Category Archives: Blog

Chocolate Chip Quinoa Snack Bars

IMG_1143In my never ending quest for new snack options for my boys, I have tried some strange combinations.  It can be so hard to find something they like that is not loaded with sugar or additives.  Making my own snacks can be a good option but I don’t always have the time for complicated recipes.  I was so happy when I saw this recipe for Quinoa Bars from My Whole Foods Life .  It was easy and had very few but yummy ingredients.  I love quinoa- every cup has 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber and is a good source of manganese, magnesium, folate, phosphorous and B vitamins.  It is a gluten free seed with some serious nutrition!  I had never tried quinoa flakes before so was curious to see what they were like.  I bought Ancient Harvest Quinoa Flakes.  They were so nutty and yummy that I used them again this am in some chia seed pudding.  I could see a lot of uses for them!

I wanted to make a few tweaks to the recipe but pretty much left it as it was designed.  I decided to add some chocolate chips to these bars to entice my boys to eat them.  I really like Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips because they taste like regular chocolate chips but are gluten, soy and dairy free- so yummy!  Finally, I had a weird assortment of nut butters that I cobbled together because I didn’t have much of any particular type.  I used  Mara Natha All Natural Roasted Almond Butter, Maranatha Cashew Butter and a tiny bit of a local pumpkin seed butter.

The recipe from My Whole Foods Life was for raw bars but I wanted to try to bake them to see if I could get them to hold together better.  (I often find my raw bars tend to be crumbly.)  I wasn’t sure if it would help but decided to give it a shot.

IMG_1142

Chocolate Chip Quinoa Snack Bars

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups quinoa flakes
  • 1 heaping cup almond butter (I used a combination of almond, cashew and pumpkin)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup (you could substitute honey)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup of chocolate chips
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place quinoa flakes in bowl with cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Heat nut butters, syrup, coconut oil and vanilla over low fire until well combined.
  4. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients.
  5. Add chocolate chips. They will melt if you don't allow the dough to cool. I like them melted so didn't cool the dough.
  6. Spread dough in 8X8 parchment lined pan.
  7. Press down firmly to compress the dough.
  8. Place in oven for 20-25 minutes depending on your oven.
  9. Allow to cool and then enjoy.
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Rest and Digest for Health

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I am so happy to have Kim Magraw, LMT, from Concordia Wellness, share his ideas about the importance of balance in your life.

Balance is a key to health.  We have balancing mechanisms for digestion, immunity, growth, and to keep us from toppling on our way down the stairs.  One of our most fundamental balancing mechanisms is the dyad known as sympathetic and parasympathetic.  These are the divisions of the autonomic – or involuntary – nervous system that determine whether we are ready to act quickly and decisively in the face of threats and opportunities (sympathetic nervous system), or relax, digest, and recover from bouts of activity (parasympathetic nervous system).

A glance at the masses hurriedly driving to and fro, from one chore to another, tells us that the sympathetic state is the dominant state for most of us.  We run from one activity to the next, getting too little sleep, with anxiety spilling over the brim.

To maintain health and happiness over the long term we must also spend time in the parasympathetic state, which is also known as the “rest and digest” state because it activates digestion and is characterized by lower blood pressure and slower heart rate.  We can have a designer workout routine and eat only the best foods available, but if we’re stressed to the max we won’t maximize their benefits, and ultimately the stress will catch up with us.  When we allow the parasympathetic nervous system to enter our lives more fully we invite greater bodily health and wellbeing.  A surprising array of benefits arises such as creativity, calm, solutions to sticky problems, and perspective.

Once we’ve got our minds set, it’s quite simple to dwell more in the parasympathetic state.  For example, during your meals chew your food fully and eat mindfully.  Allow your body to really taste the flavors, feel the textures, and absorb the nutrients in your food.  You might also get a massage, soak in a warm bath, engage in focused breathing exercises, or meditate.  Spend quality time with your pet (put down that mobile device and experience the world with your pet).  Take a slow walk in nature or around your block simply absorbing the sights, sounds, smells, and the feeling of the ground beneath your feet.  Read a “mindless” book or do some artwork with no intent other than to see what comes out.

Finally, as we seek more balance, let us be forgiving of ourselves.  Indeed, forgiveness is another wonderful way to free ourselves from the fight-or-flight vortex.  Balance requires frequent correction, so let us correct with empathy, curiosity, and humor.

Photos from Kool Cats Photography under the Creative Commons license.  Text added by me.

 

 

 

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Love Your Liver in the New Year

8981828144_66cb4568a1_kAfter the holiday season of eating and partying with friends and family, a return to healthy eating is probably just what the doctor ordered!  The extra alcohol, sugar and processed foods consumed during this time of year leaves many of us feeling tired, run down, bloated and out of sorts.  It also seriously taxes our livers, our main organ of detoxification.  Our liver filters our blood, regulates blood sugar and cholesterol, produces bile to breakdown fat and stores iron, glucose for energy and Vitamins A, D, K and B12.  Adding liver supporting foods at this time of the year can help your body recover from all of the holiday fun.  Some suggestions for beneficial liver foods include:

  • Beets:  The fiber in beets increases the production of antioxidant enzymes in the liver, helping the body to eliminate bile and other toxic substances.  The phyto nutrient, betalain, found in beets, provides anti- inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
  • Cruciferous vegetables:  Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage are high in antioxidant properties.  These vegetables have strong anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • Lentil and beans:  These nutritional powerhouses provide fiber to keep your bowels moving and help stabilize your blood sugar.  Regular elimination is important because it removes toxins and waste from the body.  Ideally, you will poop 1-3 times a day.  If you are not pooping daily, your body begins to reabsorb all the waste and toxins in the poop, forcing your liver to reprocess these substances.  This increases the liver’s work load.
  • Warming spices:  Warming spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, fennel, cumin and ginger have amazing anti-inflammatory properties, make food taste better, increase the warming properties of foods, help our bodies digest fat and enhance the body’s ability to detox.
  • Bitter greens:  Whether consumed as a tea, eaten in a salad or sauteed over heat, greens such as dandelion, mustard, collards, endive and beet greens help activate the production of bile, necessary for fat digestion.   Greens contain high levels of sulfur, which supports your liver in its detoxification process, signaling it to process free radicals and other toxic chemicals.

Now that the holiday festivities are over, adding these foods to your diet will give your liver a little love so you can enjoy a healthy and vibrant 2015.

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Chocolate Apricot Seed Balls

Balls all ready for snacking.

Balls all ready for snacking.

As I continue on my real foods journey, I find one of the aspects I struggle the most with is finding good quality, quick snacks.  My kids are still stuck in the “it has to be in a box to qualify for a snack” mode.  It is incredibly disheartening to go to the store, read package labels and realize how much crap is in the food marketed to kids!  Even food under the “health halo” of  gluten free or organic is often loaded with sugar listed in different forms to disguise how much sugar is actually lurking.  IT DRIVES ME CRAZY!

I was recently wandering around the internet looking for new snack ideas when I stumble upon My Darling Lemon Thyme’ s recipe for Raw Apricot, Dark Chocolate and  Coconut  Bites .  These sounded amazingly yummy to me but I wondered about tweaking them a little bit to add some protein.  I am incredibly obsessed with chia and hemp seeds right now so I immediately thought about incorporating them.

I am use to using dates in many of my raw snacks so I was intrigued with the idea of trying apricots for a different taste.  I try to find unsulfured apricots because the preservatives tend to give me a headache and upset my stomach.  I bought  Dried APRICOTS here.  I know they look discolored and a little unappetizing but I promise they taste just as good as the sulfured ones! I eat Hemp Hearts  and Organic Raw Chia Seeds every day for breakfast so they were a natural addition to these balls.

Ingredients.

Ingredients.

Into the food processor everything went.

IMG_1106It was important to keep grinding and grinding to break down the apricots and to get a paste to form.  Be sure to scrape down the sides of the food processor as needed.  Gradually adding a little water also really helped the balls hold together.  Checkout all that seedy goodness in the photo down below.

Balls before going into the freezer.

Balls before going into the freezer.

I know these are not the most visually appealing snacks but they definitely taste better than they look!  The raw chocolate on these balls is so yummy and not too sweet!  It is amazing combined with the orange flavor from the zest.

IMG_1110

Chocolate Apricot Seed Balls

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsulfered apricots
  • 3/4 cup of coconut
  • 1/4 cup of chia seeds
  • 2 tbs of hemp seeds
  • 1 tbs of orange zest
  • 11/2 tbs of melted coconut oil
  • For Raw Chocolate
  • 3 tbs of melted coconut oil
  • 3 tbs of cacao powder
  • 2 tbs of maple syrup
  • pinch of sea salt

Instructions

  1. Place apricots, coconut, seeds, zest and 1 1/2 tbs of oil in the food processor.
  2. Grind until a paste forms and mixture holds together when rolled into a ball.
  3. (I added a little warm water to help this process along.)
  4. Roll into balls.
  5. Place balls in freezer for 10-15 minutes to firm up.
  6. While balls are freezing, mix ingredients for raw chocolate together.
  7. Remove balls from freezer and roll in the chocolate.
  8. (You can completely cover the balls or cover only half of them depending on your taste.)
  9. Enjoy immediately or store in fridge for later snacking.
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These balls turned out super yummy and I have been snacking on one or two of them a day for the last few days. Even though they are small, I find they give me sustained energy.   The boys also declared them a winner- which is great, but then I have to share them!  I would love to have readers share any of their snack ideas.

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Tips to Survive a Holiday Party

Holiday Party Treats.

Holiday Party Treats.

The Holiday season is upon us and for many of us with it comes parties, alcohol and a departure from our normal eating habits!  Why is it when it is on a beautiful tray, on a table filled with other treat laden beautiful trays does food I would never consider eating suddenly sound good?  (And if I have had a glass of wine, it doesn’t even have to be on a beautiful tray!)  Tonight, I am headed to my first Holiday party of the year and these are my ideas to avoid the usual mindless munching.

  • Eat before I go:  I am going to have a small, protein filled snack about an hour before I have to  leave for the party.  The protein will keep me full longer and keep me from reaching for high calorie foods just because I am starving.
  • Check out all options before filling my plate:  Before I take a plate, I am going to look at all the food options in the room and decide which ones will be the best choices.  This does not mean I will not have any “treats” but that I am going to decide which ones are really “special” and are worth the indulgence.  (Because really, what are the holidays without some “treats”!)
  • I am going to fill my plate with healthy choices:  I plan to fill my plate with as many fruits,  vegetables and other  nutrient dense food like shrimp as I can.  I plan to skip the dips, cheeses, fried foods and other foods with a high calorie to nutrient ratio.  If my plate is full of nutrient dense food, there is less room for food that doesn’t nourish.
  • Alternate water with alcohol:  Between each glass of wine or cocktail that I drink, I plan to have a glass of water.  This will keep me hydrated.  Being hydrated slows down the consumption of alcohol,  decreases the likelihood of a hangover and helps me feel full longer.
  • Bring a healthy appetizer to share:  I plan to bring a healthy appetizer to share.  This will be my contribution to the party and gives me something I know that I want to eat.

These are my suggestions for having a sane and healthy Holiday party season.  I would love to hear about yours.

Photo by Oakley Originals under Creative Commons.

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Help for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder

Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the “Winter Blues” is thought to be a  subset of Major Depressive Disorder in which a person experiences a decreased mood related to the change in seasons.  SAD begins and ends at about the same time every year. Most people with SAD begin experiencing symptoms in the fall which continue into the winter months.  People who suffer from SAD often report a decrease in energy and increased feelings of moodiness. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer, often leading to different symptoms than those of winter SAD.  In both types, SAD depressions are usually mild to moderate, but can occasionally be more severe. Treatment needs to be appropriate to the severity of the condition for each individual. Personal safety should be the first consideration in the assessment of all depression, as suicide or self harm can be a risk for people experiencing more severe depressive symptoms.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

In both summer and winter SAD, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.  Because SAD is thought to be a possible type of major depression, people experiencing SAD will often exhibit symptoms of major depression such as:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

People experiencing SAD in the winter usually report some of the symptoms below:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

People with summer SAD often exhibit a different set of symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Agitation or anxiety

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

Currently, the exact cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is unknown.  However, scientists believe it could be related to the decrease in sunlight we experience in the winter months.   In fact, people who live in the Northern climates which experience shorter days in the winter are more likely to suffer from SAD. The decrease in sunlight leads to a disruption in melatonin and serotonin, two brain chemicals which affect mood.  Other theories hold the decreased sunlight is responsible for a Vitamin D deficiency.  Currently, more research is needs.   Fortunately, effective treatments do exist for SAD.

Treatment:

  • Light Therapy:  Light therapy seems to be the most effective treatment for the Winter Blues.  Light therapy is obtained by sitting in front of a light box on a daily basis.  Light boxes or “happy lights” can be purchased for between $100-$200 and work by mimicking the patterns of summer light.  People experiencing SAD generally spend between 20-90 minutes a day sitting about 1-3 feet in front of the box with their eyes open.  Light therapy seems to be most effective if done in the morning hours.
  • Try to get outside every day.  Even if it is just for a few minutes, exposure to natural sunlight does seem to help alleviate SAD.  Morning sun seems to be best.
  • Exercise:  Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Not only does being fit make you feel better about yourself, it can also lead to a release of endorphins which will lift your mood.  Exercise outside is best but just moving your body in any way that is comfortable for you is important.
  • Fill Your Living Spaces with Natural Light:  Open your curtains and shutters.  Cut branches away from your windows.  Allow as much natural sunlight as possible into your home and workplace.

Nutritional Interventions:

  • Vitamin D:  Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because our body needs exposure to sunlight for its production.  These days, people are spending more time inside and even when they do go outside, are slathering themselves with sunscreen.  Both of these factors contribute to what many are calling a Vitamin D deficiency epidemic.  Supplementing with Vitamin D does seem to provide some relief for people experiencing SAD.  See your doctor to obtain a simple blood test to determine your Vitamin D level.  If your blood level is less than 50 ng/ml, consider talking to your doctor about Vitamin D supplementation.  Supplementing with Vitamin D can take months to reach normal levels.  Vitamin D3 is the most bioavailable form of Vitamin D.  It is difficult to reach adequate levels of Vitamin D through diet alone but some foods high in Vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, milk, tuna and eggs.
  • Eat foods containing tryptophan. Many who suffer from SAD experience decreased levels of serotonin, the brain’s “feel good” neurotransmitter.  Tryptophan is an amino acid known to be a precursor of serotonin.  Theory holds that eating tryptophan rich foods may help increase your body’s production of serotonin, leading to improved mood. Turkey is the richest food source of tryptophan but spinach, bananas, shrimp, crab, sesame seeds and egg whites are also other good sources.
  • Eat your Omega-3 fatty acids:  Some studies have shown that essential omega-3 fatty acids appear to help maintain healthy levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Cell membranes are partly made up of omega-3 fats.  Higher omega-3 levels in the body may make it easier for serotonin—a chemical that aids brain cells in communication—to pass through cell membranes.  Serotonin is known as “the feel good hormone” because it influences brain cells related to sexual function and desire, mood, appetite, sleep, memory and learning and some social behavior.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.  The brain releases dopamine in response to pleasurable experiences, such as eating or having sex.  The “more potent” forms of omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are best obtained through cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies and mackerel.  Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids include algae.  Flax, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and walnuts are all rich sources of ALA, the precursor to DHA and EPA.  Unfortunately, most people are very poor convertors of ALA to DHA and EPA so relying on seeds and nuts to meet your omega-3 needs may not be enough.
  • Mindful carb snacking:  Many people who experience the winter form of SAD report intense carb cravings.  Since eating carbs actually promotes the production of serotonin, scientists speculate these cravings might be the body’s attempt to make more serotonin.  However, eating the right kind of carbs is important.  Focus on eating complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans, peas, lentils and brown rice to avoid the sugar roller coaster ride that can come from eating simple carbs.  For most people, as few as 30 grams of carbs a day is enough to produce adequate serotonin.
  • Focus on gut health:  Having a healthy gut is necessary to overall health.  With over 80% of our serotonin being produced in the gut, ensuring your digestion is working at an optimal level is important.  A healthy gut also allows your body to make use of as many of the healthy nutrients you are providing it as possible.  Adding probiotics, fermented foods and chewing your food thoroughly are all important steps to a healthy digestive system.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and are having difficulty completing the necessary tasks of daily life or are experiencing feelings of self-harm,  contact your health care provider to establish a plan to help alleviate your symptoms.

Resources: Winter Blues by Norman Rosenthal

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Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie Pancakes

Finished pancakes about to be slathered with peanut butter.

Finished pancakes about to be slathered with peanut butter.

I love the Fall because it signals to me that I should start eating pumpkin again.  Now, I love just about any squash but there is something so yummy about pumpkin.  I also really love breakfast.  In fact, I think it is my most favorite meal of the day!  Imagine my delight when I can combine two things I love in one sitting- breakfast and pumpkin?  It doesn’t get much better than that!  That is why I love this recipe for Gluten Free Pumpkin Pancakes.  (I made this recipe with butter and eggs but it is really easy to convert to a vegan recipes by substituting coconut oil for the butter and flax eggs for the chicken eggs.)

These pancakes are amazing because they combine tons of different warming spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg- perfect to warm and nourish the body on these cold winter days.   These spices signal to me that the holidays are right around the corner!

Ground oats.

Ground oats.

I used my food processor to grind my oats to make the oat flour.  As you can see they still had some oat texture to them.  ( I found when I made subsequent batches that my Magic Bullet NutriBullet worked like a dream to produce really fine oat flour.)  You have to decide if you want your pancakes to have more texture to them or if you prefer a more traditional finely ground flour.  Also, if you have someone in your life with gluten issues, be sure your oats say gluten free on the package. Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Whole Grain Rolled Oats is an excellent brand.

We Ingredients.

Wet Ingredients.

I love the amazingly vibrant color of the wet ingredients in this photo.  You always hear about “Eating the rainbow” to maximize health.  When I  look at this picture, I can just imagine all the healthy beta carotene headed into my body with every bite of pancake!   Extremely high in fiber and low in calories, pumpkin is loaded with disease-fighting nutrients, including potassium, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and vitamins C and E.

Wet and dry ingredients together.

Wet and dry ingredients together.

Pancakes on the griddle.

Pancakes on the griddle.

Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 1 cups of gluten- free oats
  • zest of half lemon
  • 2 tbs of coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of ginger
  • 1/4 tsp of cloves
  • 1/4 tsp of nutmeg
  • 1 tbs of flax seed ground
  • 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/2 cup of milk (I used almond)
  • 2 tbs of butter or coconut oil
  • 2 eggs (could use flax eggs)

Instructions

  1. Place oats in food processor or NutriBullet to grind to flour.
  2. Mix all dry ingredients together.
  3. In seperate bowl, mix all wet ingredients including pumpkin.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.
  5. Stir well.
  6. Cook pancakes on well greased griddle or in a pan. Flipping only after first side is well browned.
  7. These are dense, thick pancakes so they take a little while to cook.
  8. Serve with maple syrup. (In my house, we add a generous dose of nut butter too!)
  9. Enjoy!
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This recipe adapted from Cookie and Kate.

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Boost Your Immunity For a Healthy Winter

Immunity Boosting Mushrooms.

Immunity Boosting Mushrooms.

Your immune system is your body’s natural defense system against foreign invaders like parasites, bacteria, viruses, microbes and toxins.  It is designed to differentiate the cells that make up your body and eliminate the ones that are foreign.   Your body uses an army of white blood cells to defend itself.   Macrophages, a type of white blood cell found in almost all cells of the body, are constantly patrolling your body, looking to destroy any germs as soon as they enter. These cells are considered your ‘natural’ or inborn immunity. However, if an infection begins to take hold, your body fights back with the more powerful, specialized T- and B-cells. These cells give you acquired immunity because they remember the germs that attacked you in the past, so that same germ can never make you as ill again.  Nourishing your immune system is very important for your overall health.

Foods to Boost Immunity

  1. Improve Your Gut Health:  Your gut is an important line of defense against foreign invaders.  It fights any food born bacteria or parasites.  Adding fermented foods and beverages like kombucha, kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut and fermented vegetables to your diet will improve your gut health.  Consider taking a daily probiotic, especially one containing lactobacillus reuteri which helps stimulate the white blood cells.
  2. Eat mushrooms:  Certain types of mushrooms such as emoki, reishi, shitake or oyster contain polysaccharides which help activate the immune system.  Each mushroom species has a unique arsenal of anti-infective and immunomodulating agents so consuming a variety of mushrooms is important.  Mushrooms have been studied for their cancer fighting abilities and are known to be antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic, and anti-tumor.
  3. Take care of your liver:  Your liver is your body’s main detoxification agent.  Ensure its health by eating cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage and broccoli. Asparagus, green tea, beets and leafy greens have also been found to promote liver health. Drinking a cup of dandelion tea will further support the liver.  Limiting exposure to toxic chemicals and alcohol will minimize the stress on your liver, ensuring its optimal functioning.
  4. Eat Oats and Barley:  One serving a day of oats and/or barley can be a boost to your immune system and is even thought to help with wound healing.  Beta-glucan, a fiber found in oats and barley, is anti-microbial and an anti-oxidant.
  5. Add ginger to your diet:  Ginger has traditionally been used to help treat nausea and vomiting.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is considered a warming spice which can contribute to sweating.  German researchers have found a substance in sweat that provides protection against invading microorganisms, including bacteria such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus (a common cause of skin infections), and fungi, including Candida albicans. Gingerols, the main active components in ginger, has been found to inhibit the growth of human colorectal cancer cells and to kill ovarian cancer cells.  Ginger tea may also be used to clear nose and throat congestion.
  6. Add garlic and onions to your food:  Both garlic and onions are members of the allium family of plants.  They contain allicin which has been shown to fight bacteria and infections.  Studies show that adding these plants to your diet decreases your likelihood of catching a cold.  Both garlic and onions are considered warming, pungent foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  Pungent foods promote circulation of energy and blood, sending energy out and up.  They stimulate digestion and help break down mucus.  Warming foods heat us up from the inside out.
  7. Add shellfish to your diet:  Oysters, lobster, crabs and clams are rich sources of selenium.  Selenium has been shown to help white blood cells make cytokines, proteins that can help clear the flu.  Two servings a week are recommended.  Also, eating just 1-2 Brazil Nuts a day is enough to meet your selenium requirements.
  8. Enjoy chicken soup:  Chicken soup blocks the migration of inflammatory white cells from accumulating in the bronchial tubes.  When chicken is cooked, it releases cysteine, an amino acid that chemically resembles actylcysteine, a bronchitis drug.  Also, the garlic, onions and spices help boost immunity.  The soup adds hydration to the body and the salt, steam and heat from the soup can help thin mucus, making it easier to expel.  It can also soothe irritated passageways in your nose and throat.
  9. Drink green and black tea:  Researchers believe tea’s benefits come from its high content of polyphenols and phytochemicals.  Not only will a warm cup of tea bring warmth into the body, it can help regulate blood sugar, aid in weight loss, fights cancer and may potentially prevent the onset or slow the progression of dementia.
  10. Eat Berries:  Berries are rich in Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables that may work as antioxidants and prevent injury to cells.  Eat a variety of different colored berries because their differences of colors signal the various immune boosting chemicals within. Blueberries, with their deep, rich blue color, are considered especially potent for boosting the immune system.

Supplements to Boost Immunity

  1. Zinc:  Zinc is known to play a key role in the immune system.  Research shows that zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system, from the barrier of the skin to gene regulation within lymphocytes. Zinc can also function as an anti-oxidant and it helps form white blood cells.  Good sources of zinc include beef, oysters, pork, poultry, yogurt, milk, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.  Aim for 8-11 mg/day.  Adults can take up to 40 mg/day from both food and supplements to fight colds but to minimize irritation to the stomach, take zinc with food. For the common cold, zinc lozenges should be started within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms. Continue taking the zinc lozenges every two to three hours until the symptoms are alleviated.  Zinc may interact with some medicines such as birth control pills and some antibiotics so check with your health care provider.
  2. Vitamin D:  A Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection.  Vitamin D seems to be important for activating the t-cells of the immune system.  Many people, particularly in northern climates or in the winter are suspected to have a Vitamin D deficiency.  A simple blood test by your doctor can determine your vitamin level.  It is difficult to reach adequate levels of Vitamin D with food alone so supplementation with Vitamin D3 may be necessary.  Food sources of Vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, milk, tuna and eggs.
  3. Vitamin A:  Vitamin A is important for maintaining healthy skin.  Skin needs to be healthy to repel all the pathogens and bacteria it comes in contact with.  Vitamin A also helps maintain mucosal surfaces by keeping your mucous membranes and skin properly nourished to function as a barrier against harmful viruses and bacteria.  Vitamin A deficiency is associated with increased response to common gastrointestinal and lung infections and poor responses to vaccines.  There is also evidence that in addition to its regulatory role, Vitamin A may help to stimulate the pro-inflammatory immune response to overcome infection.  Beta carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, may be found in orange vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, pumpkin and cantaloupe.  Men should get 3000 IU a day and women 2300 IU a day of vitamin A.
  4. Vitamin C:  The jury is still out on Vitamin C’s impact on the immune system. Many studies have looked at Vitamin C in general; unfortunately, many of them were not well designed. However, it is thought Vitamin C may work in conjunction with other micronutrients rather than providing benefits alone.  Vitamin C is considered a powerful antioxidant.  Meta-analysis of Vitamin C studies has shown the prophylactic intake of Vitamin C may slightly reduce the duration of the illness in healthy persons but does not affect its incidence and severity.  The recommended daily amount for men is 90 mg/day and woman require 75 mg/day.  If you smoke, add 35 mg a day to these amounts.
  5. Oregano essential oil: is an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory oil that strengthens the immune system. It can be diluted in water and drank to combat a sore throat or added to a vaporizer and inhaled to break up mucus. It’s typically used for a short period of time (7-10 days or so) to fight illness.  Not recommended during pregnancy, for infants and children or for people with high blood pressure.
  6. Elderberries: are rich in flavonoids and vitamins A, B, and C, making them an important support for a healthy immune system.  Adults take 1 tablespoon and children take 1 teaspoon.  It can be taken daily as a preventive and for immune support. While sick, take the standard dosage every 2-3 hours until symptoms are gone.
  7. Echinacea:  Studies have shown Echinacea to help boost white blood cells and increase the activity level of macrophages, infection fighting white blood cells.  Echinacea also appears to shorten the duration of colds if given as soon as symptoms appear.  It should not be taken by people on heart or anti-fungal medication.  Also, people allergic to plants in the daisy family, may experience allergic symptoms with Echinacea.
  8. Astragalus Root:  Astragalus root has a long history as a health tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  It is known to increase the white blood cell count, stimulate the growth of antibodies and create a resistance to both viruses and bacteria. This herb may be combined with other immune boosting herbs and is thought to be helpful as an adrenal gland fatigue treatment.  Drinking the tea is a beneficial way to improve your immune function in the winter. Astragalus tea is a restorative as it boosts energy levels and improves symptoms.

 

Lifestyle Changes to Boost Immunity

  1.  Get Your Sleep: Be sure to get between 7-8 hours of sleep a night.  Decreased sleep has been shown to decrease production of flu fighting antibodies.
  2. Spend time with your loved ones:  Make time for the people who matter in your life.  The more isolated you are, the more stressed you are likely to be.  Stressed people are more likely to get sick (see number 3).  A recent study found that having at least 6 connections with other people raises your ability to fight an infection by 4 times.
  3. Decrease Stress:  People who experience chronic stress have increased likelihood of acquiring illness and increased signs of inflammation in the body.  Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases inflammation, increases weight gain (especially around the belly) and suppresses the immune system.
  4.   Avoid sugar:  Eating just 75-100 grams of sugar a day curbs immune system cells that attack bacteria.  Consuming the equivalent of just two sodas reduced the ability of white blood cells to engulf bacteria by 50%, decreasing it ability to fight infection.
  5. Laugh:  Laughter has been shown to decrease stress.  It also activates protective t-cells and increases antibody production.
  6. Avoid second hand smoke:  Exposure to second hand smoke can trigger asthma and allergies, increase ear infections and increase severity of flu symptoms in children.
  7. Get exercise:  Studies show inactive people take 2 times as many sick days as active people.  It is unclear exactly how exercise helps immunity but theories speculate that exercise seems to stimulate the release of immune cells or helps flush bacteria out of the lungs through sweating and urine or the increased body temperature associated with exercise might prevent bacteria growth.    It is also a potent stress reliever which can boost immunity.  Moderate exercise seems to be best as extreme athletic training has been shown to compromise immunity.

Photo by Skanska Matupplevelser.

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Boost Your Immunity with Potassium Broth

Immunity Boosting Potassium Broth

Immunity Boosting Potassium Broth

This weekend I had the pleasure of teaching an Immunity Boosting Through Food class at the amazing Herb Shoppe Pharmacy on Mississippi Ave here in Portland.  Valerie Roth, another Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I taught 7 women how to make potassium broth, fire cider and an immunity boosting tea.  There was lots of chopping and tasting and discussion during the two hours of learning.

I was responsible for teaching the section on Potassium Broth, an amazing elixir to nourish your immune system.  Potassium broth is an easy method for increasing the potassium in your diet.  It can be used as a daily tonic to prevent cold and flus during the winter or if someone has already become sick, you can use it to nourish them back to health.  It is a great recovery drink after strenuous exercise, child birth or a bout with a stomach virus.

Potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium and chloride are all necessary electrolytes. Potassium and sodium perform many of the same body functions, such as muscle contraction and fluid balance. However, they usually work in opposite directions. For example, sodium draws fluid out of the cells, increasing blood pressure, while potassium draws fluid into the cells, decreasing blood pressure.  These two minerals work together to balance fluid in your body.  Sodium intake can affect potassium excretion from the body, and conversely, potassium intake can affect sodium excretion. An increased intake of one mineral will result in an increased excretion of the other mineral.

Your body needs both potassium and sodium to function properly. As long as you consume adequate quantities of each mineral, your body should be able to balance them according to your needs.  Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet, with its heavy reliance on processed, over salted food, leads to potassium deficiencies for many Americans. The recommended intake of sodium is 2,300 milligrams per day, which is generally very easy to achieve with the average Western diet.   Unfortunately, this high intake of sodium can effect your bodies potassium levels.  Your body can’t make potassium, so it must be obtained from foods like greens, lentils, lima beans, prunes,  sweet potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, parsley, russet potatoes, avocados and soy beans.   Your body needs almost 5 grams of potassium a grams per day to function properly.  Along with the electrolytes sodium and calcium, potassium helps your body regulate your heart rhythm, blood pressure, water balance, digestion, nerve impulses, muscle contractions and pH balance.  A deficiency in potassium can cause muscle weakness, muscle twitching,  high blood pressure and cramping.

Ladies preparing their potassium broth.

Ladies preparing their potassium broth.

 

Potassium Broth

Ingredients

  • Peels of 6 russet potatoes
  • 4 celery stalks
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, cilantro, oregano, thyme or sage (you can choose your flavor or use a combination)
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 5 toes of garlic
  • ¼ pound of mixed mushrooms (shitake, reishi, emoki or oyster are best)
  • 1 bunch dark leafy greens (kale, collards, chard)
  • 1/4 stick of kombu
  • 8-10 c of filtered water
  • ginger root, 3 1-inch slices

Instructions

  1. Bring water to a boil in a large covered pot.
  2. While water heats up, gently wash vegetables. (Hard scrubbing removes minerals found in the vegetables' skins).
  3. Peel potatoes to a depth of 1/8 inch.
  4. Save potato bodies for other use, or discard them.
  5. Roughly chop other vegetables.
  6. When water boils, put all ingredients except potato bodies and green herbs into the water.
  7. Be sure the water covers the vegetables by at least an inch.
  8. Bring broth to a boil, with the lid on, then turn down to simmer.
  9. Cook covered for at least 30 minutes.
  10. Add parsley or other green herbs using and allow to cook another 5-10 minutes.
  11. Turn off heat.
  12. Allow to cool and then strain out vegetable solids.
  13. Store broth in canning jars in the fridge.
  14. You can freeze leftover broth for later use.
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Potassium broth is a very versatile food.    Since so many vegetables are such a good source of potassium, there are many options and flavor profiles you can try to achieve the taste you want.  Don’t be afraid to experiment to see what tastes best for you.  Also, to create a hardy soup, you can puree the vegetable solids in the liquid instead of discarding them and then eat it as a meal.

The broth also can be used for many different purposes. I have used it to cook hot mixed grain cereal in the morning, to cook rice, beans, lentils and other grains, as a base for soups or stews and to cook vegetables.  I sometimes even drink it by itself after a hard work out for hydration. The possibilities are endless.

Enjoy-

Shared on Urban Naturale.

Cup photo by Jasleen Kaur on flickr.

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Tiny Tip Tuesday: Get Your Vitamin D

The Importance of Vitamin D.

The Importance of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because our body needs exposure to sunlight for its production.  These days, people are spending more time inside and even when they do go outside, are slathering themselves with sunscreen.  Dark skinned people have less ability to convert sunshine to Vitamin D then light skinned people and the sunshine for people living in the northern climates (above Los Angeles) is often not strong enough to stimulate production, particularly in the winter.  These factors contribute to what many are calling a Vitamin D deficiency epidemic.

Vitamin D deficiency has now been associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder,  breast cancercolon cancerprostate cancerheart diseasedepressionweight gain, decreased immunity and other illnesses. Your body needs Vitamin D to aid calcium absorption to prevent bone difficulties and Vitamin D seems to be important for activating the t-cells of the immune system.   Only 30 minutes, two times a week of summer sun exposure to your back, legs or face without sunscreen will usually produce adequate levels of Vitamin D.  (There is some concern about the risk of sun exposure without protection.  Talk to your doctor about these risks.)

See your doctor to obtain a simple blood test to determine your Vitamin D level.  If your blood level is less than 50 ng/ml, consider talking to your doctor about Vitamin D supplementation.  It is difficult to reach adequate levels of Vitamin D with food alone and supplementing with Vitamin D can take months to reach normal levels.  Good food sources of Vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, milk, tuna, beef or calf liver, mackerel,  eggs and mushrooms grown in UV light.  Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol is the most bioavailable form of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin so dietary fat intakes must be sufficient to allow absorption.

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The photo is by Followtheseinstructions on flickr.

 

 

 

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