found in margarine, chips, processed baked goods)
  • Saturated fats (e.g., animal fats such as butter and lard)
  • Corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil or soy-based oils
  • Soft drinks, including both diet and regular soda and fruit juices
  • All forms of sugar, including natural and refined
  • White flour and other processed grains
  • Most fast-food and prepackaged meals

Anti-Inflammatory Cooling Foods – Eat More of These:

  • Dark green vegetables (including spinach, kale, and seaweed)
  • Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as vitamin C and E supplements
  • Raw nuts and seeds (including almonds, pecans, and walnuts)
  • Omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and anchovies (or supplements containing EPA/DHA)
  • Cold-pressed oils such as virgin olive, macadamia nut, grapeseed, and avocado
  • Soups made with free-range poultry or meat bones
  • Limited amounts of gluten-free whole grains, especially amaranth, millet, and quinoa

Good Skin, Bad Skin, Part 2

Want bad skin?  I didn’t think so… What you leave off your plate is sometimes just as important as the food you’re putting on it.   Below are 3 food classes that will slowly diminish the glow of your skin:

  1. Sugar – Sweets and refined carbs raise glucose levels, which increases advanced glycation end products, which in turn interferes with the repair of collagen and elastin, a protein that allows skin to retain its shape.
  2. Saturated Fat – Found in marbled meats and full-fat dairy products, saturated fats may make you look older. Experts say that eating a lot of saturated fat can induce skin-aging inflammation.
  3. Alcohol – With the exception of resveratrol-delivering red wine, alcohol can take a toll on your skin. It dries out skin and when metabolized in the liver, it creates skin’s enemy: free radicals.
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