Category Archives: Health Information

Information for a healthier you.

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.


  • 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

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.

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.

Shared with Urban Naturale.


The photo is by Followtheseinstructions on flickr.




Tiny Tip Tuesday: Sit Less, Stand More

Focus on Sitting less and standing more.

Focus on Sitting less and standing more.

Last week I attended a Continuing Education Class on reducing chronic inflammation in the body through nutrition.  The speaker was Dr. Michael Lara, a doctor who specializes in the treatment of mood, anxiety and memory disorders through an integrative approach to health. Dr. Lara combines traditional psychiatric approaches with innovative, evidence-based strategies that include nutrition and exercise prescriptions. 

He was a wealth of information about the causes of chronic inflammation in the body and the significant damage it can cause if left untreated.  Even with all the very clinical and evidence based information he provided in this class, I thought his most profound statement had to do with the language he uses with his patients.  He said that instead of talking to his patients about exercising more, he asks them to think about sitting less.  I love this idea because for many, the idea of exercise seems like a daunting task but most everyone can think about sitting less.  (He said even people who cannot physically stand can think about moving any part of their bodies they can.)  The trick is to avoid staying stationary for long periods of time.

Research is beginning to show that even people who have a regular exercise routine in their life but spend the rest of their days sitting, are more likely to suffer heart disease, diabetes, cancer and premature death. Moving around activates the large muscle groups in your legs and back helping burn calories and keep blood sugar in balance.  Scientists are now recommending you try to stand up and move around about every thirty minutes throughout the day.  Now when I am working on the computer, I frequently hear Dr. Lara’s voice telling me to stand up.  As the day wears on, I find myself doing a mental inventory of how many sedentary activities I have engaged in.  If it feels like I have sat for too long, I will head outside on a walk, go fold laundry or stand up while working on the computer or reading my texts.  It seems insignificant but it all adds up to less time spent on my butt!

Photo by Dermot O’Halloran on flickr under Creative Commons.

Shared with Urban Naturale.


Tiny Tip Tuesday: Buying Organic


The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fourteen

The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fourteen

People often lament to me the high cost of organic fruits and vegetables.  I definitely feel their pain.  I know my grocery bill has significantly increased since I began focusing on buying organic.  However, I do feel buying organic is important to decrease our exposure to harmful toxins for ourselves, the environment and the farmers growing our food.  But what if it is just not financially feasible for you to buy everything organic?  Are there some specific areas you should focus on?

When working with clients, I ask them to think about a few different areas when deciding to buy organic.  For products that you or your children consume on a daily basis, buying organic, if at all possible, is definitely advisable.  When my boys were little, they consumed volumes of milk on a daily basis so this was an product I tried to always buy organic (or at least hormone free).  Think carefully about your overall diet and switch those items that make a daily appearance to organic.

Also, items that are higher up on the food chain like meat are important to buy organic.  Livestock that is fed a conventional diet of corn and other grains have greater exposure to the toxic pesticides used on their food.  These pesticides are then concentrated in fat of the meat you eat.  Also, animals allowed to graze on their normal diet of grass have greater amounts of the natural healing omega-3s.  I recognize organic meat can be expensive so I have started making meat more of an accent in my meals instead of the main ingredient.  This approach saves me money and increases my consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables.

Finally, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen every year.  The Dirty Dozen lists the fruits and vegetable which contained a number of different pesticide residues and showed high concentrations of pesticides relative to other produce items.  Relatively few pesticides were detected on the fruits and vegetables on the Clean Fifteen list, and tests found low total concentrations of pesticides.   If you are rationing your grocery store dollars, focusing on buying the fruits and vegetables from the Dirty Dozen list may be your best bet.  Checkout the info graphic at the beginning of the article for your complete list. (You might notice that my list is only a Clean Fourteen.  The EWG’s list contained sweet corn.  In the last year, GMO corn has begun appearing on our grocery shelves.   I would advise buying organic corn to ensure you are avoiding a GMO product.)

Beautiful graphic created by KCK Creative Market.

5 Tips for A More Sustainable Life

  1. 4643772171_5005cce317Eat Seasonally:  Eating food that is currently in season for your part of the world helps to reduce pollution.  When you live in the Pacific Northwest and buy a nectarine in the middle of January, you can be sure it was not grown locally.  Food that travels a long way  requires more energy and has a greater impact on the environment before it reaches your plate.  Also, because it must travel so far, it is often picked when it is not ripe leading to a less than fresh taste.
  2. Ditch the Plastic Water Bottles:  Bottled water causes a whole host of problems.  Americans consume over 1500 bottles of water every second.  These bottles are clogging our landfills because only a small percentage of them are recycled.  The plastic in the bottles has also been found to leach harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals into the water and bottled water cost significantly more than tap water.  Buy yourself an inexpensive water filter, save significant dollars at the grocery store and avoid exposing yourself to harmful chemicals.
  3. Reduce Your Meat Consumption:  Meat can be an important part of a meal but reducing your overall meat consumption can have a big impact on the environment. It takes roughly twenty-five times more energy to produce one calorie of beef than to produce one calorie of corn for human consumption.  However, you don’t have to give up meat entirely.  Try going meatless just one day a week or even just making meat an accent part of the meal and not the main course.  Every bit of meat consumption reduction makes a positive contribution to the environment.
  4. Grow Your Own Food:  Not everyone has room to plant a giant garden in their backyard but most people have room for a few pots for herbs or tomatoes.  Squeeze in a small container garden wherever you find  a patch of sun.  Food just picked from your plants offers the freshest, most sustainable option in food production.
  5. Cook Your Own Food:  Cooking your own food allows you to have greater control over what is actually in your food and how it is prepared.  With that control, you can be sure your ingredients are produced in a responsible, sustainable manner.  Besides, nothing tastes better than a home cooked meal prepared with love from the ingredients you grew in your own yard.

Tiny Tip Tuesday: Sugar Reset

Added sugar.

Added sugar.

With all the recent research being released about the detrimental effects of sugar on the body, many people are looking to reduce their sugar consumption.  Excessive sugar consumption has been shown to lead to insulin resistance, increased stomach fat, increased inflammation in the body and a suppressed immune system.  Unfortunately, for people eating a Standard American Diet which includes lots of processed food, sugar is impossible to avoid.  It is added in the places you would expect like cookies, candy and pastries but also has a big presence in items like ketchup, yogurt, breads, pasta sauces, cured meats and chicken nuggets.  It is ubiquitous in the American food system.  However, there are some steps you can focus on to help you successfully avoid added sugar.

  1. Focus on a whole foods diet.  The more you eat foods which are in their natural state like apples, broccoli, whole grains and leafy greens, the easier it will be to avoid added sugar.  Steer clear of food in a package.  Sugar is often added to packaged food to improve it’s flavor.  If you experience a sugar craving, look for a whole foods option to meet that need.  Fresh fruit make an amazing nutrient dense snack!
  2. Read labels.  If you do buy food in a package, read the label.  If sugar or one of its forms is listed in the first 3 ingredients, it is probably an item you want to avoid.  High-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, agave, corn sweetener, demerara, barley malt, evaporated cane juice, beet sugar, evaporated cane juice solids, fruit-juice concentrates, dextrose, fructose and lactose are just a few of the many names for sugar.
  3. Set a realistic time frame for avoiding sugar.  Humans are hard wired to like sugar.  Our typical first food, breast milk, gets 40% of it’s calories from lactose, a disaccharide sugar.  This sugar serves an important purpose for babies, helping to colonize their guts with healthy bacteria.    Given our predisposition to crave sugar, it may be hard to banish sugar indefinitely from your diet.  Think realistically about how long you think YOU  can avoid sugar.  Even if you start with eliminating it for only one day that reset will get you thinking about the places sugar hides in your life.  Usually if you can avoid sugar for at least three days, your body will begin to crave it less and your taste buds will begin to reset to hunger for less sugar.  Set a realistic goal for yourself so you can experience success.  As you get more confident in your sugar-free life, you can always increase the length of your goal.

Photo by Logan Brumm on flickr.

Tiny Tip Tuesday: Brush Your Teeth


Brush Your Teeth!

Brush Your Teeth!

Recent research has demonstrated a possible link between periodontal disease and  heart disease.  In a new study in which researchers infected mice with four different types of bacteria associated with gum disease, the mice had increased levels of inflammation and cholesterol.  Other research is starting to point to a possible connection between gum disease and Type 2 diabetes, memory loss and even cancer.  Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease which can lead to jawbone erosion if left untreated.  This inflammation leads to pockets forming between the gums and teeth which can trap food.  The space where the tooth meets the gum is the richest area in the mouth for bacteria.  All of these factors combine to make the mouth an area ripe for producing inflammation.  Regularly brushing and flossing your teeth helps sweep away these bacteria and can decrease inflammation.  So pullout your tooth brush and floss!  Less inflammation in the mouth means less inflammation throughout the body.

Photo by Aaron McIntyre and found on flickr under Creative Commons license. Text added by me.

Shared with Epic Mommy Adventures and Real Food Foragers.


Tiny Tip Tuesday: Eat Eggs

Super yummy, beautiful eggs.

Super yummy, beautiful eggs.

Unfortunately, over the years, eggs have been a much maligned food.  Due to their yolk’s high cholesterol level, doctors and other health professionals have advocated limiting their consumption, particularly for people with high cholesterol.  These recommendations are unfortunate because eggs offer many health benefits and their impact on cholesterol is not clear cut.  Eggs are a significant source of Vitamin A, Selenium, Folate, B vitamins and phosphorous.  Even though  their yolks contain 212 mgs of the 300 daily recommended mgs of cholesterol, over 70% of people show no cholesterol response to egg consumption and the other 30% of people (called hyper responders) showed a minimal increase in LDL and total cholesterol.   These studies show, however, that eggs change the LDL particles from the small, dense particles associated with heart disease to large LDL molecules.  People with predominately large LDL particles have a lower risk of heart disease.  In fact, some studies have actually shown egg consumption can increase HDL (the “good” cholesterol) in some people.  Egg yolks are also an excellent source of complete protein (6 grams of protein per large egg and they contain all of the essential amino acids) and they contain 100 mgs of choline, an incredibly important nutrient used to build cell membranes and by the body to produce the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine.  Studies have also shown eating omega-3 enriched eggs can reduce triglycerides by 16-18%.  Even though it was hard for me to let go of all the “knowledge” I had about limiting eggs due to their cholesterol count, once I started really examining the studies,  eggs gained a regular place in my family’s breakfast rotation.  You can’t beat their nutrient density compared to their cost!!  If you are interested in adding eggs to your diet but have a history of high cholesterol, talk to your health care provider about a recommendation for a healthy number of eggs to include in your diet.

Photo found on flicker under Creative Commons license.  See more beautiful photos by Woodley Wonder Works here.

Post shared on Fat Tuesday.

Tiny Tip Tuesday: 5 Small Changes for Big Health Improvements

Small changes for big health gains.

Small changes for big health gains.

Friends and family are always asking me for recommendations about how to improve their health.  While I want to be helpful by provide that life changing, magic answer, what I try to remind people is that it is often the little things they do on a daily basis that make the most difference.  For most people, just making some small changes can pay big dividends for their health.  Here is a list of five changes I would recommend to almost everyone to help optimize their health.

  1. Eliminate or minimize processed food.  I know most people are VERY busy and have a million different balls up in the air and prepackage food can be easier and quicker to get on the table, however, with very few exceptions, fresh, whole, unprocessed food is a much better choice.  When you eat food in its whole form, you are consuming it the way nature intended, with the vitamins and minerals in the proper ratios and you know exactly what you are getting.  There is no guesswork about what is in an apple but often when I read the ingredient list on processed food, I have no idea what some of the ingredients are.  You would never pick up a mystery substance off the ground and put it in your mouth, so why would you do it just because it is in a “food” box?
  2. Add a walk after dinner.  Introducing a walk after dinner will help you reach the recommended goal of 30 minutes of exercise most days.  It will also help with digestion before bedtime and offers an excellent opportunity to reconnect with your family or friends after a hectic day.
  3. Add just one serving of vegetables a day. Most people fall well short of the recommended 5-13 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.  Trying to reach those recommendations may seem daunting but if you break it into smaller pieces it becomes more attainable.  Start with adding just one extra serving per day.  After a week, add another serving.  Continue with this approach until you have reached the recommendation.  Within a relatively short period of time, you will be reach the daily goal!
  4. Use olive oil instead of fat free dressing.  Summer is the perfect time to load up your plate with vegetables to create a pleasing salad.  However, if you choose to use a fat free dressing, you may be missing the vitamins and minerals those vegetables offer.  Fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, E, D and K require fat to be absorbed.  If you don’t consume these vitamins with some fat, your body will not be able to assimilate them.  Using equal parts heart healthy olive oil and balsamic vinegar as your dressing will help your body assimilate all those valuable vitamins.
  5. Ditch the diet soda.  Or any other drink made with artificial sweeteners.  Some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners cause a spike in insulin levels.  Research has also demonstrated daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36% greater risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes.  Drink plain water or try some of these recipes for infused water.  Herbal tea, kombucha, water kefir or fermented sodas are all also good choices.

There are so many different small changes you can make to improve your health. These are just a few suggestions to get you started.   What is a small change you have made that has made a big change in your life?

Shared with Allergy Free Alaska, Epic Mommy Adventures, Richly Rooted, Adorned From Above and Real Food Forager.

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