Paleo Diet 101

You may have heard of the “paleo” diet. It was the world’s most popular diet in 2013.

But what is it? Is it a fad? Is it right for you?

Scientist and “Paleo Mom” Sarah Ballentyne, Ph.D. defines it as:

“The Paleo diet is a nutrient-dense whole foods diet based on eating a variety of quality meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.  It improves health by providing balanced and complete nutrition while avoiding most processed and refined foods and empty calories.”

The name “paleo” is from the “paleolithic” time when earlier humans (thousands of years ago) were hunters and gatherers. It is thought to represent the era of nutrition before agriculture.

What you can (and can’t) eat on the paleo diet

Of course, being a “diet,” paleo has food guidelines. The paleo diet was created to increase the amount of whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods; while reducing the number of gut-disrupting, hormone-disrupting, and inflammatory foods.

But this doesn’t mean there are only a couple of foods to choose from! There is a pretty wide variety of food to choose from in the paleo diet.

You can include fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds, meat (including organ meats), seafood, healthy fats, fermented foods, herbs, and spices.

The paleo diet excludes processed and refined foods (e.g. sugar, vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, etc.), grains (e.g. wheat, oats, rice, etc.), dairy, and most legumes (e.g. beans, lentils, peanuts, etc.).

The paleo diet can be thought of as more of a “template”, rather than a strict set of rules.

It’s a diet that seems to be easy to maintain, and with little to no negative side effects. There is no measuring or counting of calories or carbs. And there are plenty of delicious and nutritious foods to choose from.

Many proponents of the paleo diet even encourage experimentation by adding in a few of the (healthy whole) foods on their list of exclusions. High-quality dairy, white rice, or potatoes may be added to less restrictive forms of the paleo diet.

How does the Paleo diet affect health?

Several clinical studies have been done to find out whether there are health benefits of eating this way.

Some of the research has shown that the paleo diet can help with weight loss and belly fat. That alone may be reason enough to give it a try.

Not to mention its effect on several modern-day chronic diseases. For example, it can improve risk factors for heart disease. It has also been shown to reduce inflammation, improve glucose tolerance, and even reduce symptoms of some autoimmune diseases.

It’s also thought to be “gut-friendly” because it includes a lot of high-fiber foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, nuts & seeds), fermented foods (which contain gut-friendly probiotics), as well as being full of nutritious natural foods.

Who should consider a paleo diet?

Some people recommend the paleo diet for those with food intolerances or autoimmune diseases. Those at high risk for heart disease or diabetes may also be good candidates to give the paleo diet a try.

If you react to gluten or lactose, this diet removes them both by eliminating all grains and dairy.

Even if you don’t choose to go paleo, the elimination of added sugars, processed and refined foods can (should?) be a goal to move toward.

Conclusion

The paleo diet is based on what hunters and gatherers ate thousands of years ago. It is a whole-food based, nutrient-dense diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds, meat, seafood, and fermented foods.

Science has shown that it can help some people to lose weight, reduce risks of heart disease, improve glucose tolerance, and reduce inflammation.

At the very least, eliminating added sugars, processed, and refined foods are a great goal, even if you decide not to “go paleo”.

Recipe (Paleo): Banana Muffins

Serves 12
3 large eggs
5 mashed bananas
½ cup almond butter
¼ cup coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup coconut flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12 muffin cups with liners. In a food processor or stand mixer, blend eggs, bananas, almond butter, coconut oil, and vanilla.

In a large bowl mix coconut flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add blended wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until combined. Spoon batter into muffin tins, ¾ full. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can top muffins with walnuts before baking.4

References:
https://authoritynutrition.com/paleo-diet-meal-plan-and-menu/
https://www.thepaleomom.com/start-here/paleo-diet/
https://authoritynutrition.com/5-studies-on-the-paleo-diet/

 

 

Are you ready to discover the benefits of healthy detoxing for yourself?
Click here to learn more about my upcoming Detox Program http://hotchixshotsex.com/summer-detox-program/.

It starts on July 30, 2018. 

What questions or concerns do you have about participating in a detox?

Before you try something new, like a detox, it’s normal to feel hesitant. I want to hear from you. Hit “reply” or email me at irene@hotchixshotsex.com. I read every email that comes into my inbox and I promise to email you back personally.

The Truth about Detoxing – 4 Biggest Myths Debunked

Thanks to much of what we hear in the media, detoxing has earned a reputation for being unhealthy and even unsafe. When you hear the word “detox”, so you immediately think of all-liquid diets, expensive supplements and short-term deprivation for short-term gains?

The truth is, a detox doesn’t have to involve any of the above—and if you detox in a healthy, supportive manner, you can achieve lasting results in weight loss, energy gain, and full-body health.

The following are four myths you may have heard about detoxing. Understandably, these myths may cause you to be hesitant to try a detox.

Keep reading to find out the truth behind these myths and why detoxing might be just what your body is craving.

 

Myth # 1: You won’t enjoy anything you’re eating while on a detox.

While you might have to eliminate certain foods that you enjoy, detoxing isn’t all about eating lettuce with a drizzle of olive oil. There are many delicious recipes that can be prepared using healthy ingredients that not only taste amazing but nourish and detox your body.

The best part is, many of them don’t involve any fancy ingredients and can be prepared even by a cooking novice. In fact, my detox participants always discover new foods and recipes that they absolutely love that have become staples in their diets long after the detox ends.

Myth #2: You’ll constantly be hungry while detoxing.

While you might end up consuming fewer calories while following a detox, you shouldn’t feel deprived or hungry. Going on an extremely low-calorie diet can actually disrupt your hormones and metabolism, making your body less efficient in the long run.

Everyone’s caloric needs are different, so a detox should never dictate how many calories you consume. By consuming whole foods that provide you with the right nutrients, you help detox your body while feeling satisfied. My participants are always amazed that they never feel hungry during my detoxes.

Myth #3: You need to do an all-liquid detox to remove toxins from your body.

Liquid-only detoxes have had more than their fair share of popularity. These types of detoxes can backfire: Not only do people often gain the weight back as soon as the detox ends, but such restrictive eating for several days can be detrimental to your health. An effective detox will include a variety of whole foods to help nourish your body and produce long-term results.

Myth #4: Detoxes are just a way for people to make money on expensive supplements.

Supplements involved in a detox should be just that, a supplementary part of the program, not the primary source of your nutrition. While on a detox, you get most of your vitamins and minerals from whole-food sources.

Supplements may be recommended to help your body make the most of the nutrients it receives from these foods. For example, by including probiotics in your diet, you help your body produce vitamins, absorb minerals and remove toxins from the body.

Aside from the benefits discussed above, detoxing is an incredibly effective way to identify if you have any food sensitivities, balance your hormones, and establish healthy habits for the long term.

I’ve worked with detox participants who not only have lost weight and kept it off but who have also seen their energy level skyrocket, their skin clears up and even their allergies disappear.

Are you ready to discover the benefits of healthy detoxing for yourself?
Click here to learn more about my upcoming Detox Program.

It starts on July 30, 2018. Register by July 25 to save $50.

What questions or concerns do you have about participating in a detox?

Before you try something new, like a detox, it’s normal to feel hesitant. I want to hear from you. Hit “reply” or email me at irene@hotchixshotsex.com. I read every email that comes into my inbox and I promise to email you back personally.

How Do I Keep My Blood Sugar Stable?

How Do I Keep My Blood Sugar Stable?

Oh, the words “blood sugar”.

Does it conjure up visions of restrictive eating, diabetes medications, or insulin injections?

Blood sugar is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood. You need the right balance of sugar in your blood to fuel your brain and muscles.

The thing is, it can fluctuate. A lot.

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

Why keep my blood sugar stable?

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

When blood sugar is too low, this is referred to as “hypoglycemia”.

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

Insulin resistance is when your cells are just so bored of the excess insulin that they start ignoring (resisting) it, and that keeps your blood sugar levels too high.

Insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia can eventually lead to diabetes.

So let’s look at how you can optimize your food and lifestyle to keep your blood sugar stable.

Food for stable blood sugar

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

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

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

Lifestyle for stable blood sugar

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Recipe (blood sugar balancing): Cinnamon Apples

Serves 4

2 apples, chopped
1 tbsp coconut oil
½ tsp ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp vanilla extract
Place chopped apples into a small saucepan with 2 tbsp water. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes the apples will become slightly soft, and water will be absorbed.

Add 1 tbsp coconut oil. Stir apples and oil together.

Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring every minute or so.

Add cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Stir well.

Cook for another few minutes, stirring until the apples reach your desired softness!

Serve and enjoy!

Tip: Keeping the peel on increases the fiber, which is even better for stabilizing your blood sugar.

References:
https://authoritynutrition.com/15-ways-to-lower-blood-sugar/
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-review-blood-sugar

How Can I Get Enough Vitamin D?

When we think of “vitamins”, we know they’re super-important for health. 

But vitamin D is special.

It’s difficult to get enough vitamin D; vitamin D is, therefore, a very common deficiency.

So, let’s talk about how much of this critical fat-soluble vitamin we need, and how you can get enough. The three ways to vitamin D are exposure to the sun, consuming vitamin D containing food, and through supplements.

Why is vitamin D important, and how much do we need?

Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium from our food and acts like a hormone to help us build strong bones. Vitamin D can also help with immune function, cellular growth, and help to prevent mood imbalances such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.

Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to bone diseases like osteomalacia. Inadequate vitamin D can also increase your risk of heart disease, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, and even death. The “official” minimum amount of vitamin D to strive for each day is merely 400-600 IU. Many experts think that this is not nearly enough for optimal health.

To ensure you get adequate amounts of vitamin D, you can implement any combination of the three vitamin D sources mentioned above on a weekly basis.

How can I get enough vitamin D from the sun?

Your skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed to the sun; that’s why it’s referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”. How much vitamin D your skin makes depends on many things. Location, season, clouds, clothing, all affect the amount of vitamin D your skin can produce from the sun. One standard recommendation is to get about 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. to the face, arms, legs, or back. This should be done without sunscreen, at least twice a week. Of course, we should always avoid sunburns and of course in some locations (and seasons of the year) it’s not easy to get sun exposure.  So, how can we get enough vitamin D in other ways?

How can I get enough vitamin D from food?

Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks. Some mushrooms make vitamin D when they’re exposed to the sun.

Some foods are “fortified” (which means vitamin D has been added) with vitamin D. These include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and yogurt. It will say on the label how much vitamin D has been added per serving.

Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can increase absorption of it from your food if you eat it with some fat (healthy fat, of course). Between sun exposure and food, it still may be difficult to get even the minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D each day; this is why vitamin D supplements are quite popular.

How can I get enough vitamin D from supplements?

It’s easy enough to just “pop a pill” or take some cod liver oil (which also contains vitamin A). Either of these can ensure that you get the minimum amount of vitamin D, plus a bit extra.

But before you take vitamin D containing supplements, make sure you check that it won’t interact with other supplements or medications you may be taking. Always read your labels, and ask a healthcare professional for advice.

Do not take more than the suggested dosage on the label of any vitamin D supplement, except under medical care.

The maximum amount recommended (for the general population) is 4,000 IU/day. Too much vitamin D can raise your blood levels of calcium (to an unsafe level), and this can affect your heart and kidneys.

The best thing, if you’re concerned, is to ask your healthcare professional to do a blood test and make a recommendation about how much vitamin in supplement form is right for you. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation for a short time while under their care.


Conclusion:

Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin which; many people have a hard time maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D.  There are three ways to get enough vitamin D: sun exposure, through certain foods, and in supplements.

I’ve given you some ideas about how you can get the minimum 400-600 IU of vitamin D daily.

If you’re concerned, it’s best to request a blood test that tests your vitamin D levels to be sure what’s right for you. Always take supplements as directed.

Recipe (vitamin D): Super-Simple Grilled Salmon

Serves 4

4 wild salmon fillets
1 bunch asparagus
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 black pepper
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp. dried dill
4 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven broiler and raise the oven rack. Place parchment paper on a baking sheet and place fish on top, skin-side down. Surround with a single layer of asparagus.

Sprinkle the fish and asparagus with sea salt, pepper, parsley, and dill. Drizzle with olive oil.

Broil for 8-10 minutes until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Serve with a side of rice or quinoa.

References:
http://thewellnessbusinesshub.com/yes-nutrient-deficiencies-heres-proof-can/
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/ref_vitam_tbl-eng.php
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-vitamin-d
https://authoritynutrition.com/vitamin-d-101/
http://neurotrition.ca/blog/brain-food-essentials-sardines

Adrenal Fatigue: What Is It?

 

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

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

Your adrenal glands look like walnuts that live on top of both of your kidneys. These important glands produce many hormones, including stress hormones.

But what happens when they become “overworked”?

You’ve heard of “adrenaline junkies”, right?

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

Some people (perhaps you?) just love that intense feeling.

The release of hormones in the fight or flight response is your body’s normal reaction to stress. Stress can sometimes be positive, like when it helps you swerve and prevent a crash.

After a short time, the flight or flight response dissipates, your body goes back to normal, and all is good.

But what would happen if you felt constant stress? Like all day, every day? Like “chronic” stress?

It wouldn’t feel like an awesome (once-in-a-while) “rush”, anymore would it?

And what do you think happens to your poor adrenal glands when they’re constantly working?

They’d get fatigued, right?

Do I have adrenal fatigue?

When your adrenal glands start getting tired of secreting stress hormones day in and out, you can start getting other symptoms.

Symptoms like fatigue, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, weight loss or gain, joint pain, sugar cravings, even frequent infections like colds and the flu are signs that your adrenals are overworked.

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

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

What to do if I have these symptoms?

There are many actions you can take to reduce your stress and improve your health and energy levels.

Ideally, if you think stress is starting to burn you out, stress reduction is key. There are tons of ideas on how you can reduce your stress. My favourites are meditation, walking in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or taking a bath.

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

Conclusion

Your adrenal glands produce hormones in response to stress. After long-term daily stress, they may get tired.

Adrenal fatigue is a controversial disease that doesn’t have a true diagnostic test, nor specific telltale symptoms.

The most important thing you can do is to get tested to rule out other potential conditions. You can also try stress reduction techniques like meditation, walks in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or even a lovely bath.

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

Per bath

2 cups Epsom salts
10 drops lavender essential oil

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

Enjoy your stress-reducing bath!

Tip: You can add a tablespoon of dried lavender flowers.

References:
https://www.thepaleomom.com/adrenal-fatigue-pt-1/
https://www.dietvsdisease.org/adrenal-fatigue-real/

The Gut-Brain Connection: How To Feed Your Brain

If there was ever a call for “digestive health”, this is it!

Yes, it’s true. Your gut is considered your “second brain.”

There is no denying it anymore.

And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

I find it amazing (but not too surprising).

What exactly is the “gut-brain connection”.

Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!

There seems to be multiple things working together.  Things like:

  • the vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
  • the “enteric nervous system” (a.k.a. “second brain”) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
  • the massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
  • the huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
  • the interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

This is complex and amazing, if you ask me.

I’ll briefly touch on these areas and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!).

The Vagus Nerve

There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.

And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!

The Enteric Nervous System and Neurotransmitters

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?

I knew you would!

And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”

And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?

And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”

In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! For example, a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!

The Immune System of the Gut

Because eating and drinking are a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!

And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?

Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

The Gut Microbes

These are your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

How do these all work together for brain health?

The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don’t know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

So, how do you feed your brain?

Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods are required because no nutrients work alone.

But two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-known inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

Recipe (Gut Food Fibre, Brain Food Omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats

Serves 2

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup oats (gluten-free)
1 cup almond milk
1 tbsp chia seeds
2 tbsp hemp seeds
½ tsp cinnamon
1 banana, sliced
¼ cup chopped walnuts

  1. Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
  2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let it set in the fridge overnight.
  3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.

References:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-probiotics
http://www.precisionnutrition.com/fix-gut-fix-health
http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them

The Truth Behind Artificial Sweeteners

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

Yes, ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues.

A while ago, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great, was artificial sweeteners.

The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories; like when you have a “diet pop” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.

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

Types of artificial sweeteners

Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar.

Today we’ll specifically discuss “artificial sweeteners”, which are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.

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

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

Health effects of artificial sweeteners

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

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

One study found that people who tend to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t.

Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.

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

How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?

Now that’s a million-dollar question!

There are so many ideas out there to try to explain it, but the reality is we don’t know for sure; plus, it might play out differently in different people.

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

Your body will thank you!

Recipe (naturally sweetened): Sweet Enough Matcha Latte

Serves 1

1 teaspoon matcha powder

1.5 cup almond milk, unsweetened

1-2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (optional)

1. Heat almond milk and maple syrup/honey (if using) in a small pot.

2. Add matcha powder to cup.

3. When almond milk is hot, add about a ¼ cup matcha and stir to combine.

4. Add rest of the milk to a cup.

Serve & enjoy!

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, in the grand scheme of a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, varied, whole foods diet, the cooked vs. raw debate isn’t that critical for most people.

Where this can become a consideration is for vitamin and mineral deficiencies (or “insufficiencies”). These may be due to digestion or absorption issues, or avoidance of certain foods (due to allergies, intolerances, or choice).

And I’ll tell you that the answer isn’t as simple as “raw is always better” or “cooked is always better.” As with most nutrition science, it depends on several factors. Some vitamins are destroyed in cooking, while others become easier to absorb (a.k.a. more “bioavailable”).

Here is the skinny on vitamins and minerals in raw foods versus cooked foods.

Foods to eat raw

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

The reason why is two-fold.

First, when these nutrients are heated, they tend to degrade;  this is from any heat, be it steaming, boiling, roasting, or frying. Vitamin C and the B vitamins are a bit more “delicate” and susceptible to heat than many other nutrients.

Of course, the obvious way to combat these nutrient losses is to eat foods high vitamin C and B vitamins in their raw form (like in an awesome salad) or to cook them for as short a time as possible (like quickly steaming or blanching).

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

The second reason why foods high in vitamin C and the B vitamins are best eaten raw is that they’re “water soluble.”  So, guess where the vitamins go when they’re cooked in water?  Yes, they’re dissolved right into the water;  this is particularly true for fruits and veggies that are boiled and poached but even for foods that steamed as well.

Of course, if you’re a savvy health nut, you’ll probably keep that liquid to use in your next soup or sauce to preserve those nutrients that are left after cooking. Just don’t overheat it or you may lose what you were aiming to keep.

But, how much loss are we talking about?  Well, of course, it ranges but can go from as low as 15%, up to over 50%.

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

Soaking nuts and seeds

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

Foods to eat cooked

Cooking certain orange and red “beta-carotene rich” veggies (e.g. tomatoes, carrots, & sweet potatoes) can help make this pre-vitamin A compound more absorbable.

Fun fact: One study found that absorption of beta-carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than in raw carrots!

Of course, eating your fat-soluble vitamins with a bit of fat will help you to absorb more of them, so that’s one factor to consider.

One vegetable that’s best eaten both raw and cooked

Spinach!

And I’m not just saying this to get everyone to eat it any way possible (although, I would love for this to happen…unless you’re allergic, of course).

Spinach contains so many beneficial compounds that it’s great eaten both raw and cooked.

Eating raw spinach preserves the water-soluble vitamins C & the B vitamins.

Eating spinach cooked allows the pre-vitamin A, as well as some of the minerals like iron to be better absorbed. Not to mention how much spinach reduces in size when it’s cooked, so it’s easier to eat way more cooked spinach than raw spinach.

Conclusion:

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

Recipe (cooked spinach): Sauteed Spinach

Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 bag baby spinach leaves

1 dash salt

1 dash black pepper

Fresh lemon

1. In a large cast iron pan heat olive oil. 

2. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.

3. Add spinach, salt, pepper and toss with garlic and oil. 

4. Cover pan and cook on low for about 2 minutes. 

5. Saute cook spinach for another minute, stirring frequently, until all the spinach is wilted.

6. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top.

Serve & enjoy!

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

References:

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

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

Is My Poop Normal?

Yes, I’m serious! (And don’t you sometimes wonder anyway?)

You already know that your poop can reflect your physical, and sometimes even emotional, health.

You may get constipation or have diarrhea when you eat something that “doesn’t agree with you”, or when you’re super-nervous about something.

And what about fiber and water? If you’re not getting enough, it’ll probably show in your poop.

What about the all-important gut microbes? If they’re not happy, it’ll probably show in your poop.

Here’s a trivia question for you:

Did you know there is an “official” standard for poop? I mean a university-created chart! One that is used to help diagnose conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Meet the Bristol Stool Scale

The Bristol Stool Scale was created at the prestigious University of Bristol in the UK back in 1997.

You can see the chart here.

The scale breaks down type of poop into seven different categories ranging from type 1 which is very constipated, to type 7 which is diarrhea:

1 – Separate hard lumps (very constipated).

2 – Lumpy and sausage-like (slightly constipated).

3 – Sausage shaped with cracks in the surface (normal).

4 – Smooth, soft sausage (normal).

5 – Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (lacking fiber).

6 – Mushy consistency with ragged edges (inflammation).

7 – Liquid consistency with no solid pieces (inflammation).

Other “poop” factors to consider

You probably guessed that the shapes described in the Bristol Stool Scale are not the only thing to consider for poop health.

Think about how often you go. At least once per day, up to 3 times per day is pretty good. Less than one, or more than three can mean there is something going on.

What about how hard you have to try to go? You want it to be as effortless as possible.

And the colour? It should be brown from the bile that you need to break down the fats you ingest.

And if it’s green after a day of massive veggies, or red after that large glass of beet juice, you’re just fine.

But if you see an abnormal colour, like red or even black, that you can’t explain based on what you ate or drank in the last day or two, you probably want to get that checked out.

What do you do when you have “imperfect” poo?

Well, the first thing to consider is how imperfect it is, and how often it is like that? Once in a while, things aren’t going to be perfect, and that’s A-OK.

If you know you need to get more fiber or water, then try increasing that.

If you haven’t had enough probiotic foods, then try getting more of them.

If you’re super-stressed, then try deep breathing, meditating, or having a warm bath.

Oh, and don’t forget the two most basic pieces of nutrition advice:

  • First, eat a variety of nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods, including a lot of fruits & veggies (and their “fibrous” skins, wherever possible). The fiber in these is not only helpful for pushing food through your gut, but they also feed those millions of amazing helpful critters that live there (your friendly gut microbes.)
  • The second piece of advice is to eat slowly, and mindfully, chewing thoroughly.

These are good habits for anyone and everyone, even when you have perfect poop!

Of course, long-term issues might require a more thorough review with a qualified health care practitioner. Don’t suffer from poop issues for too long before seeking help.

Recipe (dairy-free probiotic): Super-Simple Coconut Milk Yogurt

Serves 6

2 cans full-fat coconut milk

2 probiotic capsules,

  1. Open the probiotic capsules and empty contents into the blender. Blend with coconut milk.
  2. Transfer to a sanitized glass jar (make sure it’s not still hot – you don’t want those probiotics to die).
  3. Store it in a warm place for 24-48 hours. If it’s not thick enough for you, you can let it ferment for another 24 hours.
  4. Add your favourite yogurt toppings, and store the rest for up to a week in the fridge.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Fermenting food is not an exact science. If this doesn’t work out as you’d like it to, try different brands of coconut milk and/or probiotics.

References:

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

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/poop-health

Five Weight-Loss Friendly Snacks You Will Love

The words “weight-loss” and “snacks” often appear in the same sentence.

But that might also bring thoughts of “tasteless”, “cardboard”, and “completely unsatisfying”.

Right?

Let me give you my best weight-loss friendly snacks that aren’t just nutritious but also delicious!

What’s my criteria you ask?

They have to be nutrient-dense whole foods where a little goes a long way; foods that contain protein and/or fibre.

1 – Nuts

It’s true – nuts contain calories and fat, but they are NOT fattening!

Well, I’m not talking about the “honey roasted” ones, of course. Those probably are fattening.

Studies show that people who eat nuts tend to be healthier and leaner.

By the way, nuts also contain protein and fiber, which means a small amount can go pretty far in terms of filling you up. Not to mention the vitamins and minerals you can get from nuts.

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

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

 

2 – Fresh Fruit

As with nuts, studies show that people who tend to eat more fruit, tend to be healthier. (I’m sure you’re not too surprised!)

Yes, fresh fruit contains sugar, but whole fruits (I’m not talking juice or sweetened dried fruit) also contain a fair bit of water and fiber; not to mention their nutritional value with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And fresh fruit is low in calories.

Fiber is something that not only helps to fill you up (known as the “satiety factor”) but also helps to slow the release of the fruit sugar into your bloodstream and reduce the notorious “blood sugar spike.”

Win-win!

Try a variety of fruit (apples, pears, berries, etc.) and pair that with a handful of nuts.

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

 

3 – Chia seeds

This is one of my personal favourites…

Chia is not only high in fibre (I mean HIGH in fibre), but it also contains protein and omega-3 fatty acids (yes THOSE omega-3s!). As well as antioxidants, calcium, and magnesium.

Can you see how awesome these tiny guys are?

They also absorb a lot of liquid, so by soaking them for a few minutes, they make a thick pudding (that is delicious and fills you up).

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

 

4 – Boiled or poached eggs

Eggs are packed with nutrition and most of it is in the yolk.

They contain a lot of high-quality protein and a good amount of vitamins and minerals.

And recent research shows that the cholesterol in the yolks is NOT associated with high elevated cholesterol or heart disease risk.

Yup, you read that right!

Tip: Boil a bunch of eggs and keep them in your fridge for a super-quick (and nutritious) snack!

 

5 – Vegetables

I don’t need to tell you how great these are for you, but just maybe I need to sell you on the delicious “snackability” of these nutrition powerhouses.

Veggies contain fibre and water to help fill you up, and you don’t need me to tell you about their vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, right?

You can easily open a bag of baby carrots and/or cherry tomatoes and give them a quick rinse (they’re already bite-sized).

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

 

Conclusion:

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

 

Recipe (Vegetable Dip): Hummus

Makes about 2 cups

1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained & rinsed
⅓ cup tahini
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 dash salt
1 dash pepper

1. Put all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. You may need to thin it out with a bit of water, so add it 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time and blend.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Don’t like sesame? Use an avocado in place of the tahini, and olive oil in place of the sesame oil.

 

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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