The Gut-Mood Connection: Preventing and Treating Depression with Food

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Awareness and dialogue around mental health, and depression in particular, is growing all the time. It is heartbreaking that we have lost so many gifted, wonderful people to suicide, but the silver lining is that we’re actually talking about this out loud. Finally. We’re realizing that while people’s lives may appear idyllic on the outside, they are often suffering silently on the inside. Now imagine the impact that depression has on those who are not wealthy or famous and who may not have access to help.

As someone who struggled with depression for over a decade, I know what it’s like to think of death in terms of relief and escape. I am thankful that I had access to therapy coupled with a strong faith and a single mom who taught me and showed me that there is always a way out, even if it’s painful and difficult. I’m grateful that I witnessed people in my family who turned to alcohol and drugs as a means of escape and anesthesia and learned by watching them that substance abuse only made things worse. I am one of the lucky ones.

Many people don’t have access to therapy or treatment and don’t have a strong support system or a relationship with a higher power to lean on in the dark times. And even for those who do have these things, sometimes the pain is just too strong to break free of and they succumb to the overwhelming feeling that there is no way out. Sometimes drugs and/or alcohol are involved, and sometimes they’re not.

Depression is a complex problem and it’s causes can be both numerous and mysterious. To say it is simply due to diet or can easily be fixed with nutrition would be silly and short-sighted. However, more and more studies are showing that the impact of diet and gut health in preventing and treating depression are profound, and for some, dietary changes can mean the difference between life and death. Changing my diet made a huge difference for me and it helped give me the strength (both emotional and physically) to break free of depression.

Only recently has the medical community started to recognize and understand the connection between food and mood, and the data is really exciting! According to this study, our gut microbiota is linked to anxiety, depression, and even schizophrenia, and a poor diet is a risk factor for these conditions. Supporting a healthy gut microbiome with a healthy diet of unprocessed foods and probiotic foods and/or supplementation is not only beneficial in preventing and treating depression, but can be as effective as anti-depressant medications.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating our moods, sleep, and appetite and it also inhibits pain.  A lack of serotonin has long been blamed as the cause of depression, and this is often the case. However, we’re learning that the lack of serotonin can be a symptom of chronic inflammation and inadequate gut flora. We now know that 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut, and that the presence of enough beneficial bacteria is essential for proper serotonin production. So if we have a history of antibiotic use or were not exposed to enough bacteria in birth or childhood, we may not produce enough serotonin.

Another interesting factor is inflammation which is measure by testing C-reactive protein levels. In one studythat followed C-reactive protein levels in over 1000 women for several years, they discovered that the onset of depression was triggered by increased inflammation (higher C-reactive protein). A poor diet and inflammatory foods have been linked to increased C-reactive protein and mood disorders, so getting away from processed, high sugar foods is crucial.

The take home here is that by eating an anti-inflammatory diet and including probiotic foods or taking probiotic supplements, you can help prevent and/or decrease anxiety and depression. Do your best to eat whole foods including plenty of vegetables and moderate amounts of clean animal protein (pasture-raised, organic, wild caught, etc.) and limit or avoid processed foods and high glycemic/high sugar foods. Adding in some fermented veggies such as sauerkraut or kimchi that contain live cultures and possibly taking a probiotic supplement is also important. These foods can be expensive and aren’t always accessible, but local food banks and non-profits such as Got GreenFoodJustice.org, and othersare working to make fresh, real food more accessible to low-income and marginalized communities.

If you need support is this area or want to learn more about the food-mood connection and what you can do to feel happier and healthier, I’m here to help. Don’t suffer in silence! If you’re struggling with depression, I understand what you’re going through and I’m living proof that you can be free of it. Click here to book a free Coffee Talk session and we can talk confidentially about your concerns. I won’t try to sell you on working with me unless ongoing support is what you’re looking for. 

 

References:

What Can Detoxing Do for You?

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Detoxing has become a popular way for people to restore their health, jumpstart their metabolism and kick off a weight-loss or clean-eating program. There are many reasons a detox can be beneficial, and done right, detoxing does a great job of helping you achieve those goals.

However, there are many different ways to detox, and the process you choose should be based on your individual needs, challenges, goals, and preferences. Don't just jump on the detox bandwagon without doing your research first! Beware of any program that requires extreme calorie deprivation or prolonged fasting, even juice fasting, as these extreme protocols can do more harm than good.

While healthy eating and/or detoxing should not feel like an exercise in depriving yourself, nearly all programs include refraining from one main food that may be the cause of many of the symptoms people suffer from most – fatigue, bloating, moodiness, headaches, congestion, itchiness, and stomach upset issues of one kind or another. That one food is sugar.

Consuming sugar does more than cause weight gain; it causes inflammation, belly fat storage, and spikes in your blood sugar that create a roller-coaster effect: it provides a burst of energy, but then it depletes your energy, so you crave MORE sugar. The more you eat, the more you want, and its effect on your body makes it nearly impossible to lose weight or reduce your symptoms.

Did you over-indulge over the holiday season? Have you been feeling more sluggish or achy than usual? Has your stomach been upset for days (weeks or years!)? Do you suffer from headaches, heartburn, or have trouble sleeping? Do you feel like your clothes have shrunk? Do you want to get back on track, feel and look fabulous and have more confidence? Would you love to fit into your skinny jeans? If you answered yes to any of these questions, embarking on a detox or clean-eating program for 10 to 21 days may be a great way to remedy your symptoms, increase your energy and lose the post-holiday padding. My best advice includes:

1) Recognize that there are many types of detoxes – they don’t all involve juicing, fasting, or deprivation. In fact, my program includes real, whole food at every meal – plus snacks, and a wide variety of easy, delicious recipes. Remember, a detox isn’t just about what you DON’T eat – it’s also about what you DO eat and how you nourish your body, mind and spirit.

2) Ask yourself how you feel, what you want and why you want it. Write it down. Don't rely on willpower for motivation! You need a driving purpose to keep you in the game. 

3) Get Support – Don't try to go it alone. Get a close friend or loved one to detox with you and/or talk to an expert who can help you determine the right approach for your individual goals. Prep week for my Reboot Your Bod 21-day winter detox starts Tuesday, January 2nd and the detox begins on Monday, January 8th. This is a great opportunity to reboot your system with a great group of like-minded people, and start the New Year feeling great! Read more about it here.

I’m happy to answer your questions about detoxing and help you find a program that’s right for you. YOU CAN DO IT. I can help you! Click here to schedule a free 50-minute Coffee Talk.

Green Up Your Diet

One of the healthiest habits you can incorporate into your daily life is to eat lots of leafy greens. It’s hard not to notice how mainstream “green drinks” are at your local health food store, and healthy boutique restaurants and juice bars are popping up all over the country. Today it’s easier than ever to eat, drink and slurp your greens, but buyer beware! Most commercial juices and smoothies are loaded with sugar so be sure to read the label and make them at home as often as possible. 

Leafy greens are delicious eaten raw, steamed or sautéed, mixed into a pureed soup, or blended in a variety of smoothies and juices. We all know greens are good for us, but do you know why? According to the CDC, 90% of Americans don’t eat enough vegetables to reap the ongoing health benefits. So as my friend Dr. Nicol Giandomenico tells her patients, "Green up your diet!" Here are just a few reasons to go green:

·       Greens are powerful immune boosters packed with a unique blend of vitamins and nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy, including calcium (that’s right, greens have calcium!), magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, zinc; and vitamins A, C, E, and K

·       Greens are a great source of natural fiber to help you stay “regular” and feel full longer, which helps control hunger and reduces cravings!

·       Leafy greens are high-alkaline foods, which help fight free radicals (which can contribute to aging and disease). And because greens are also a natural source of folic acid, chlorophyll and other micronutrients, they help strengthen the blood and respiratory systems.

·       Greens can lower blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol and reduce the risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

·       Greens promote a healthy gut by increasing healthy intestinal flora (the good bacteria!)

·       Also, according to traditional Chinese medicine, green nutrients are related to liver health, emotional stability and creativity. How many foods can say that?!?

And if you think greens means a boring head of iceberg lettuce, think again! The best greens are the dark, leafy kind, and here are just a few of my favorites. Serve them raw as a side or main salad; steam or stir-fry – greens are truly versatile.

Leafy Green Favorites: 

  • Arugula
  • Kale (massage and tear the leaves for more tender salad servings) 
  • Collard greens
  • Spinach (baby spinach is super tender!) 
  • Chard
  • Escarole
  • Cabbage
  • Bok Choy

A few of the more unusual greens that can take things to a whole new level are: 

  • Mustard greens
  • Endive
  • Chicory

Small steps lead to big changes, so if you feel like you need to ease into greens, try these 4 tips to sneaking them in:

1.    Add spinach, kale or chard to your smoothie. You might not even notice it's in there, and if the green color isn't appealing to you or your kiddos, add blueberries to turn it purple!

2.    Sneak some spinach or arugula into your grass-fed burger or veggie burger.

3.    Use a collard green to wrap your "sandwich" or "taco."

4.    While pizza's not an everyday meal for those on a healthy eating track, when you do indulge, do so happily and healthfully! Try topping off your pizza with fresh arugula drizzled with organic extra virgin olive oil to create a "salad pizza."

The Mind-Body Connection: Food for a Healthy Brain and Happy Mood

There's no doubt about it: what we eat, and how much we eat, has a direct impact on our physical health. But did you know that those same choices also influence mood, mental alertness, memory, and emotional wellbeing? Food can act as medicine, have a neutral effect, or it can be a poison to the body and mind.

When food acts as poison, it creates inflammation, which alters the body's balance of nutrients, hormones, and neurotransmitters. This directly affects your body's ability to manage and heal from stress or illness.

Below are four common culprits that can be detrimental to brain and emotional health and a list of foods that help support your brain and nervous system.

Foods that Impact Body-Mind Wellbeing

Gluten: Gluten stimulates secretion of a protein called zonulin which causes permeability in both the gut lining and the blood-brain barrier. This permeability allows undigested food molecules and pathogens to access the bloodstream which triggers an inflammatory immune response. This elevated inflammation in the gut and/or brain can cause short-term reactions like lethargy, "brain fog", and fatigue, and contribute to long-term issues like depression and dementia.

Caffeine: The most socially accepted psychoactive substance in the world, caffeine is used to boost alertness, enhance performance, and even treat apnea in premature infants. Caffeine is frequently added to other foods, so be mindful of total consumption. Too much caffeine (500-600 mg daily) interferes with sleep quality, which affects energy, brain detoxification, concentration, and memory. Caffeine can also aggravate other health conditions, cause digestive disturbances, and worsen menstrual symptoms and anxiety.

Food Dyes: Listed on ingredient labels as "Blue 2," or "Citrus Red," food dye has been documented to contain cancer-causing agents (e.g., benzidine). They're also associated with allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children. Dyes are sometimes used to enhance skin color of fruits and veggies. A number of dyes have been banned from use in foods and cosmetics around the world and eating organic will help you avoid these chemical compounds.

Sugars: Increased sugar consumption (as much as 30% over the last three decades for American adults), is linked to decreased intake of essential nutrients and associated with obesity, diabetes, inflammatory disease, joint pain and even schizophrenia. Too much sugar results in blood sugar fluctuations, causing mood swings, anxiety, irritability, headaches, and increased depression. There are even sugars that can act as poison including High Fructose Corn Syrup, table sugar, and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame .

MSG: Monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer common in packaged and prepared foods. Although the FDA considers MSG "generally safe," some individuals experience a complex of physical and mental symptoms after eating MSG-containing foods. Symptoms vary but can include headache, sweating, nausea, chest pain, heart palpitations, and overstimulation of the central nervous system which can lead to alterations in sleep, mood, and immunity.

Becoming aware of your food choices, why you make them, and how you feel mentally and physically is an important first step in understanding your personal body-mind food connection. Keeping a mind-body food journal can be very helpful in providing a clear picture of how your food choices affect your health.

The Gut-Brain Connection and Foods that Support Body-Mind Wellbeing

Healthy Fats: These include fats such as organic avocado, virgin coconut oil, ghee and other animal fats from organic, grass-fed animals, fish oils, olive oil, flax seeds and oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds and oil, and organic nuts and seeds. Fat is your best friend when it comes to brain health, and contrary to old beliefs, it does not make you fat. In fact, healthy fats support healthy hormones and a healthy metabolism which means they can actually help you lose body fat.

Colorful Vegetables & Antioxidant Fruits: Vegetables and certain fruits like dark berries are loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that prevent or delay cell damage and they help reduce our overall inflammation and prevent disease. By "eating the rainbow" and getting as many different colors of veggies as possible (mostly those that grow above ground), you will be giving your body a healthy dose of antioxidants to help support a healthy brain and nervous system.

Naturally Fermented Probiotic Foods: Foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and homemade goat or sheep's milk kefir and yogurt are great sources of probiotics. We know that these friendly bacteria are crucial for a healthy gut but they also have a major influence on our mental and emotional health. You've heard the expression "gut feeling" or "gut instinct"; Well, doctors often refer to the gut as the enteric nervous system, or the second brain. The enteric nervous system or ENS is made up of over 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum. 

The ENS can also play a major role in emotional distress experienced by people coping with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gut problems such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain and stomach upset. “For decades, researchers and doctors thought that anxiety and depression contributed to these problems. But our studies and others show that it may also be the other way around,” says According to  Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology. “These new findings may explain why a higher-than-normal percentage of people with IBS and functional bowel problems develop depression and anxiety,” 

In short, if you have a healthy gut, you probably have a healthy brain so eat the foods that benefit both and you can't lose. If you're experiencing symptoms that interfere with your quality of living, reach out and let's talk about the role these or other foods may play in your emotional and physical health.

References:

The Awesome Avocado!

There are so many reasons - and so many ways - to love avocado! A culinary superfood, avocados provide up to 20 nutrients including vitamins K, C and E, as well as folate, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. In fact, they actually have more potassium than bananas.

Unlike most fruits, avocado is low in carbohydrates and high in a healthy fat called oleic acid. Like olive oil, oleic acid has been linked to health benefits such as reducing inflammation, protecting cells against cancer, and promoting healthy cholesterol levels. This amazing fruit also improves digestive health and helps your body absorb other nutrients.

Avocado is also great for your liver and supports detoxification. Avocados are the richest food source of glutathione - an antioxidant that the liver needs to filter out toxins and protect liver cells from damage.

There are limitless ways to add avocado to snacks or meals: Use avocado as a healthy spread on gluten-free toast or crackers; blend it into scrambled eggs; add it to dips, salsa, or soup, or slice for a salad topping. My personal favorite is guacamole that I serve with sliced radishes instead of chips. SO delicious and refreshing!

Avocado is optimally ripe when the fruit is mildly soft to touch. Its flesh should be creamy and green-gold in color. If you don't use the whole fruit at one time, keep leftover avocado fresh by leaving the pit in the unused portion and allow it to sit, uncovered, on a counter for a few hours before placing it in the fridge (still uncovered) for up to two days. When you want to use the other half, simply peel off the brown crust to reveal a soft and deliciously ripe avocado beneath.

References:

  • Dreher, Mark L., and Adrienne J. Davenport. "Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects." Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 53.7 (2013): 738-750. PMC. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
  • WorldsHealthiestFoods.com. "What's New and Beneficial About Avocados?" http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=5 Accessed on March 29, 2016
  • AuthorityNutrition.com "Avocado 101" https://authoritynutrition.com/foods/avocado/ Accessed on March 29, 2016
  • "12 Proven Benefits of Avocado" https://authoritynutrition.com/12-proven-benefits-of-avocado/
  • Ding H, Chin YW, Kinghorn AD, et al. "Chemopreventive characteristics of avocado fruit. Semin Cancer Biol." (2007 May 17). Accessed on March 29, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17582784

Overcoming Systemic Candida - Could The Body Ecology Diet™ Be The Answer?

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I recently completed a 4-month therapeutic diet to address systemic candida, or candidiasis, a condition I’ve dealt with for years after taking copious amounts of antibiotics and eating a high sugar diet as a young girl. Only in recent years have I learned how to address this condition with diet and for a while I seemed to have things under control. But after a few months of being slightly more liberal with my intake of fruit, red wine and dark chocolate, I could feel that it was time to get serious and I started the anti-candida protocol that I’ve created for my clients.

My protocol is fairly simple – no sugar, alcohol, fruit, grains or starchy foods and lots of organic vegetables with a little clean protein and small amounts of nuts and seeds combined with broths, probiotic foods like sauerkraut, and a few specific supplements. But even as a nutrition expert I found myself wanting to better understand why I was eliminating certain foods and what benefits I was getting from what I was eating, so I turned to the industry expert in candida diets, Donna Gates and her book the Body Ecology Diet™.  Donna Gates developed this protocol to combat yeast overgrowth and help restore the body’s “inner ecology” and her book turned out to be a great resource for me. While the protocol was developed specifically to treat candidiasis, it has also been found to benefit the immune system as a whole.

Candidiasis is a systemic fungal infection of candida albicans and it can wreak havoc on the body by overwhelming the immune system and leaving the patient vulnerable to other types of illness and infection such as HIV, herpes, Epstein Barr, chronic fatigue syndrome and cancer. According to The Body Ecology Diet™, we can boost the body’s ability to fight off or prevent these illnesses if we can eradicate any existing candidiasis.

The Body Ecology Diet™ was designed to support the immune system, organs and digestion, starve the yeast, and restore balance to the body’s internal chemistry and microbiome by applying 7 key principles. These principles draw on the wisdom of both ancient and modern medicine and nutrition, including Chinese medicine Ayurveda, macrobiotics, traditional fermented foods and food combining.

The first of these 7 principles is that of expansion and contraction, also known as the Chinese concept of yin and yang. Certain foods are considered yang/contracting while others are yin/expanding. Yin foods are cool and tend to moisten the body, while yang foods are more warm and dry. If one consumes too many yang or contracting foods, the body may become too tight leading to poor circulation, detoxification and elimination. On the other hand, if too many yin or expanding foods are consumed it can make one feel spacey, confused and lacking focus. The goal is to consume a balance of both yin and yang foods and to eat mostly foods that are more balanced in nature.

Maintaining the acid/alkaline pH of the body is the basis of the 2nd principle. This concept has become somewhat controversial in light of recent studies disproving the theory that diet can alter the pH of the blood (1, 2, 3). The Body Ecology Diet™ is based in the belief that our diet determines the pH of all of our bodily fluids and that by eating more alkaline-forming foods we can ensure the ideal, slightly alkaline pH (about 7.4) within the body. These alkaline-forming foods include most vegetables, sea vegetables, herbs, raw seeds (except for sesame), almonds (soaked & sprouted), fermented/cultured vegetables, raw kefir, raw apple cider vinegar, filtered water, lemon, lime, cranberries and blackcurrants (both unsweetened). A few acid-forming foods are also permitted on the diet, including eggs, fish, poultry, beef, buckwheat and unrefined oils (all organic).

Principle 3 of The Body Ecology Diet™ is Uniqueness, meaning that we are all unique individuals and will respond differently to diets, treatments, etc. depending on our individual needs, health, physiology, background and preferences. The importance of listening to one’s body and intuition is emphasized in this principle.

Cleansing is the 4th principle and possibly the most important since this process is the body’s way of ridding itself of toxins, impurities, aging cells and tissues, and waste. Our organs of detoxification (liver, kidneys, lungs, colon), our skin, our urinary tract and even bodily fluids like tears also help to carry away impurities. Disease occurs when those channels of elimination are overwhelmed and the body cannot cleanse itself effectively. During the first 3 months of following The Body Ecology Diet™ people may feel worse before they feel better. This is because the candida produces toxic substances when it dies off which can cause symptoms such as fatigue, flu symptoms, skin rashes, headaches, depression, aches and pains. While this may be unpleasant, it is a sign that your body is eliminating those nasty toxins. It may be tempting to abandon the diet when this happens but this is the most important time to stay the course, and it is necessary to go through this stage in order to heal and feel better. Simple practices like drinking lots of pure water, sweating in a sauna, and colon hydrotherapy can be extremely helpful in alleviating die off symptoms. 

The 5th principle is proper food combining. This theory is based on the belief that eating compatible foods at each meal can promote proper digestion, promote fat loss, and increase overall health. This practice is often bypassed in traditional candida diets but it can be extremely effective since it can prevent undigested food from rotting and fermenting in the gut. When food ferments in the gut it produces sugars that provide food for yeast and parasites, thereby worsening the problem and putting additional stress on the immune and digestive systems (I explored this concept in more detail in this article). The basic rules of food combining as outlined in The Body Ecology Diet™ are: 1. Eat fruit alone and on an empty stomach, 2. Always eat protein with non-starchy vegetables and sea vegetables, and 3. Always eat grains or grain-like seeds (amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet) and starchy vegetables with non-starchy and/or sea vegetables.

The 80/20 Principle is #6 and it is two-fold. Rule number one of the 80/20 Principle is to eat until your stomach is 80% full, leaving the remaining 20% to do the work of digesting your meal. This can take some time to get dialed in, especially if you’re not particularly in touch with your body’s signals, but once you learn to identify that point at which you are 80% full you will appreciate the benefits of this step. Rule number two is to fill 80% of your plate with vegetables, and the remaining 20% with protein or grains and starchy vegetables. By practicing the 80/20 Principle you will feel less bloated and will most likely enjoy healthier digestion and elimination.

Last but not certainly not least is #7 - the principle of Step by Step. One’s health doesn’t just suddenly deteriorate, it happens step by step in small increments over time in ways that we are often unaware of. The healing process works the same way. If we don’t follow each necessary step to heal and restore our inner ecosystem, we cannot achieve true health and vitality.

The Body Ecology Diet™ first steps to healing are:

  • Create a hearty inner ecosystem in the gut and intestines
  • Create energy by supporting and nourishing the adrenals and the thyroid
  • Eliminate any existing infections, especially fungal infections like candida
  • Cleanse.

In addition, we can help speed the healing process by:

  • Be gentle and patient with yourself
  • Eliminating stress in every way possible
  • Follow the diet exactly
  • Eat cleansing foods such as lemons, limes, cultured vegetables, coconut kefir, and raw apple cider vinegar.
  • Avoid medications that inhibit the cleansing process
  • Make colon cleansing a priority
  • Rest during times of cleansing / detoxification
  • Use probiotics to increase beneficial bacteria in the gut

Another concept that Donna Gates refers to in The Body Ecology Diet™ is that of the Blood Type Diet, pioneered by Dr. James L. D'Adamo. Dr. Adamo believed he discovered a connection between blood types and dietary requirements, and although there is some research that suggests there is no such connection (4), there are many others who report that eating according to their blood type has been positively life changing. I believe this is a prime example of bio-individuality – what works wonders for one person may have no effect or a negative effect on another. Body Ecology believes that while the blood type theory may help you better understand your body, it is still a work in progress and needs further research and study to prove it’s validity.

In conclusion, The Body Ecology Diet™ can be a very effective way of restoring balance and health to your “inner ecosystem”. But as with any dietary protocol it is important to keep in mind that there is no one size fits all when it comes to nutrition and healing. For example, some people thrive by including certain grain-like seeds in their diet, while others (like me) have more success following a completely grain-free autoimmune paleo style diet. Listen to your instincts, consult your health practitioner, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Chances are with a little guidance, detective work and flexibility you can discover the best approach for your body. As you heal and your body becomes stronger you can enjoy a wider variety of healthful, whole foods but in the meantime, approach any dietary protocol as a fun experiment and do your best to enjoy the process.

 

References:

The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates with Linda Schatz © 2011 Donna Gates

The Body Ecology Diet by Tess Masters, The Blender Girl

Yin and Yang Healing by Lawrence Wilson, MD

Yin Yang Nutrition by The Healthline Editorial Team, Published on May 1, 2013

The Acid-Alkaline Myth: Part 1 - June 21, 2013 by Chris Kresser

The Acid-Alkaline Myth: Part 2 - June 28, 2013 by Chris Kresser

Nutritional disturbance in acid–base balance and osteoporosis: a hypothesis that disregards the essential homeostatic role of the kidney. Jean-Philippe Bonjour (2013).  British Journal of Nutrition, 110, pp 1168-1177.

The Kidney and Acid-Base Regulation by Bruce M. Koeppen - Advances in Physiology Education Published 1 December 2009 Vol. 33 no. 4, 275-281

Examining the Relationship Between Diet-induced Acidosis and Cancer by Ian Forrest Robey - Nutrition & Metabolism 2012, 9:72

Phosphate decreases urine calcium and increases calcium balance: a meta-analysis of the osteoporosis acid-ash diet hypothesis. By Fenton TR1, Lyon AW, Eliasziw M, Tough SC, Hanley DA. Nutr J. 2009 Sep 15; 8:41.

Blood type diets lack supporting evidence: a systematic review by Leila Cusack, et al. First published May 22, 2013, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, July 2013 - vol. 98, no. 1 99-104

 

Say NO To GMO With Your Grocery Dollar

From farmer's markets to grocery stores, here's how to shop with confidence and avoiding GMO foods:

When in doubt, Go organic. The USDA National Organic Standards prohibit the use of GMOs. Look for the Certified Organic Seal on labels for produce as well as meat, dairy, eggs, fish and all packaged foods.

Look for the Non-GMO Project logo. This third-party verification means the food has been tested for GMOs. Look for the colorful butterfly and plant logo on the label.

Check for a grocery chain's organic line. Some grocers, like Whole Foods have their own organic and non-GMO products..

Look at the PLU Code on produce. When shopping for fruits and vegetables, your first choice should be those labeled with a five-digit PLU that begins with a "9," which indicates that the food is certified organic. Produce items containing a four-digit PLU are considered "conventional" - not technically GMO, but may still contain pesticides and other toxic residues. If the PLU begins with an "8," avoid it.

Avoid "at-risk" ingredients. The five most prevalent GMO crops are corn, canola, soy, cottonseed and sugar beets. These are also typically added to packaged foods in the form of corn syrup, oil, sugar, flavoring agents, thickeners and other ingredients. Choose organic or non-GMO verified whenever possible.

The most common "frankenfood" crops are:

  • Corn (especially sweet corn)
  • Hawaiian papaya
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow summer squash
  • Edamame (soybeans)
  • Sugar - unless you are buying pure cane sugar, expect a GM variety of beet sugar.
  • Artificial sweeteners and additives like maltodextrin are likely derived from GM sources

Go Bulk. Dry grains, beans, nuts and seeds are typically non-GMO (exceptions listed above).

By choosing organic, seasonal and local produce whenever possible you'll avoid GMOs, enjoy better tasting food and support small organic farmers who are working hard to do it the right way.

Happy shopping!

Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs): What You Need To Know

If you've paid even a little attention to food industry news, you know there's huge concern over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in our food supply. It's estimated that more than half of America's processed grocery products contain GM ingredients. Since at least the 1990's we've been consuming genetically modified ingredients primarily in breads, cheeses, sodas, and beers. Today, the primary genetically modified foods are corn, soybeans, potatoes and canola oil.

What does all of this really mean? Is there really a threat to our health? Won't GM crops help us feed a planet with dwindling resources?

It's easy to get confused by arguments from both sides of the proverbial fence. I hope this basic, 5-point primer on GM foods helps you become a more informed consumer:

GE or GMO: What's the Difference?

"Genetically Engineered" (GE) and GMO are used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Confusion arises because the USDA defines a GMO as an organism produced through any type of genetic modification.

Genetically engineering food is different from the way plant breeders make selections for plant traits between two cultivars. When a plant breeder (organic or conventional) selects a trait like disease resistance found in one plant and uses that trait to enhance another plant, that creates a hybrid. In this case, the plant breeder has encouraged the same kind of selections that might occur in nature. Breeders also monitor the plants for effects on specific characteristics including quality, nutrient density, and productivity. This is the true application of the term "genetically modifying organisms".

A Genetically Engineered crop is one in which a single gene or combinations of genes from one organism are artificially forced into the DNA of another organism. Essentially, the natural boundary between two species is broken in order to create a new life form (i.e., foods) with more desirable traits.

For example, to get cold-weather hardy tomatoes, scientists spliced the DNA from salmon, which has those genetic features and transferred it into tomatoes. This yields a larger crop when the weather is less than favorable. The problem? Tomatoes would never naturally contain those fishy genes.

But far more than fish genes are being spliced into crops. According to Jeffrey Smith, President of the Institute for Responsible Technology, "GM plants, such as soybean, corn, cottonseed, and canola, have had foreign genes, such as bacteria and viruses forced into their DNA. These have never been in the human food supply."

Therein lies the problem with food that has been genetically modified outside of nature's boundaries: The genetics of a plant, not only affect its color, taste, yield and nutrient quality, they likely affect the way that food goes to work in the human body.

In the interest of larger crop yields, profits for big biotech companies, and claims that GM foods will 'feed the world,' we have no proof that these foods are safe and no data to indicate the long-term effects on human health. And, people are still starving around the world.

"Even if the transgene itself is not dangerous or toxic, it could upset complex biochemical networks and create new bioactive compounds or change the concentrations of those normally present. In addition, the properties in proteins may change in a new chemical environment because they may fold in new ways. Further, the potential toxic or carcinogenic effects could have substantial latency periods."

- The Need for Greater Regulation and Control of Genetic Engineering: A Statement by Scientists Concerned About Trends in the New Biotechnology (1995)

What are the Health Concerns of GMO Food?

GM foods do not undergo regulated testing in the United States. Much of what we know comes from independent scientists conducting animal studies (and the so-called unbiased studies from big biotech). However, scientists and politicians in other countries believe the threat to health is real-GE/GM crop cultivation is now banned by 38 countries worldwide (28 in Europe).

Medical professionals claim there are health effects potentially linked to eating these foods. In her article for the Chicago Tribune, Dr. Martha R. Herbert, a pediatric neurologist wrote: "Today the vast majority of foods in supermarkets contain genetically modified substances whose effects on our health are unknown. As a medical doctor, I can assure you that no one in the medical profession would attempt to perform experiments on human subjects without their consent... Yet manufacturers of genetically altered foods are exposing us to one of the largest uncontrolled experiments in modern history."

Potential Health Effects:

  • Introduction of new allergens into crops could result in increased rates of allergies and allergy-related health conditions.
  • Pathogenic bacteria in our guts could pick up antibiotic-resistant genes found in many GM foods that have been spliced with antibiotics.
  • Animal studies indicate GM foods may cause toxic effects on the liver, kidneys, pancreas or reproductive system.
  • Animal studies show that DNA in food can travel into organs throughout the body, even into the fetus.
  • The risks to children and fetuses may be greater because their digestive and neurological systems are not fully developed.

Why are food genetics being manipulated?

There are two primary traits that have been added to crops: herbicide tolerance, which lets the farmer spray weed-killer directly on the crop without killing it, and the ability of the plant to produce its own pesticide. These outcomes have no proven health benefit to humans, There is, however, economic benefit for biotech companies such as Monsanto, which develops (and owns the patent to) Roundup, the most commonly used weed-killer that farmers use on crops and we use in gardens. The company has been accused of everything from hiding research on the real health effects of glyphosate (the main active ingredient in Roundup) used on crops around the world to knowingly producing products that threaten biodiversity and cause cancer.

To date, six bio-tech giants are actively lobbying against the U.S. public's demand for GMO labeling on foods. And yet, legislators continue to protect citizens as demonstrated by California's recent decision requiring Monsanto to label Roundup as carcinogenic.

Personally I do my absolute best to avoid GMOs in both my food and anything that goes on my skin and I recommend you do the same. It's just not worth gambling on the health of you and your family.

Stay Informed!

Resources for learning more about GMOs:

References:

  • Endelman, R. “The Difference between GE and GMO.” Accessed on Feb 8, 2016. http://thedelicioustruth.blogspot.com/2012/03/difference-between-terms-ge-and-gmo.html
  • Herbert, Martha. "Feasting on the Unknown: Being Exposed To One Of The Largest Uncontrolled Experiments In History." Chicago Tribune (Sep 3, 2000). http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2000-09-03/news/0009030374_1_genetically-modified-new-proteins
  • Institute of Functional Medicine online. “Genetically Modified Foods 20 Years On: Still No Labeling and Minimal Safety Testing.” https://www.functionalmedicine.org/home/Focus_On/Genetically_Modified_Foods/
  • Third World Network, Penang, Malaysia (1995) p.18. Quoted in "Why the Genetic Engineering of Our Food Offends Principles of Most Religions." In reference to the quote form A Statement by Scientists Concerned About Trends in the New Biotechnology, As cited at PBS.org “Should we Grow GM Crops?” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/harvest/exist/arguments.html
  • SustainablePulse. “GM Crops Now Banned in 38 Countries Worldwide.” Accessed on Feb 8, 2016. http://sustainablepulse.com/2015/10/22/gm-crops-now-banned-in-36-countries-worldwide-sustainable-pulse-research/#.Vq-sA8cwfL8
  • InstituteforResponsibleTechnology.org. “Health Risks of GMO Foods.” Accessed on Feb 7, 2016. http://responsibletechnology.org/gmo-education/health-risks/
  • Artemis, D. & Arvanitoyannis, I. “Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods.” Crit Rev Health Sci & Nutrition. (2002) 49:2, 164-175. DOI:10.1080/10408390701855993. Accessed on Feb 8, 2016. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408390701855993
  • PBS.org. “Genetically Modified Foods.” Accessed on Feb 8, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/pov/hybrid/genetically-modified-foods/
  • Medicine Talk Blog. “What You Really Need to Know About GMOs: Interview with Jeffrey Smith.” http://medicinetalk.org/blog/what-you-really-need-to-know-about-gmos-interview-with-jeffrey-smi th/
  • Environmental Working Group. “EWG’s 2014 Shopper’s Guide to Avoiding GMO Food.” Accessed on Feb 2, 2016. http://www.ewg.org/research/shoppers-guide-to-avoiding-gmos
  • GMO Free-Europe. Map of GMO-free Regions Worldwide. Accessed on Feb 8, 2016. http://www.gmo-free-regions.org/gmo-free-regions.html
  • Food Matters. “6 Easy Ways to Avoid GMO Products.” Accessed on Feb 8, 2016. http://foodmatters.tv/articles-1/6-easy-ways-to-avoid-gmos

My Adventures In Candidaland - A Breakup Story

I'm nearing the 8-week mark of my sugar-free, starchy food-free, fruit-free, alcohol-free anti-candida diet. I was already gluten, dairy, soy and corn free so adding these additional restrictions was simultaneously easy and super hard. Yeah, I know that sounds confusing, but for those of you with dietary restrictions or food allergies, you know that once you get used to avoiding certain foods, you get used to the drill of label reading, cooking at home A LOT, and asking restaurant servers 16 questions before ordering when you do go out.

That's the easy part. The tough part was taking an already limited diet and whittling it down even more to the point where I'm eating only non-starchy vegetables (no fruit or sweet veg like beets, carrots, squash or roots), some organic, pasture-raised animal proteins, and a few types of nuts and seeds. Admittedly I'm a chocoholic so I've gotten creative with organic cacao in order to get my chocolate fix (see my Chocolate Pot De Crème recipe here). The first 10 days or so I had terrible sugar cravings but they did subside and are now long gone.

So why am I following this crazy, restricted diet protocol? Well, it all started on the day I was born. Yep, we have to go back that far, but you'll see why in a moment. I was a C-section baby, which meant that I was starting off my adventures on earth with two blows to my unformed immune system. First, I missed out on all the good bacteria in the birth canal that an infant should be exposed to. This bacteria populates the baby's skin and gut acting as its' first dose of probiotics. Second, since I was a C-section baby, both my mom and I were put on antibiotics, further compromising the good bacteria I did have and making me more prone to thrush and yeast infection. Thankfully my mom breast-fed me so I at least got colostrum, which is crucial for a healthy immune system and gut integrity.

Overall I was a healthy kid but I did get ear infections when I was little, all of which were treated with antibiotics. But no biggie, still a pretty healthy kid with a pretty healthy, unprocessed diet - thanks mom! When I hit my early teen years I started getting acne and, yes, you guessed it, more antibiotics. I think I took every antibiotic on the market to "help" my skin and when that didn't do the trick we turned to Accutane and after 2 courses of that my skin was significantly better, although still not acne-free. Little did I know at the time that my acne was due to a dairy intolerance and could have been remedied by a simple dietary change.

After high school I moved from sunny California to Seattle for college and went from eating mostly home cooked, unprocessed food to eating cafeteria food at school. I was a vegetarian at the time and had no clue how to be a healthy vegetarian, which meant I was eating mostly high starch, high sugar foods since those were the only vegetarian options available on campus. Now keep in mind that this was the early 90's when "high carb, low fat" was all the rage. I thought I was eating healthy but I was actually creating a massive systemic candida overgrowth and I began to feel generally cruddy. I was tired and depressed and by the end of freshman year I had gained nearly 30 pounds. I had such bad brain fog that I would study for hours but just couldn't retain the information. My grades suffered and my dream of getting into veterinary school slipped away before my eyes.

That summer I went home to California and managed to eat less and exercise my way back down to only 10 pounds heavier than I was when I arrived at school, but I still felt cruddy and I began feeling severely depressed. I though about food constantly and my cravings for sugar and starchy foods were out of control. I returned to school that Fall and almost immediately began gaining weight again. It was then that I began binge eating and purging, and suicidal thoughts became a regular part of my life. I was 19 years old.

About halfway through my second year at university it was clear that I didn't have the grades to get into vet school (which is more competitive than med school), and I was heartbroken. I quite literally did not know what to do with myself since all I had ever wanted to do was be a veterinarian. I was more depressed than ever and I often planned out how I could or would commit suicide. Thankfully my love for my mom and my faith saved me. I never acted on it because I knew that it would be devastating for my mom and I knew that God had a plan for my life that I couldn't just give up on. 

The bingeing and purging escalated to the point that I finally knew I needed help so I reluctantly reached out to my mom and told her what had been going on. Being the amazingly compassionate and giving person she is, she started doing some research and eventually found a nearby treatment center for eating disorders where I went through a couple years of pretty intense therapy. It wasn't a cure but it did get me out of the cycle of bingeing and purging and helped me to make peace with my body and create a healthier relationship with food.

I felt like I was beginning to recognize myself again and I knew it was time to refocus and find purpose and direction for my life. After being in such a rigid, scientific setting at university I wanted to do something more creative. I loved to cook and I thought that just maybe I could put my fascination (or obsession) with food to good use, so I decided to go to culinary arts school.

My culinary program was full at the time so I decided to start with their pastry program and move to culinary after finishing that. Long story short I was around bread and pastries all day every day and I was a poor student, so what did I end up eating every day? Yep, bread and pastries. Again, it was the 90's and high carb was supposed to be good for you. Ugh! If you know anything about candidiasis, or candida overgrowth (if you don't, check out this great article by Dr. Amy Myers), you know that eating high starch/sugar foods feed the yeast, creating a systemic problem that affects everything from gut health to brain function.

For those of us who have a history of antibiotic usage, we're more vulnerable because we no longer have sufficient amounts of the healthy bacteria and yeasts that keep the candida in check. My history of antibiotics and super high carb diet had created the perfect environment for the systemic candida overgrowth that would affect my life for the next 2 decades, baffling doctor after doctor with my constellation of mystery symptoms.

Fast forward several years and I had finally found a Naturopathic Doctor who understood what was happening in my body. I was eating a much better more balanced diet and had lost quite a bit of weight at this point so she helped me address my hypothyroid and nutritional deficiencies. She also put me on an anti-fungal drug but unfortunately didn't tell me that yeast will build a resistance to anti-fungal drugs and herbs if it is still being well fed. So while the treatment helped for a while, it didn't solve the problem or address my overall gut health.

As difficult as that part of my life was, it gave me a passion for natural healing and using food as medicine and it's what eventually led me to go back to nutrition school. I have since learned so much about the power of food in overcoming illness and I can share that knowledge to help others avoid or overcome similar challenges.

My health has come such a long way over the last few years and I am beyond blessed to have access to amazing doctors who deal with chronic illness all the time. I began feeling familiar symptoms again after the holidays so I decided enough was enough! It was time to break up with candida once and for all and to put my nutrition knowledge to work for me. So I am now undergoing anti-fungal treatment with the incomparable Dr. Giandomenico at Sophia Health Institute (where I work part-time as the Nutrition Counselor), and simultaneously following a strict anti-candida diet.

In the last couple of years I kept hoping that by eating clean, nourishing, anti-inflammatory foods and focusing on restoring my gut health, any residual candida issues would disappear. But I now understand that once candidiasis becomes chronic, it takes much more targeted and extreme measures to truly eradicate an overgrowth, especially one that's been around for years. But what is a few months of following a restricted diet in the grand scope of things? I'd rather do this for a few months than continue to struggle with my health for years to come.

At nearly 2 months into this protocol I have next to no brain fog, my energy has increased, I'm sleeping SO much better, and I don't have the vicious sugar cravings and constant bloated feeling anymore. I've had some rough days here and there which is normal due to the toxins released by the yeast as it dies off (read more about die off reactions here), but overall it has been a positive, necessary and long overdue change.

Even if you're not dealing with candidiasis you may benefit from saying goodbye to sugar for a while. I know it can seem overwhelming or even impossible to eliminate favorite foods from your diet like sugar, gluten and dairy, but you may not need to say goodbye to them forever. After a sufficient time of allowing the gut to heal on a therapeutic diet, most people are able to reintroduce certain foods in moderate amounts with no problem so it's not necessarily a death sentence for those foods. If you've been struggling with any chronic illness or condition, I encourage you to do some soul searching and ask yourself what do you want more? Do you want that tasty food that is only enjoyable for a short moment in time and may be destroying your health, or do you want a vibrant, healthy and functional body for a lifetime?

Are you ready to breakup with candida or another digestive issue? If so I'd love to support you. Click here to schedule a complimentary Coffee Talk session and let's talk about your journey to true wellness.

Supporting Detoxification with Massage

I am going through some detoxification protocols right now and I was feeling pretty darn cruddy last week. My digestion was off, my body was achey and I just wasn't myself. Luckily I had a massage scheduled with the wonderful and gifted Molly Lampi, LMP after work on Friday, and although I was feeling guilty about spending money on what may be considered a luxury, I knew that I desperately needed it. And let me tell you, it was a Godsend! I left feeling like a new woman. My gut felt better, my aches and pains were gone and I felt more relaxed than I have for weeks.

After that massage I felt compelled to share with you the importance of supporting your body's detox pathways, and massage is a wonderful way to do this. Our body's innate detox system can get sluggish for a variety of reasons such as lack of regular exercise, too little fluids or fiber in the diet, inflammatory foods, infections, or high stress. A massage can rev-up your body's natural detox process by promoting proper digestion, lymphatic drainage and supporting our organs of detoxifcation.

During massage therapy, the rhythmic strokes and pressure applied to muscles, tissues, and organs stimulate your circulatory system. When pressure is applied to body tissues, toxins are released from in between the muscle fibers and cells. Toxins are carried into circulation throughout the body and are then eliminated in a variety of ways. This is why it's so important to drink A LOT of water after a massage - you want to give those toxins an exit from the body!

This increase in circulation during massage positively affects other systems and organs in your body as well. Massage helps move oxygen-rich blood and nutrients into your organs, especially your organs of detoxification - your kidneys and liver. Massage also facilitates relaxed, deep breathing - another important way in which the body naturally detoxifies.

Working in tandem with your circulatory system is the lymphatic system, which carries immune cells throughout the body to help defend against infection. The lymph system doesn't have a big central pump like the heart to keep things moving. Instead, it relies on gravity, exercise, breathing and massage to work efficiently.

If you're not feeling your best or haven't been as good about your diet and exercise routine lately, a massage can help you detox, and get back in balance-naturally. Check out my Recommended Natural Practitioners page for recommended Licensed Massage Practitioners. They are all highly skilled professionals who are amazing at what they do. I hope you will treat yourself to a massage soon!

How to Increase your Digestive Fire

Digestion is a complex process which relies on many factors and steps to properly transport and use the food you eat to fuel your body. When something goes wrong in this process, it can manifest in a multitude of ways, most commonly gas, bloating, abdominal pain, food sensitivities, acid reflux/heartburn, constipation or diarrhea. If allowed to continue, digestive problems can lead to more serious problems such as fatigue, IBS/IBD, SIBO, depression, diabetes, weight loss resistance, and auto-immune disease.

There is good news and bad news when it comes to maintaining or restoring healthy digestion. The bad news is that our ability to properly digest our food can easily be disrupted by chronic stress, poor diet, environmental toxins, pharmaceuticals (acid blockers or PPIs are particularly problematic), age (stomach acid starts to drop off in our 30’s and 40’s), and chronic illness, and often it is hard to determine which came first, the illness or the gut dysfunction. But the good news is that there are many ways in which to boost our digestive capacity, or “digestive fire”, to help relieve symptoms and restore nutrient absorption.

Digestive fire is a term used to describe the ability of our body to produce sufficient enzymes, stomach acid, and bile to break down our food into tiny particles which can be absorbed through our intestinal tract. If you are experiencing the symptoms below there is a good chance that your digestive fire is impaired:

  • Skin conditions such as acne, eczema, rosacea, etc.
  • Food and environmental sensitivities or allergies
  • Heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD
  • Gas and burping
  • Undigested food in stools
  • Stomach upset or pain after meals
  • SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
  • Infections (yeast, bacteria, parasites)
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nutrient deficiencies (especially vitamins A, B, D, E, K and coenzyme Q10)
  • Anemia

You may have heard the saying “digestion begins in the mouth”, but it actually starts in the brain. From the moment you think about, smell, see, taste or touch food, your brain begins prepping your body for the meal you’re about to eat. Saliva production increases; your stomach begins producing enzymes and acid; and your liver and gall bladder get ready to release bile.

Once you actually take a bite of food your salivary amylase and lipase begin breaking down starches and fats. Chewing your food properly breaks the food down into more easily digested particles, alleviating the digestive burden on the stomach. Not chewing well enough is one of the most common causes of gas and bloating and eventually can lead to leaky gut.

Next in line is the esophagus which is partitioned by the upper and lower esophageal sphincters (UES and LES). After you swallow, your food passes through the UES and travels down and through the LES then into your stomach. The LES has an important job because it prevents food and stomach acid from moving back up the esophagus and causing heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Sufficient stomach acid is required to keep the LES from allowing this reflux and while it may seem counterintuitive, we are more likely to experience heartburn/GERD because we don’t have enough stomach acid, not because we have too much.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of stomach acid, or HCl (hydrochloric acid). HCl is produced by the parietal cells in our stomachs and ideally should have a highly acidic pH similar to battery acid, or about a 1-2 on the pH scale. HCl breaks down proteins, stimulates enzyme production, maintains bacterial balance in the intestines and kills pathogenic organisms such as parasites, yeasts and bacteria that may have hitched a ride on your food.

These same parietal cells which produce HCL also make intrinsic factor and digestive enzymes, both of which are dependent on sufficient stomach acid for production. Digestive enzymes are specialized to digest specific nutrients. There are enzymes designed for every kind of starch, fat, protein and fiber and they act to further break down these particles and prepare vitamins and minerals for absorption. Intrinsic factor is crucial because we cannot absorb vitamin B12 without it first binding to intrinsic factor. This is why people who take acid blocking drugs often have vitamin B deficiencies.

Other big players in the digestive process are the pancreas, liver and gall bladder, contributing pancreatic enzymes and bile to break down the remaining proteins, carbohydrates and fats. If all goes as planned our food has now transformed into tiny particles of micronutrients that give us life and vitality. But if any step in this process is compromised, the symptoms above rear their ugly heads and our health begins to suffer.

As one of my teachers, Tom Malterre, always says, “If you aren’t digesting your food properly, someone else will do it for you”, meaning that bacteria in our gut will eat up any undigested food hanging out in our intestinal tract. This can be a problem because beneficial bacteria tend to thrive on properly broken down food while potentially harmful organisms will thrive on undigested food. SIBO is a prime example of this. Harmful bacteria can also produce chemicals that degrade our intestinal integrity causing leaky gut syndrome.

So ideally we want to make sure we’re properly digesting our food and maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in our guts. Digestion may be a complex process, but boosting your digestive capacity can be quite simple if you know what to do. Eating slowly and chewing your food well is the #1 place to start, but incorporating the tips below can help fuel your digestive fire and eliminate uncomfortable gastrointestinal problems.

Lifestyle tips for increasing digestive fire:

  • Manage your stress.
  • Eat slowly in a relaxed environment without multitasking.
  • Chew your food until it is almost liquid before swallowing (shoot for 35 chews).
  • Eat real, whole, organic foods, especially high-antioxidant vegetables.
  • Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of purified water.
  • Eliminate food sensitivities and gluten and avoid a high sugar / high starch diet.
  • Combine foods strategically – Eat veggies and greens with animal proteins (fish, meat, eggs). Eat veggies and greens with vegetable proteins (legumes, tofu/tempeh, quinoa). Don’t eat animal and vegetable proteins together. Eat fruit on its own, not with meals or other foods.
  • Decrease intake of or eliminate coffee, tea, alcohol, sugar, tobacco, fried foods and minimize hot sauce/spices since these can all deplete your stomach acid and thin the lining of the gut.
  • Avoid drinking cold liquids before or during meals.
  • Avoid chewing Gum - The enzymes and acids activated by chewing gum can cause bloating and overproduction of stomach acid.
  • Take a 10 minute walk after dinner. This aids digestion and reduces stress.
  • Stop eating at least 2, ideally 3-4 hours before bedtime. Try to give your body at least a 12 hour break from eating.

Foods and herbs to increase digestive fire:

  • Organic raw apple cider vinegar – take one Tbsp before meals to increase digestion and nutrient absorption
  • Eat more bitter tasting foods such as chicory, dandelion, arugula, radicchio, endive, artichoke, lemon and black radish – bitter foods stimulate digestive function & strengthen the digestive organs (liver, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, etc.).
  • Gentian Root - stimulates appetite and stomach acid production. Also helpful for fatigue, heartburn, vomiting, stomach ache, and diarrhea. Avoid if you have ulcers or high blood pressure.
  • Thyme – stimulates the production of gastric juices
  • Cumin – reduces inflammation, prevents gas, relieves diarrhea and promotes secretion of gastric juices. 
  • Ginger – relieves nausea, heartburn, gas, soothes and relaxes the intestinal tract
  • Cayenne pepper – provides a cleansing effect on the bowels
  • Trikatu – an Ayurvedic blend of ginger, black pepper, and long pepper. Supports digestion & overall gastric function, stimulates digestive enzymes, promotes rapid absorption of nutrients.
  •  Garlic – prevent bacterial infections such as h. pylori
  • Sea salt – stimulates stomach acid production
  • Dandelion tea or dandelion greens – increase production of stomach acid

Supplements for digestive support:

  •  Digestive enzymes – should only be used short-term or taken only with harder to digest foods. If taken long-term the body may begin to rely on them and produce less f of its own enzymes.
  • *Betaine HCl – determine the correct dose by taking Dr. Natasha Turner’s HCl Challenge
  • Ox bile / Bile salts – especially helpful for those who have had their gall bladder removed.
  • Pepsin
  • Pancreatin
  • Swedish Bitters tincture – take a small amount in a little water before you eat. These are readily available at most health food stores.

*Certain “high risk” people should not take Betaine HCL without medical supervision. You are considered high risk if you’re taking any anti-inflammatory medicines such as corticosteroids, aspirin, Indocin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or other NSAIDs. These drugs may damage the GI lining and taking HCl may increase the risks of bleeding or ulcer.

Resources:

Aglaée Jacob, M.S., R.D., Digestive Health with Real Food (Paleo Media Group, LLC, 2013)

Tom Malterre, M.S., CN, The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook (Hachette, 2014)

Jilllian Sarno Teta, N.D. & Jeannette Bessinger, CHHC, Natural Solutions for Digestive Health (Sterling, 2014)

Alejandro Junger, M.D., Clean Gut (HarperOne, 2013)

Danielle Charles-Davis, Bitters: the Revival of a Forgotten Flavor – Weston A. Price Foundation

Dr. Joseph Merocola, Problems with Digestion? Processed Foods May Be to Blame...

Thorne Research - Healthy Digestion is Key to Good Health

Testing Food Reactions Using The Coca Pulse Test

Identifying food sensitivities and/or allergies can be a time consuming and often expensive task. Elimination diets are considered the most accurate method but they can take months to complete by which time you may have developed new or different sensitivities, especially if you have leaky gut syndrome due to underlying infections or inflammation. The food allergy tests available on the market can be helpful but they are not 100% accurate.  These tests can cost up to several hundred dollars and may not be covered by insurance, which makes them cost-prohibitive for many of us. Muscle testing or ART (autonomic response testing) is an excellent way to determine food intolerances but you will need access to a practitioner who is proficient in ART.

Thankfully there is a simpler option for determining if certain foods are your friend or foe compliments of an immunologist named Arthur F. Coca who discovered a method of testing reactions to specific foods that requires no equipment and can be done by anyone in their own home at no cost. Dr. Coca’s theory was that if someone has a sensitivity or allergy to a food, it would cause a stress response in the body indicated by an accelerated heart rate.

Dr. Coca’s wife who was a medical researcher was diagnosed with a debilitating case of angina pectoris (chest pain or discomfort due to coronary heart disease) and given a five-year life expectancy by two cardiologists. She noticed that her attacks would occur within a few minutes of eating and began to realize that it was always after eating certain foods. She would eat these offending foods and inevitably her pulse would speed up and she would have an attack of angina.

Dr. Coca began tracking what she ate and how her pulse changed after each food. Eventually they compiled a list of all the foods that caused her pulse to accelerate and removed them from her diet. Not only did her angina disappear, but other health problems and symptoms she’d had went away as well.

After this happy accident Dr. Coca began using this method of testing on other patients who all had similar results. Any food that caused a patients’ heart rate to increase was identified as a problematic food. When his patients removed these foods, their symptoms went away, and if the problematic foods were reintroduced, the same symptoms would reappear. He published his book The Pulse Test back in 1956 and to this day many well-respected practitioners, including my boss, Dr. Klinghardt, recommend this method for assessing food sensitivities and allergies.

So while it may take some time to test every food in your diet, it will be a lot simpler and more affordable to try this method out at home. Dr. Coca’s book is now public domain and you can read or download it here. His instructions are somewhat involved (detailed in part 7 of his book) but there is a simple method you can use to get the same information. Keep in mind that while this test is not a perfect science, it can be extremely helpful in determining which foods are causing stress to your body.

The simplest method for this test is as follows:

1.) Get ready with a pen, paper or tracking chart, a stopwatch or watch with a second hand, and whatever food(s) you want to test. Be sure to test individual ingredients vs. foods with several ingredients so you can identify exactly what you are and are not reacting to.

2.) Sit down long enough that you are relaxed. Don’t try to do this after exercising or being active. Additionally, do not take the test when feeling angry, or upset since these emotions will effect your digestion and parasympathetic nervous system. Take a few deep breaths, then take your “before” pulse for a full 60 seconds and write it down. You can take your pulse at your neck or wrist, but make sure you always take it from the same place.

3.) Put the food/drink/supplement that you want to test in your mouth and chew it or roll it around for about 30 seconds, but don’t swallow it. If your central nervous system perceives that substance as a threat or stressor, your pulse will increase. Keep the substance in your mouth and take your pulse again for another 60 seconds, uninterrupted, and write down the “after” result. The more your pulse increases, the worse the reaction to that food. An increase of 6 or more beats (less if you are Blood Type O) indicates a sensitivity or allergy to that food. Dr. Coca recommended not testing any foods you already know are problematic for you.

4.) Spit out the food you first tested, rinse your mouth with water and spit it out. Always wait until your pulse has returned to your normal or “before” rate before testing another food, drink or supplement. This can take up to several minutes depending on the severity of your reaction. You can test as many foods this way as you like or have time for.

It is recommended that you avoid any food you react negatively to for at least 6 weeks before re-testing. But the good news is that unlike true allergies, food sensitivities can be reversed if the problematic foods are removed long enough and the gut is given the proper support to heal. For those dealing with chronic illness or autoimmune disease, I recommend eliminating offending foods completely for 6-9 months and retesting them at that time. Some people may choose to retest every three months, especially if their diet is very restricted and they wish to reintroduce foods as quickly as possible. If you continue reacting to a food after testing three months in a row, you should avoid that food permanently.

When you re-test a food and no longer have an increased pulse, you can safely reintroduce it, but you will need to test it again after one month. If you experience an increased pulse again you have probably added in too much of that food, so eliminate it for another month and then try again, eating smaller quantities of that food less frequently.

The Nutritional Therapy Association also provides a test form that you can use to track your results. Keep in mind that if you smoke or are taking a beta-blocker, calcium-channel blocker or other medication that controls heart rate, you will not get accurate results from this test.

 

References:

The Pulse Test by Arthur F. Coca M.D.

The Autonomic Nervous System and its Relationship to Headache
by Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt, M.D., PhD

Pulse Challenge Food Sensitivity Testing

Coca Pulse Test by Dr. Jay Cullinane

How To Do Food Sensitivity Testing At Home by Lauren Geertsen, NTP

Food Allergy Detective: How to Find a Food Sensitivity or Food Allergy: Part 3 by Kirstin Carey

Fat Loss and Detoxification - Why Toxicity May Be Stopping You From Losing Weight

Detox has become somewhat of a dirty word these days. With all of the "detox" programs that require juice fasts, extreme calorie restriction and bizarre foods, it's no wonder that people cringe when they hear the word. Truth be told I have the same reaction and unless I know and trust the source of a detox program, I tend to assume it's a bad idea.

Our bodies have built-in detoxification processes which, as long as they are working properly, don't need crazy diets or loads of supplements to rid our bodies of the toxins and pollutants we're exposed to every day. However, our bodies were not designed to handle the amount of toxic exposure we are subjected to in this day and age which means that our internal detox pathways can get overloaded. Throw a poor diet on top of that and you'll find yourself feeling and looking pretty awful.

For years we have been told that losing weight is simply a matter of calories in, calories out, and to some degree that is true. But weight loss and fat loss are two VERY different things, and for most people, real fat loss is what we want to achieve. That brings us to our fat cells. These little guys get a bad wrap, but in fact they're helping to protect us by storing any fat-soluble toxins that our organs of detoxification can't get rid of. So the next time you see those rolls of chub on your tummy, remember that while you don't want to keep them, they're preventing your organs from being poisoned.

If we are storing a lot of toxicity in our fat cells, our bodies will not release that extra weight because it simply isn't safe. But if we nurture our liver and kidneys and optimize our body's detox pathways, we will have a much easier time eliminating those toxins and then we will more readily burn fat.

So how does one go about detoxing in a natural, gentle way without going to extremes? There are a few ways to go about it, but the bottom line is - use your food as medicine. By eliminating the most common inflammatory and allergenic foods, avoiding non-organic foods and toxic chemicals, and eating foods that support the your detox organs, you can help optimize your body's ability to "take out the trash".

October is a great time to step back and take stock of your health, using the change in season as a chance to make a fresh start. I wanted to give clients a way to do this that was both effective and enjoyable so I created the Reboot Your Bod Detox. My Fall detox program is an ideal way to detox gently and naturally while enjoying delicious, whole foods that nourish and heal your body. And you won't be going it alone! Starting on October 19 others just like you will begin their 21-day journey to a healthier, happier body and mind, and I'll be supporting you every step of the way with one-on-one coaching and a private Facebook group.

The most common feedback I hear from my Detoxers is that they are amazed at how they can eat so much delicious food and still lose weight, eliminate bloating, feel more energized. And the best part is that you'll learn skills to continue seeing results long after the program is over. Want to learn more? Click here for Detox details and to read what others are saying about this transformational program.

Other articles on this topic from industry experts:

PCBs are Linked to a Fat Stomach by Byron J. Richards, CN

Pesticides vs. Calories. Another hit to the calorie model. by Dr. Jade Teta

Remove Toxins From Your Fat Cells by Dr. John Douillard

How Toxins Make You Fat: 4 Steps to Get Rid of Toxic Weight by Dr. Mark Hyman

Listen To Your Gut

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As a nation, we spend $10 billion dollars a year on heartburn/acid reflux medicine such as Nexium and Pepcid AC (NPR, Healthinc, May 2015). Sixty million people have some form of IBS/Irritable Bowel Syndrome, while more than 5 million people suffer from daily constipation, resulting in 2 million doctor visits and $725 million a year for laxatives, anti-spasm meds and fiber supplements such as Metamucil (Gastroenterology Association). These remedies often have a yo-yo effect of days of alternating constipation and diarrhea, in addition to other side effects. And every day, millions of Americans complain of gas, feeling bloated, and/or ongoing stomach upset (Washington School of Medicine). So why all the tummy troubles?

According to many recent studies, research articles, and experience in my own nutrition coaching practice, it is clear that lifestyle, food choices and stress are the most common causes of these unpleasant symptoms. I’ve worked with dozens of clients to help them understand what is causing their tummy trouble and helped then improve their digestion and gut health. This is a major focus of my practice, and it is extremely rewarding because it affects so many of my clients experience these symptoms. Here are some of the areas we cover:

• What’s going on in your gut? The lining of your small intestine is comprised of trillions of bacteria that coexist in a complex balance that keeps you healthy. These trillions of bacteria in our gut are also known as intestinal flora. They help break down our food, protect us from disease, keep us functioning optimally, and even prevent weight gain. But things like antibiotics, certain medications, poor diet, food additives, and stress upset the balance of good bacteria to bad bacteria or yeast, creating what is know as dysbiosis. When your microbiome gets out of balance, your stomach reacts with gas, bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea.

• Is your gut leaky? Many health coaches and nutritionists are aware of “leaky gut syndrome”, or intestinal permeability – although your doctor may not be. Leaky gut is a result of damage to the intestinal lining caused by several factors including dysbiosis, parasite infection, chronic stress, poor digestion or a bad diet. When the integrity of the intestinal lining is compromised, natural waste that would typically be absorbed or eliminated in your stool can “leak” from your digestive system into your blood stream. Like the lactose-and gluten-intolerances discussed below, a leaky gut causes an inflammatory immune response, and that can cause gas, bloating and pain, food sensitivities, skin rashes, joint pain and fatigue. Note that medications used for joint aches and body pains, as well as antibiotics, can cause chronic inflammation, which many experts believe can lead to leaky gut.

Chronic stress can lead to gut issues. Chronic stress can lead to a variety of gut problems such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcers, IBD, IBS, and even food allergies. Studies show that stress also contributes to leaky gut syndrome, slows waste elimination and encourages bacterial overgrowth, making stress management a top priority for anyone with GI health concerns.  Taking time to practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and breathing exercises can help reduce stress and anxiety. These exercises may actually alter the brain’s neuro pathways, helping you become more resilient to the affects of stress. There are many actions you can take to help reduce your stress; but the first step is to identify the source and take the necessary steps to reduce it as much as possible.

• Your bowels are irritable. About 20 percent of all women suffer from IBS, which can cause gas, bloating and painful yo-yo-ing between diarrhea and constipation. But your bowels don't just get irritable out of the blue. Diet and stress can both contribute to IBS symptoms and a study by Dr. Mark Hyman found that changing certain foods in your diet can eliminate up to 30 percent of your symptoms. I help my clients identify which foods to eliminate, which foods are not a problem, and guide you through an effective process for maintaining your healthier lifestyle. My first suggestion to clients with IBS is to keep a food journal – you can start doing this now! Write down everything you eat, making sure to mark the time, amount, and ingredients. This is a great investigative tool and helps you become more aware of what you’re eating and how you feel afterwards.

• Is dairy really your friend? About 25 percent of Americans have trouble digesting dairy products. Lactose (the sugar in milk) and casein (milk protein) intolerances get worse as we age and can cause gas, bloating, skin problems and other symptoms. If you want to take a self-assessment, try eliminating all dairy from your diet for one to three weeks, and see if your symptoms improve. This is not always easy to do without an expert’s help, because dairy or whey products are often hiding in foods that we would never consider “milk products.” Contrary to what the FDA and dairy industry would have us believe, we do not need dairy products to get adequate calcium in our diets. Dark, leafy greens, sardines, figs, almonds and sesame seeds are all great sources of calcium. For an excellent gut-healing food rich in calcium and other minerals, try making your own bone broth.

• What does your weight have to do with it? People who are overweight are 50 percent more likely to suffer from GERD and/or heartburn, and are more susceptible to gallstones (causing pain in the upper right-side of your stomach). The poor food choices that lead to obesity are often the original cause of gastrointestinal problems for many Americans. If these symptoms are treated with certain drugs like PPIs, it can make these problems even worse and cause additional long-term problems. Excess weight also puts more pressure on your stomach, which then puts pressure on the valve opening to your esophagus. By switching to a clean, whole foods diet you can slim down and reduce or eliminate your food-related heartburn and GERD.

• Could wheat be the culprit? More people are discovering their stomach distress is related to a gluten intolerance; studies show about 20% of Americans are affected, with celiac disease becoming more and more common. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance create an autoimmune reaction; the body produces antibodies that attack the protective “villi” found in the small intestine. Villi are what help you absorb nutrients, so when they are compromised, you get cramping, bloating and nutrient-deficiency. If your parents or siblings suffer from celiac or gluten-intolerance, there’s a greater chance that you might, too, as there is a strong genetic link. You can get a blood test to determine if you have celiac disease, but there is no definitive test to conclude if you are gluten-intolerant. Becoming gluten-free helps millions of sufferers eliminate symptoms, but eliminating gluten can be tricky and is best done with the help of a nutrition coach who can help you learn more about the foods you can and cannot eat. Foods you’d never think would contain gluten often do – such as soy sauce and ketchup! Plus, to truly reap the benefits, gluten-free is an all-or-nothing diet – simply “reducing” your gluten intake usually will not eliminate your symptoms.

If you have experienced stomach issues for years, or if your distress is recent, I would be happy to help you feel better and healthier! Click here to schedule your complimentary Coffee Talk session.

The Benefits of Bone Broth

Originally published on the Sophia Health Institute blog on July 10, 2015.

Bone broth has become quite a hot topic in the nutrition world as of late, but this incredibly nourishing and healing food is no Johnny-come-lately. People have been making broths for centuries as a rich source of nutrition and in order to use parts of an animal that would otherwise be inedible. By boiling bones, ligaments and other animal parts, the healing compounds in the food are released to create an easily digested source of protein and minerals. These compounds (collagen, amino acids and minerals) have the ability to transform your health, so why not reap their benefits with a delicious, versatile broth?

There are three types of traditional broths – broth, meat stock and bone broth. While these terms are often used interchangeably, and they are all made with similar methods, the ingredients used and the end product are quite different.

Broth is made with meat and a small amount of bones and is simmered for a relatively short time – only 45 minutes to 2 hours. It is lighter in texture and flavor and is not as nutritionally dense as meat stock or bone broth.

Meat stock is prepared using pieces of meat containing joints such as a whole chicken, whole turkey or chicken thighs, or a lamb shank. Meat stock is cooked for about 1 ½ -3 hours for poultry and up to 6 hours for beef or lamb. It has a lighter flavor than bone broth but still offers similar health benefits while being easier to digest for some individuals. Meat stock is great as a base for stew and makes a hearty meal with the addition of vegetables.

Because bone broth contains high levels of the amino acid glutamine, it may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with severely compromised gut health. If this is the case, meat stock is a better option since it has a different amino acid profile than bone broth, mainly glycine and proline, which are more easily digested. Those with histamine intolerance may also have a reaction to longer-cooked broths.

Bone broth on the other hand is made with bones and joints with very little meat included. It is also cooked much longer (up to 24 hours for chicken or fish and 48 hours for beef or lamb), with the addition of an acid such as vinegar to extract the amino acids and minerals from the bones, joints and marrow.

Until about 1930 when pharmaceuticals began to take over, doctors prescribed bone broths for a wide range of ailments including upset stomach in adults, and colic and milk allergies in infants. The “conditional amino acids” in bone broth are considered nonessential but become essential when we are very ill or stressed and unable to produce them. This is one of the main reasons it is such a healing food.

The Amazing Benefits of bone broth:

  • Aids digestion and stimulates production of stomach acid, gastric juices and bile salts.
  • Rich in amino acids (proline, glycine, glutamine, arginine, hydroxyproline) and gelatin which can help heal leaky gut syndrome by “healing and sealing” the gut.
  • Supports detoxification of cells, the gut and the liver.
  • Can reduce food allergies and sensitivities.
  • Can help improve kidney function.
  • Promotes muscle sparing during rapid weight loss due to illness
  • Reduces inflammation in the respiratory system, and mitigates the side effects of colds, flu and upper respiratory infections.
  • Rich in gelatin, glucosamine and chondroitin, which relieve joint pain and promote healthy bones, joints, connective tissue, skin, hair and nails.
  • Increases collagen production, which can reduce the appearance of wrinkles and cellulite.
  • Excellent source of minerals (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sulfur, silicon and potassium) necessary for bone and dental health – great news for us dairy-free folks!
  • Helps prevent and satisfy cravings.
  • Provides a wide variety of electrolytes to maintain proper hydration and fluid balance.
  • Ideally one should consume 1-2 cups per day, either right before or with your meals. Some people are intimidated by the idea of making their own bone broth, but it is actually quite easy to make using a simple slow cooker recipe.

For the best quality bone broth it is important to source bones from pasture-raised, 100% grass-fed and finished cows, lamb and venison, pastured chickens and wild caught fish. I recommend seeking out a butcher in your area who specializes in local, pastured meats or purchasing from a reputable source online such as US Wellness Meats. You can also check out EatWild’s Directory of Farms to find a resource in your area.

If you don’t want to make your own bone broth there are a few excellent options for purchasing it. Kettle and Fire make shelf stable, organic, grass-fed beef bone broth from pasture-raised cattle. The Brothery makes delicious organic chicken and organic grass-fed beef bone broth. Real Bone Broth also makes organic chicken, organic beef and wild-caught fish broths which are available online at Wise Choice Market and select retailers

There are a few store-bought bone broth options available now but sadly they don’t contain even a fraction of the nutrition and benefits that homemade broth does and they are extremely expensive in comparison to making your own. In addition they often contain flavorings or other ingredients such as MSG or high FODMAP vegetables that can be problematic for those with gut health issues.

In our modern day culture of quick fixes and treat-the-symptoms mindset in the mainstream medical community, it is more important than ever to remember that food can indeed be medicine. Preparing traditional foods is a wonderful way to reconnect with our food and heal our bodies in a delicious and fulfilling way.

References:

Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitroRennard BO, et al. 2011

Aglaée Jacob, M.S., R.D., Digestive Health with Real Food (Paleo Media Group, LLC, 2013)

Bone Broth, Broths and Stocks – by Nourished Kitchen

Bone Broth Benefits for Digestion, Arthritis, and Cellulite by Dr. Josh Axe

Applying GAPS Principles for Better Health by Hilary Moshman, MPH and Victoria LaFont, NTP – Price Pottenger Journal Vol. 39 / No. 1, Spring 2015

The Heal Your Gut Cookbook by Hilary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett

Why Broth is Beautiful: Essential Roles for Proline, Glycine and Gelatin – by Dr. Kaayla Daniel June 18, 2003

High Cholesterols Foods - Friend or Foe?

Originally published on the Sophia Health Institute blog on June 20, 2015.

For decades we have been conditioned to believe that saturated fats and cholesterol were the enemy responsible for heart disease, obesity and a host of other health problems. In the 80’s we all began ditching the bacon, nuts, and full fat dairy in favor of low-fat, high carbohydrate foods that were supposed to contribute to a healthy heart and a leaner body. But here we are, a little over 20 years later, finding ourselves hungrier, fatter, and sicker. So what went wrong?

It all began with a study published by Dr. Ancel Keys in 1970 who postulated that heart disease was directly related to high serum cholesterol, caused by high dietary fat intake. The model of his study was highly suspicious and recent studies have found that there is in fact no link between saturated fats in the diet and heart disease. However, Dr. Keys’ ideology was – and still is – widely accepted in the mainstream medical community. Many doctors continue to recommend low-fat, high carbohydrate diets in spite of the new, more accurate science proving that this approach is detrimental to our health.

Produced by the liver, cholesterol would still be present in your body even if you consumed no dietary cholesterol whatsoever. It is the most common steroid in the body and it is a crucial component of our cell membranes. In addition, cholesterol is required in the formation of Vitamin D, bile acids and hormones. Evidence suggests that without adequate cholesterol, our risk for heart disease and other inflammatory diseases increases; according to Dr. Joseph Mercola “Your body needs adequate cholesterol to perform a number of critical functions, and there is strong evidence that people have a higher risk for heart attacks by having their cholesterol levels driven too low, as is being done by drugs like statins.”

Cholesterol is also necessary for a healthy brain as it acts as a protective antioxidant, promotes neurogenesis (creation of new brain cells) and facilitates communication between neurons. According to Dr. David Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain, there is a correlation between higher serum cholesterol and increased cognitive function and a Mayo Clinic study found individuals consuming a higher saturated fat diet reduced their risk for developing dementia by a whopping 36%.

Not all saturated fats are created equal, especially when it comes to trans fats and animal fats. In a ruling on this Tuesday the 16th of June, the FDA declared that trans fat are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in human food. Trans fats or hydrogenated fats/oils are highly inflammatory and should be avoided at all costs.

Fats from animals raised by grazing on a natural diet (grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chickens and eggs, etc.) contain higher levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, whereas animals fed grains or other foods foreign to their natural diet are higher in omega-6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory if we get too much of them. Ideally our diet would consists of a ratio of 1:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, but in the standard American diet, people consume over 25 times as much omega-6 as they do omega-3.

There are three types of omega-3 fats – ALA, EPA and DHA, and while there are good plant-based sources of ALA (hemp, flax, chia), our bodies need all three types. To get the necessary doses requires eating a variety of both plant and animal foods.

Refined vegetable oils can be equally problematic; these so-called  “heart healthy”, “cholesterol free” oils such as canola, soybean, peanut,  sunflower and corn are high in omega-6 fatty acids which can contribute to intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome), increase the risk of inflammatory diseases and negatively alter gene expression. These oils are also commonly made from genetically modified crops which destroy our beneficial gut bacteria, further compromising our digestion, immune system, and neurological functions. If you are already struggling with digestive issues or chronic illness you may already have too much inflammation in your body. By eliminating refined vegetable oils you can reduce your overall inflammation.

A diet high in healthy fats is also beneficial for digestive health. Ghee and butter from pastured animals are excellent sources of butyric acid. This fatty acid is an excellent anti-inflammatory source of energy for the cells lining our intestines and it helps to “seal” the gut and reverse intestinal permeability. In addition, bacteria, parasites and fungus do not eat fat which means that we can reap the nutritional benefits of healthy fats while starving any unwelcome bacteria or pathogens in the gut.

Great sources of cholesterol and healthy fats:

  • Nuts
  • Wild fish
  • Wild and grass-fed meats
  • Ghee and butter from pastured animals
  • Seeds (hemp, chia, flax)
  • Avocados
  • Whole organic pastured eggs (the yolk is the best part!)
  • Organic extra virgin olive oil
  • Coconut oil

People often ask me if eating more fat and high cholesterol foods will make them fat, and the answer is absolutely not! In fact, proper fat intake can help us lose weight and maintain healthy body composition by training our bodies to tap into our fat as a fuel source instead of burning sugar. Fat also keeps us feeling full and satisfied, enhances absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, helps reduce blood sugar and provides a steady flow of energy throughout the day.

Heart disease is less likely a product of high fat foods and more likely the result of chronic stress, a diet high in processed foods and poor lifestyle choices. When we are under constant stress our bodies produce more cortisol which then breaks down vitamin C. If we have a long-term vitamin C deficiency, it weakens our arterial walls which the body then attempts to “patch up” with available cholesterol from the bloodstream. This creates atherosclerotic plaque to protect the arterial walls which is often treated with statins. Sadly this approach does nothing to address the root cause of the problem which could most likely be resolved with proper diet, lifestyle changes, and natural interventions.

By choosing real, unprocessed, properly raised and cultivated high fat foods from both plant and animal sources we can greatly improve the state of our health and overall well-being. So enjoy that organic, grass-fed steak and full fat organic yogurt and don’t skimp on the avocado in your salad. You will enjoy your food so much more and your heart, brain, gut and waistline will thank you.

If you have trouble digesting fats or have had your gallbladder removed, talk to your practitioner about supplementing with digestive support such as digestive enzymes, ox bile and/or betaine HCl. Fatty or greasy stools that float or are pale and very stinky are good indicators that you’re not digesting fat properly.

References:

Dietary intake of saturated fatty acids and mortality from cardiovascular disease in Japanese: the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study for Evaluation of Cancer Risk (JACC) Study. - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Yamagishi K., et al. 2010

Aglaée Jacob, M.S., R.D., Digestive Health with Real Food (Paleo Media Group, LLC, 2013)

Effect of Dietary Fatty Acids on Inflammatory Gene Expression in Healthy Humans*  - Kelly L. Weaver, et al.

The Diet-Heart Myth: Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Are Not the Enemy - by Chris Kresser 2013

Your “Healthy” Diet Could Be Quietly Killing Your Brain - A new book challenges convention with the latest science on brain health. by Max Lugavere for PsychologyToday.com 2013

Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. -  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Siri-Tarino PW, et al. 2010

The Great Cholesterol Myth, - Dr. Stephen Sinatra 2014

New Science Destroys the Saturated Fat Myth – Mercola.com 2014

The 6 Greatest Cholesterol Myths Debunked - James Colquhoun,2014

The diet–heart hypothesis: a critique - Sylvan Lee Weinberg, MD, MACC* 2004

Why Grassfed Animal Products Are Better For You – Dr. Joseph Mercola

FDA orders food manufacturers to stop using trans fat within three years, By Jen Christensen, CNN Updated 3:47 PM ET, Tue June 16, 2015

The Science is Practically Screaming... Don't Make This Trendy Fat Mistake – Mercola.com 2011

How too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 is making us sick - 2010 by CHRIS KRESSER 

Dietary Fats and Health: Dietary Recommendations in the Context of Scientific Evidence - Glen D. Lawrence* 2013

MCT Oil - Truly Beneficial or Just Another Health Fad?

There has been a lot of hype recently about MCTs (medium chain triglyceride) and their many health benefits. I've even heard them described as a "weight loss miracle”. First of all, anything that claims to be a "miracle" or sounds too good to be true probably is, especially when it comes to weight loss. But while it may not melt all your fat off overnight, MCTs do have some significant health benefits. 

Here’s what you need to know:

All oils contain long, medium or short chain fatty acids (or all three). There are four types of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) - Caproic Acid, Caprylic Acid, Capric Acid and Lauric Acid, all of which are known for their amazing health benefits. Coconut oil is the richest, all-natural source of medium chain triglycerides (50%!) and is the ONLY source that has ALL FOUR MCTs.

MCT oil however, usually contains just the three capra fatty acids, and NOT the lauric acid which is considered the most beneficial and is only found in coconut. MCT oil is sometimes marketed as "liquid coconut oil", but don't be fooled - lauric acid is what makes coconut oil solid at cool temperatures, so in order for MCT oil to stay liquid when refrigerated, the lauric acid must be removed. Silly humans, always thinking we can improve on nature...

Benefits of MCTs:

  • They increase the amount of energy you use, and can contribute to fat loss. They also help you feel more satisfied, so you may be less likely to overeat.
  • They go right from your digestive tract to the liver and provide a fast source of energy. 
  • People who eat coconut oil have a lower incidence of heart disease. 
  • Lauric and caprylic acids are antimicrobial and can keep bacteria, fungus (candida) and viruses in check. 
  • MCTs may improve the symptoms of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Add some organic coconut oil to your morning smoothie for a natural energy boost or use it for sautéing vegetables. Either way it's delicious and since it has a high smoke point, it is ideal for med-high heat cooking.

What is most important to understand is that there is no “magic pill.” True health and ideal body composition can be achieved by addressing the root cause of food behaviors and symptoms and healing the body with healthy nutrition, fitness and lifestyle habits. And remember, the closer a food is to it's natural state, the healthier it is for you.

SIBO and FODMAPs – What They Mean and How They Affect Your Health.

Originally published May 21, 2015 on www.drklinghardt.com.

SIBO has gotten a lot of press recently, most likely due to its increasing prevalence in recent years. SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and is defined as a chronic infection of the small intestine. The most common symptoms of SIBO are very similar to that of IBS - namely gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, leaky gut, fructose malabsorption and excessive fermentation of certain carbohydrates called FODMAPs. If you’re suffering from SIBO you may also experience eczema, joint pain, headaches, asthma, depression, autoimmune disorders and a multitude of food sensitivities. According to research by Dr. Mark Pimental, 84% of people with IBS have bacterial overgrowth in their small intestine which could suggest that most people who complain of IBS symptoms also have SIBO. (Most IBS patients are FODMAP intolerant, but while consuming FODMAPs exacerbates symptoms, it doesn’t actually cause IBS.)

But wait a minute, isn’t bacteria in our gut a good thing? Yes! But only if it’s in the right place. Our bodies have about 10 times the number of bacteria as we do human cells, but the large majority of those bacteria should make their home in the colon. When too many bacteria set up shop in our small intestines they rob us of nutrients such as B12 and iron. These bacteria also deconjugate bile acids produced by the liver which prevents proper fat digestion and absorption creating problems similar to not having a gallbladder. Not only do we miss out on the benefits of fats themselves, but we also cannot absorb fat-soluble nutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids, CoQ10, beta-carotene and vitamins A, D, E and K.  So if you’re supplementing with these and not seeing the expected improvement, SIBO could be a potential culprit. Your doctor can administer a simple breath test or an organic acid urine test to determine if you have SIBO.

SIBO can also contribute to both weight loss due to malnutrition and obesity. If the excess bacteria are consuming all the carbohydrates in your diet, you may lose too much weight accompanied by nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite. Chronic diarrhea also deprives you of the nutrients in your food because it’s moving through your body too quickly to be absorbed. Insulin resistance and elevated cortisol levels can also be a product of the stress and inflammation from SIBO, resulting in weight gain, weight loss resistance and possible contributing to diabetes.

SIBO is often caused by dysbiosis – or an imbalance between beneficial bacteria and yeasts and harmful bacteria, yeast, and even parasites, but our diet may be the biggest cause. Bacteria thrive on the sugars and starches in the food we eat and the byproduct of this is fermentation. Aglaée Jacob, author of Digestive Health with Real Food describes the bacteria as creating “lots of microbreweries”. So just like the process of brewing beer, the more food we provide for the bacteria, the more fermentation they produce, which translates to gas and bloating. In turn that gas and bloating cause inflammation in the gut, eventually leading to the symptoms mentioned above.

Dietary Interventions for SIBO.

The trick when it comes to getting SIBO under control is similar to that of treating a candida infection – starve the bacteria without starving the person. In this case that means removing their favorite foods – sugar, starches and fermentable carbohydrates. Enter FODMAPs. FODMAPs stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols and following a low FODMAP diet has proven to be extremely effective in the treatment of IBS and SIBO.

FODMAPs are all types of carbohydrates that are not fully digested and absorbed by the GI tract and are therefore more easily fermented by the bacteria who thrive on them. As a general rule of thumb, good bacteria thrive on properly digested food while undesirable bacteria thrive on undigested foods such as FODMAPs. Proper digestion of food by stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes and enzymes found in the intestinal “brush border” breaks food down into particles small enough to be absorbed by the body. If this process doesn’t work efficiently, bacteria can easily overpopulate in the small intestine and wreak havoc on our health.

When it comes to SIBO, the importance of reducing gut inflammation, adequate stomach acid and enzyme activity cannot be overstated. Healthy intestinal cells secrete immune system antibodies, or immunoglobulins, which act as natural antibiotics to kill harmful bacteria and prevent them from colonizing the intestinal wall. If someone lacks sufficient Vit. D, the secretion of these immunoglobulins is inhibited. Combine this with insufficient stomach acid, enzymes, bile secretions, and constipation and you have the perfect environment for bacterial overgrowth. You can read more about how to increase your digestive ability in this article

Other important factors here are hydration and the migrating motor complex or “cleansing wave” of the intestines. This process kicks in a few hours after a meal and acts like a push broom, sweeping undigested food and bacteria from the stomach, through your small intestines into the colon. These waves only occur when the body is not digesting, so eating more often will inhibit this process and promote growth of bacteria in the small intestine. Adding insult to injury, these bacteria then produce toxic secretions that can cause long-term damage to your intestines and migrating motor complex if left untreated. 

Drinking enough water throughout the day is essential for proper bowel motility and preventing constipation. You can increase and preserve your cleansing waves by staying hydrated and eating 3 meals a day, 4-5 hours apart. However, do not wait this long between meals if you have blood sugar regulation issues, are malnourished and/or underweight.

What to eat and what to avoid on a low FODMAP diet.

People with SIBO often develop intolerances to a multitude of non-FODMAP carbohydrates, and can benefit significantly from a low-starch, gluten-free, paleo type diet rich in low FODMAP vegetables, healthy fats and clean, organic protein sources. Happily this type of diet can also inhibit the growth of other pathogenic intruders such as candida and parasites.

Since legumes are one of the biggest offenders when it comes to fermentable carbohydrates, vegetarians who rely on them as a protein source will want to substitute plant-based proteins such as hemp protein powder, hemp hearts, pumpkin seed protein, spirulina and kale.

It is important to point out that while higher FODMAP foods may be problematic for those with SIBO, it does not mean that they are unhealthy. There are many wonderful and highly beneficial foods, especially vegetables that should be reincorporated into the diet once SIBO is resolved. If you do not suffer from IBS or SIBO there is no reason for you to avoid high FODMAP nutrient powerhouses such as broccoli and cauliflower unless you have specific intolerances.

On average it takes about 2 years and sometimes as long as five for SIBO to be completely corrected and for this reason many people choose to treat SIBO with a combination of diet and other treatments. Additional treatment options include antibiotics (usually refaximin and/or neomycin), herbal antibiotics (e.g. peppermint oil, grapefruit seed extract, berberine, etc.) and elemental diets (often very expensive and impractical). Talk with your doctor to determine the best option for you.

While using diet alone to treat SIBO can take much more time and effort than other treatments, some people may start to feel improvement within a few weeks. The overgrowth itself will take longer to resolve, but in the meantime people can enjoy some relief from their symptoms. Dietary treatments for SIBO should only be followed for an additional two weeks after being symptom-free, depending on the severity of the infection. It is not intended to be a permanent protocol and it can be detrimental to your healthy gut flora if followed for too long. 

The goal with this diet is to reduce fermentation, inflammation and undesirable bacteria in the gut. Once those components are under control we can begin healing the gut with specific treatments and begin adding certain foods back in to promote a healthy population of beneficial flora. 

Most Common High FODMAP Foods (see resources below for complete lists):

Vegetables: Artichoke, asparagus, bean sprouts, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery, garlic, sugar snap peas, onion, Jerusalem artichokes, potato (all colors), seaweeds, sweet potato, turnip.
Fruits: Apple, apricot, avocado, blackberry, canned fruit, cherries, cranberry, dates, grapefruit, mango, nectarine, papaya, peach, pear, persimmon, plantain, plum, prunes, watermelon.
Grains: Wheat and all gluten-containing grains, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye, spelt, teff, wild rice.
Legumes: Cannellini beans, chickpeas/garbanzos, fava beans, kidney beans, navy/white beans, pinto beans, soy beans, peas, pretty much all of them.
Dairy products: All dairy products except butter, cheese aged 1+ months, dry curd cottage cheese, ghee, sour cream (homemade), yogurt (homemade).
Proteins/Meats: Bacon w/sugar or corn syrup, broth made with onion or garlic, deli/processed meats.
Nuts/Seeds: Cashews, chia seed, flaxseed, hazelnuts, pistachios.
Fats: Margarine, soybean oil.
Sweeteners: Honey (sage or tupelo), maple syrup, molasses, sugar alcohols (xylitol, erythritol), stevia with inulin or other caking agent, sucralose, sugar/sucrose.
Beverages: Almond or other nut milk w/thickeners, coffee substitutes, coconut milk w/thickeners, fruit juice, soda, chicory tea, licorice tea, pau d’arco tea, soy milk.
Seasonings/Condiments: Asafoetida powder, balsamic vinegar, carob, chicory root, cocoa, all gums/thickeners, spices with onion & garlic, soy sauce/tamari.
Alcohol: Beer, brandy, hard cider, liquors/cordials, rum, sake, sherry, tequila, wine (sweet/dessert), port, sparkling wine.

Additional tips for managing or preventing SIBO:

•    Eliminate foods you are sensitive or allergic to.
•    Omit grains, dairy and higher FODMAP foods.
•    Take digestive enzymes and/or HCl or other digestive support.
•    Eat 3 meals daily with 4-5 hours between each unless you are underweight or  hypoglycemic.
•    Supplement with Vitamin D if you are deficient.
•    Manage stress.

The list of foods to enjoy and foods to avoid is too long to list in detail here, but there are many great resources for low FODMAP diets, including Dr. Allison Siebecker’s web site and these helpful charts from Aglaée Jacob and The Whole 30. There are also two great smartphone apps which you can use to look up specific foods - The Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App and the SIBO app by Dharmaworks Consulting, LLC. I find these especially handy when I’m at the grocery store or a restaurant and need to see if a food is high in FODMAPs.

References:

Aglaée Jacob, M.S., R.D., Digestive Health with Real Food (Paleo Media Group, LLC, 2013)

The Elimination Diet: Discover the Foods That Are Making You Sick and Tired--and Feel Better Fast, by Tom Malterre and Alissa Segersten (Grand Central Life & Style ©2015)

A New IBS Solution: Bacteria-The Missing Link in Treating Irritable Bowel, by Mark Pimentel (Health Point Press ©2006)  

Low-FODMAP diets: are they safe in the long-term? By Aglée Jacob, MS, RD, Feb. 16, 2015 Radicata Medicine

FODMAPs: Could common foods be harming your digestive health?, by Chris Kresser, JULY 13, 2012

Review article: fructose malabsorption and the bigger picture, P. R. GIBSON, E. NEWNHAM, J. S. BARRETT, S. J. SHEPHERD andJ. G. MUIR, Article first published online: 3 NOV 2006

FODMAPs Diet by Dr. Stephen Gangemi, DC


*All articles and information on this website are for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease and is not to be regarded or relied upon as medical advice. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Results may vary per person. Discuss any dietary changes or potential dietary supplement use with your health practitioner and do not discontinue any prescription medications without first consulting your doctor.