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

FermentedVeggies-min.jpeg

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:

How to Avoid the Scary Flu

SickInBed.jpeg

You may have heard that this year’s flu is exceptionally serious. Time magazine reports that for the first time since the CDC began monitoring the flu, every area across the U.S. is affected all at the same time. And for those who get the flu vaccine, the CDC estimates that it is just 30 percent effective this year. In addition, many people are suffering from post-flu illnesses; according to health practitioners, if your immune system is weakened by the flu, you can be more susceptible to pneumonia and other infections that can be even more serious.

So what can you do to reduce your risk of getting the flu? First and foremost, keep your immune system in top shape by following the suggestions below. Also, consider incorporating more immune-boosting foods like the ones below in your everyday meals.

Your immune system is your body’s first line of defense against infections and disease so I'll show you some easy ways to help your immune system function at its peak performance and stay healthy this season.

Top Tips for a Healthy Immune System

Lots of things can affect your immune system– the type of foods we eat (or don’t eat); how much water we drink, sleep we get, stress we’re under – these are just a few of the areas that we can address to boost immune function. If you pick just three of the suggestions from the immune-boosting tips below and stick with them, you can strengthen your immune system and increase your ability to stay healthy through the dreaded cold and flu season.

1. SLEEP 
If you are overly fatigued or constantly sleep-deprived, it will be harder for your immune system to fight off disease. On the other hand, regular rest and restorative sleep will support your immune system, so your body has the strength to fight off any potential invaders. (By the way, did you know my programs include helping people who have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Contact me if you’re tired of being tired!)

2. SUGAR 
If you do just ONE thing to boost your immune system, reduce the amount of sugar you consume – especially if you are already feeling under the weather. Sugar (which comes in many forms and has many different names) contributes to inflammation and runs down the immune system. Leaders in the health, wellness and nutrition fields, such as Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Mark Hyman and Dr. Joel Furhman, also suggest eating organic whenever possible and reducing processed foods (food that comes in a package with a lot of ingredients that you can’t pronounce etc.).

3. ALKALINE VS. ACIDIC 
Did you know that many diseases cannot exist in an alkaline state? And yet, they can thrive an acidic state. So, the key is to help your body maintain an alkaline state and keep your immune system in peak performance! This is a simple matter of choosing to “eat that not this.”

Eating alkaline foods can: 
• Detoxify the body
• Boost your Immune function
• Prevent disease by making it hard for germs and disease to survive
• Reduce inflammation
• Increase energy
• Increase your longevity

What foods are the most alkaline in the body? You guessed it, veggies, especially leafy greens and fruit. (Citrus fruits that are generally considered acidic are actually alkaline producing in the body.) Start your day with hot lemon water and be sure to include a big leafy green salad or big pile of veggies for lunch or dinner.

What “foods” are acidic in the body? 
• Sugar
• Refined and processed foods
• Meat
• Dairy
• Alcohol
• Coffee
• Soda

5. DAIRY 
Nutritional studies show that avoiding dairy can be helpful to avoiding disease, particularly during cold and flu season. Dairy can create inflammation and “mucous glue,” where bacteria and viruses can grow. It can also contribute to allergy symptoms, sinus and ear infections. And as mentioned above, dairy is one of the acid-forming foods.

6. HYDRATE 
Water is essential for ensuring that your body eliminates waste and toxins – and that can help shorten the length of your illness. A good rule of thumb is to drink half of your weight in ounces of water every day.

So, a person who weighs 130 pounds needs approximately 65 ounces of water – more if you exercise regularly. Start as soon as you wake up, by drinking 8 ounces of water before you do anything else! And here’s a proven tip: Hot water actually penetrates your cells faster than cold or room temperature water!

I’ve listed six actions for boosting your immune system. Try choosing just three to incorporate into your daily living, and give yourself the best chance of staying healthy this season.

Top Immune-Boosting Foods and Herbs

1. Vitamin C 
If you want to help support your immune system, include plenty of natural Vitamin C, and choose organic whenever possible. This powerful antioxidant helps in the repair and regeneration of tissues, and protects cells throughout the body. Good food sources of vitamin C include: 

• Broccoli
• Brussels sprouts
• Cantaloupe
• Kiwi
• Oranges
• Lemons
• Peppers
• Pineapple
• Pink grapefruit
• Strawberries
• Mango

2. Garlic 
Used for centuries as powerful “food medicine.” It has antiviral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory benefits. See soup recipe below.

3. Omega 3 
Found in flax, hempseed, chia seed, salmon, mackerel, krill, cod liver oil, avocado, and almonds, just to name a few. Omega 3s boost the immune system by increasing the activity of white blood cells that eliminate bacteria and protect the body against damage from over-reactions to infection. Omega 3s also lessen the severity of infection.

4. Zinc 
Found in broccoli, kale, mushrooms, sesame seeds (Tahini), pumpkin seeds, beans, cashews, eggs, wheat germ, and oysters, to name a few. Zinc helps prevent illness and can lessen the severity and length of colds and flu symptoms

5. Selenium 
Found in Brazil nuts, what germ, whole grains, eggs, sunflower seeds, garlic.

6. Elderberry 
Found in cherries, red grapes, black rice, and also in natural extract, juice and pill form (at health food stores)

I've had several clients ask me what they can take if they feel like they're coming down with something. Two of my favorite immune support products are Wellness Formula Herbal Defense Complex and Super Bio-Vegetarian. Both products are formulated with a powerful combination of herbs, medicinal mushrooms, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to support the immune system and boost your well-being. Locally you can find these at Pharmaca or for existing clients, you can them at 20% off from my online dispensary.

Here’s to your best health, and kicking the cold and flu season this year!

What Can Detoxing Do for You?

Abs&Smoothie.jpeg

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.

2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Jeannie Oliver Wellness 2017 Gift Guide

1. The Oura Ring - $299 - $999

Move over Fitbit! The Oura ring is the most advanced and accurate sleep and fitness tracking device available and it's a lot more attractive than a chunky plastic bracelet. This amazing little ring tracks your sleep, heart rate and heart rate variability, and body temperature and it's water resistant to 100 meters. You can even put your ring on airplane mode to avoid additional EMF exposure while sleeping. The only downside is that the Oura Ring is available for pre-order only and will ship in April of 2018.

2. The Kari Gran System - $140

You have most likely heard me rave about Kari's products before, but honestly I just love her products and they make fabulous gifts! Her Mini Kit ($48) is also a great choice for anyone on-the-go. I keep one in my gym bag and in my toiletry kit for traveling.

3. Lakrids by Johan Bülow Kalaha Box - €30 (~ $35USD) and Organic Licorice - €7 (~ $6USD)

Did someone say gluten-free licorice?! Licorice is a very polarizing flavor but those of who love it REALLY love it and it's nearly impossible to find high quality licorice that's actually gluten-free. I discovered this brand when I was in Stuttgart, Germany last year and I was instantly devoted, so I couldn't resist including this sweet treat in my gift guide. All the Lakrids products are incredibly delicious and so beautifully packaged that you almost don't want to open them up. Almost. And if you're worried about the shipping from Europe, it's very reasonable (free over €70), and surprisingly fast.

4. Beauty Heroes Gift Card or Subscription

Beauty Heroes delivers carefully curated beauty products, one Hero product at a time. Shop their curated online Beauty Store or join their monthly discovery service and receive one full-size, healthy and high-performance Hero Product, plus deluxe Sidekicks, from clean beauty brands you love.

5. Hypershpere Hi-Intensity Vibrating Massage Ball - $149

Have a love/hate relationship with the foam roller? Work out those kinks with this high-tech massage ball. Compared to other SMR/ massage balls, the Hypersphere helps to pinpoint and release trigger points faster, deeper, and less painfully using high-intensity vibration. This col fitness gadget is portable and only 5” in diameter, which helps to release tension in targeted areas better than any roller.

6. Anima Mundi Herbals Anti-Aging & Beauty Kit - $68

A potent compilation of herbs known to support skin detox + health, radiance, glow and overall anti-aging goodness. Botanicals known to support anti-aging share anti-oxidant and phytonutrient chemistry, basically bringing loads of oxygen to every corner of your body. These herbs taken daily will fully support you in achieving a natural beauty glow. 

7. Instant Pot - $79.95 - $149.95

These babies do it all. Well maybe they can't do the washing and chopping for you, but the rest is covered. Instant Pot multi-cookers combine 7 kitchen appliances in 1 - Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Steamer, Sauté, Yogurt Maker and Warmer, preparing dishes up to 70% faster. The insert is made of food grade stainless steel with no chemical coating so you don't have to worry about toxic crud leaching into your food.

8. Meal Delivery from The Custom Plate - $18 - $1,299

Give that busy person in your life (maybe that's you?) the gift of healthy food AND more free time. For anyone who struggles to find the time to cook, meal delivery can be a Godsend. This Mercer Island based family company makes delicious, clean food using quality ingredients and since they are small, they're able to customize the dishes according to any food restrictions or special dietary needs. Best of all, Tamara's food is delicious and made with love.

9. Svensk Skogspromenad No. 5 Candle - $38

I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Sally Honeycutt who owns the fabulous little boutique Anders at a holiday get together, and she has curated some of the most wonderful things for her shop. Among them are these gorgeous candles made with pure essential oils, no nasty synthetic or toxic ingredients! This heavenly sandalwood & bergamot scented one is perfect for the holidays and it's on my personal wish list this year.

10. Flying Bird Botanicals Teas - $9.75-$34

This local Pacific Northwest company makes their products with only organically farmed and ethically wildcrafted herbs. Any ingredients they source overseas come from fair trade certified farms and small gardens growing their tea plants with care, using heirloom traditions passed down through generations. These teas are as yummy as they are ethical!

 

Beating Seasonal Affective Disorder

SeasonalDepression.jpeg

Fall begins the onset of shorter days and longer nights – which means our bodies receive less light. We also wake up and go to sleep to cooler temperatures. Because of these seasonal changes, many people experience changes in energy, mood swings and sleep patterns, especially here in the Northwest.

These changes can be positive or negative, or a combination. Negative changes in the way we feel due to the change of seasons is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and about 10 to 20 percent of people are affected – ranging from mild to severe cases. But did you know that the foods you eat (or don’t eat) as well as maintaining other healthy lifestyle factors can help you overcome symptoms of SAD?

If you’d like to learn more about how the change of seasons may affect you, take the assessment below, designed to increase your self-awareness and understanding. While none of us can control Mother Nature, we can learn more about how we are affected by seasonal changes and what to do to overcome symptoms of SAD.

Take the Seasonal Changes Assessment 
The steps below will help you begin to assess how the change of seasons may be affecting three areas of your life: your sleep, energy and mood. Important: If your answers show a downward trend, please talk to your doctor, health coach or trusted friend about how Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be affecting you.

Sleep Assessment: This month, check in with yourself each morning: How do you feel when you wake up?

  1. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “Exhausted” and 5 being “Excellent,” how would you rate how well-rested you are? 
  2. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “Takes a Very Long Time” and 5 being “Very Easily” how would you rate how easily you fall asleep? 
  3. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “I Wake Up Very Frequently” and 5 being “I Don’t Wake Until Morning,” how would you rate how well you stayasleep? 
  4. As October marches on (and the days get shorter), is it harder for you to get out of bed? (Yes or No?)
  5. Are you hitting the snooze button more often? (Yes or No?)
  6. Or do you feel about the same, or even better, upon waking up? (Same or better?)

Physical Energy Assessment:

  1. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “Excellent,” and 1 being “Very Low,” how would you rate your energy level mid-morning? 
  2. On the same scale, how would you rate your energy level in the late afternoon? 
  3. As the month goes on, do you find it easier or more difficult to exercise or be physically active? (Easier/More Difficult?) 
  4. As the month goes on, do you find yourself being more or less productive at work or home? (More or Less?)

Mood Assessment: Once in the morning and once in the evening, answer these questions with a simple “more” or “less:”

  1. Do you find yourself more or less interested in your work, social happenings and/or family activities? 
  2. Do you find yourself more or less patient with others and yourself? 
  3. Do you find yourself feeling more or less happiness in your relationships?

Now that you know more about seasonal affects, what can you do? 
Do your answers show a “down” trend? This may be an indication that you are sensitive to or negatively affected by seasonal changes. Following are some simple actions that can help minimize these effects.

• Get outside! Less daylight in the fall and winter months causes some people to become more lethargic, irritable, and/or depressed. This month, focus on getting more daylight by shifting your exercise or recreational activities to the outdoors, at least 15 minutes a day. Go for a walk; ride a bike; chase after your pets or kids – it doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise. A consistent combination of daylight and physical activity can significantly improve your energy and mood.

• Prep for sleep. Because nighttime comes earlier during fall and winter, it can disrupt your circadian cycle and the summer sleep rhythm you've been used to. It’s more important than ever to turn off all electronics one to two hours before you turn in. Fall is also a great time to practice sleep-specific meditation. My new favorite is Meditainment. It’s free and lasts 21 minutes. (I always fall asleep before it finishes!)

• Eat More Omega-3s. What we eat can also affect how susceptible we are to “fall blahs” and “winter blues.” Certain foods can zap our energy, our motivation to exercise, and our good mood. Omega 3 fatty acids can help combat these symptoms. Excellent food sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, and more.

Supplement with High Quality Vitamin D. According to this article from Harvard Medical School, this is especially crucial if you live in a rainy climate like Seattle or if you live at a latitude above 37 degrees North. For you here on the West coast, that's anywhere from San Francisco North. My personal favorite is Vitamin D3 Complete by Allergy Research Group since it includes the important co-factors Vitamin A and K. If you have darker skin you need more Vitamin D that someone with a pale complexion since your natural pigment makes it harder for the sun to penetrate the dermis.

• Keep a Food Diary. A recent study found that gluten and dairy may contribute to feelings of depression or mood swings in people who are allergic or sensitive to these foods. If you have increased feelings of sadness during the fall season, try reducing or eliminating dairy and gluten from your diet and see if your outlook or mood improves. This is, of course, easier said than done, but it just takes a little getting used to and I can help you with this.

• Focus on the Food Culprits. It’s certainly not NEW news that overindulging in alcohol and sugar-laden foods can make you feel sluggish the next day. But did you know they can also increase feelings of depression? If you are negatively affected by the seasonal changes, consider eliminating sugar and alcohol consumption and test how you feel. To test if alcohol and/or sugar are contributing to your seasonal symptoms, experts suggest eliminating them for 21 to 23 days. Why three weeks? Because our bodies release antibodies to fight sensitivities and allergies, and it takes 21 to 23 days for the antibody reaction to dissipate and renew.

Need some extra support this season? I can support you with a results-oriented Wellness program. Schedule a free Coffee Talk session and let's talk!

Finally! Non-Toxic Teeth Whitening

As a former coffee addict and current tea lover, my teeth are not as white as I'd like them to be. I've tried using the fancy bleaching trays from the dentist but the bleaching paste makes my teeth super sensitive and I'm sure it has all kinds of nasty chemicals that I don't want to ingest. So I went on a quest to find a non-toxic teeth whitening options and I discovered activated charcoal powder.

There are lots of brands out there, but I tried this one that uses organic activated charcoal and so far I'm impressed! I know it seems crazy to brush your teeth with black powder to make them whiter, but trust me, it works. I am kicking myself for not taking before and after pictures so I can show you the difference!

There has been some controversy as to whether or not the charcoal can damage teeth, but it doesn't bind to minerals so it shouldn't damage your enamel. That said, I wouldn't use it more than 2-3 times a week until your teeth look naturally white (we're not going for glow-in-the-dark here), and it's a good idea to use a soft or extra soft toothbrush to apply it. The powder I bought is extremely fine and I recommend steering clear any course powders to avoid excess abrasion. If you already have severe acid erosion or enamel damage you should consult with your dentist before using any type of whitening product. 

Keep in mind that the powder can stain clothing and that you'll need to brush your teeth with your regular toothpaste after using the activated charcoal to remove any black residue. I should also mention that it only removes surface stains from things like coffee, tea and red wine, and will not remove discoloration from antibiotics or other dental issues.

Do you have a natural trick for whitening your teeth or have you tried activated charcoal powder? Comment below and share.

Beating Seasonal Allergies Naturally

DandelionsFloating_small.jpeg

Do you have a love / hate relationship with spring? Many of my clients do, because while the sun may be shining more, seasonal allergies are also kicking in making many of us miserable with hay fever, itchy skin and other nasty symptoms. This year seems to be particularly rough so far so I'm sharing my favorite non-toxic, side effect free remedies with you to help you beat allergy season without harmful or habit forming drugs.

So many people have come to rely on antihistamine drugs to control their allergy symptoms, but did you know that antihistamines can cause all kinds of nasty side effects including weight gain? Yeah, no thanks!

The good news is that there are effective natural remedies that can help keep your symptoms in check so you can get outside and enjoy the nice weather without fear of being miserable. Here is my personal combination of remedies that I've found to be more effective than pharmaceuticals. Everyone is different so these may not work for you, but I encourage you to try some different combinations to see what your body responds to best.

1. Nasal Spray - A good homeopathic nasal spray works in two ways; first it helps flush particles out of your nasal passages while keeping them moist and alleviating congestion, and second it helps regulate the body's response to allergens. I love the BioAllers Sinus & Allergy Nasal Spray, but if you're someone who's skeptical of anything that isn't mainstream, you might try the Zicam Allergy Relief Nasal Gel.

2. An Herbal Antihistamine - My personal go-to is HistaEze by Designs for Health, which contains a combination of guduchi (tinospora cordifolia), nettle leaf, quercetin, sodium bicarbonate and Vitamin C. Natural D-Hist by Ortho Molecular is also an effective formula and is carried locally at Pharmaca.

3. Rooibos Tea and Stinging Nettle Tea - Fresh nettles aren't always available but at this time of year you can find them in local farmer's markets here in the Northwest and they grow plentifully in this area if you're up for doing a little foraging. I simply steep 2 tablespoons of crushed dried leaves in boiling water for 5-10 minutes, and when I can't find fresh nettles, I buy the Traditional Medicinals Nettle Leaf Tea. My stinging nettle soup is another great way to enjoy this wonderful medicinal herb.

Rooibos tea is another great option since it is rich in the bioflavonoids quercetin and ruin which block histamine release. This is also a great option if you're pregnant since nettles are not recommended for pregnant or nursing women. My favorites are the Organic Double Red Rooibos Tea by Republic of Tea and Numi Organic Rooibos Tea. Rooibos tea is delicious hot or iced and if you like it sweet, try adding a little vanilla stevia, monk fruit, or local honey which some people find helpful for pollen allergies.

Using this trifecta of natural remedies has been a life saver for me and I've found it much more effective than the Allegra or Zyrtec I used to take. And the best part is that I don't have to deal with the nasty side effects those drugs had on me. I hope you'll give these remedies a try. Just keep in mind that I'm not a doctor and this is not medical advice, so you shouldn't stop or change any medications or treatments recommended by your health practitioner.

I'd love to hear from you! Did you try any of these remedies and what have yo found that works for you?

7 Top Tips for a Sound Sleep

Do you sometimes have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Are you waking up in the middle of the night or before your alarm goes off? It’s important for you to understand what’s causing your sleep struggles, and use tips like the ones below to prepare for a restful night.

Getting enough sleep has a positive domino effect on our health; our bodies are in restore and rejuvenation mode while we’re sleeping; this can help us heal from illnesses and reduce aches and pains in our joints or muscles, for example. Deep sleep also helps reduce stress and anxiety, so we have more energy the next day.

And speaking of the next day, have you ever noticed that you’re hungrier when you’re tired? Research shows our appetite can increase up to 25% when we’re feeling exhausted, and many of us often turn to caffeine or sugar (or both) to give us a boost of energy. And that begins a roller-coaster of bursts of energy followed by energy crashes. That’s right – not getting enough sleep can actually cause us to gain weight or make it harder for us to lose weight!

Tonight, why not start some of these healthy sleep rituals?

1. Give yourself a bedtime. What’s your bedtime? Just like kids, we benefit when we have a consistent sleep time, because our bodies anticipate and respond to routine.

2. Close the kitchen. Make your last meal two to three hours before bedtime, so your body has a chance to digest the food. Digestion is a lot of physical activity – not what you want to be doing while you sleep! Ideally you should give your body a 12-hour break between dinner and breakfast.

3. Shut down electronics 30 minutes before bedtime. Turn off the TV, the laptop, the tablet, the Xbox, your smartphone… did I miss anything? According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), all of these devices can hinder your ability to sleep. One reason, explains the NSF, is that these devices emit blue light, “which our brains interpret as daylight. Blue light actually suppresses melatonin, a hormone that supports circadian rhythm and that should begin to increase when you are preparing for sleep.” So when you’re on your tablet or phone at night, your brain thinks it’s daytime, making it harder to fall asleep.

4. Set your smartphone to the “do not disturb” setting. In addition to the blue light, sending nighttime emails, scrolling through Facebook or posting on Instagram right before bedtime might be stressing you out or making your mind race. You’re not alone – NSF research shows that 71 percent of people sleep either holding their smartphone (!), having it in bed with them, or having it on their nightstand. Instead, place your smartphone where it is not within arm’s reach, and set it on airplane mode or “do not disturb” for the seven to eight hours of sleep you should be getting. Note: if you don’t want to miss a call from certain people – say you have elderly parents or kids at college -- you can set your smartphone to allow calls and texts from select contacts. Everything else can wait until morning!

5. Create a relaxing ritual. Very few people fall asleep the minute their head hits the pillow. Instead, you may want to create some rituals that tell your body you’re shutting down for the night. Try soaking in a warm bath with organic lavender essential oil. You can also listen to some relaxing music or do some deep breathing, restorative yoga, and/or meditation. My favorite meditation app is Headspace, and it’s free. Try the 10-minute meditations to help you relax before bedtime.

6. Dark = Deep. How many little electronic lights are glowing in your bedroom once the lamps and overhead lights are off? The darker you can make your room, the more restorative your sleep can be, because the darkness releases the sleep hormone, melatonin. Cover up those little lights with black electric tape or turn them face down or toward the wall. You might also try light-blocking curtains if light streams in from outside.

7. Help your hormones with a sleep mask. If your room is still bright, try wearing a sleep mask. It creates the total darkness our bodies need to release melatonin and get a healthier night’s sleep. I always recommend the softest sleep mask you can find, with natural fibers. It may not be attractive, but if it helps you sleep, you will feel and look your best with more energy. And that’s a beautiful thing! 

I’d love to hear how your sleep improves with these tips, and which ones are most helpful to you. Feel free to share on my Facebook page – just not right before bedtime ;-). Sending you sweet dreams!

Freshen Your Fridge and Prep Like a Pro - Simple Steps to Transform your Kitchen… and Your Health!

VeggiePrep_small.jpeg

The Tough Part -- Step 1: Pitch and Toss 
If you were going to eat those last few pretzels, you would have by now. Or that last scoop of freezer-burned ice cream. Or that pumpkin pie filling from two Thanksgivings ago. Your pantry, fridge and freezer are not repositories for forgotten foods. Start your spring-cleaning by tossing anything that’s beyond its expiration date. Next, throw away anything that’s been in a storage container all winter. And if you’re taking this time to clean up your daily diet, toss out the temptation. Remember my favorite healthy eating tip: you can’t eat it if it’s not there. Start from the top shelf to the bottom, tossing as you go – in the pantry, the refrigerator and the freezer. If you feel as if you’re being wasteful, consider that you’re actually investing in putting your health first.

The Fun Part – Step 2: Shop, Stock & Splurge
Shop: Two things to know before you go -- don’t shop on an empty stomach, and don’t shop without a list. The best list starts with meal planning, so look ahead and plan your meals for the next few days or even a week. Review the recipes and only put on your list the ingredients you’ll need.

Stock up on the good stuff. Organic foods I always have on hand include: 

  • greens
  • pre-cut veggies
  • organic, pasture-raised eggs
  • coconut/almond/hemp/flax milk
  • organic, pasture-raised/grass-fed meats and poultry
  • salsa
  • hummus
  • quinoa
  • almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • apple cider vinegar
  • avocados
  • bananas (which I peal, break in half and freeze when they start to over ripen, then I use them in my morning smoothies. You can do the same with avocado!)
  • Pre-cut and pre-washed veggies really help reduce my prep time. They may be a little more expensive, but you’re saving time and investing in your health!

Canned or jarred foods I always have on hand include: 

  • garbanzo beans/chickpeas
  • coconut milk 
  • organic vegetable and chicken broth
  • wild Alaskan salmon
  • capers
  • diced green chillies
  • organic diced tomatoes (from glass jars only)

And speaking of saving time, don’t forget your friend the freezer. Many grocery and health food stores carry organic, non-GMO frozen fruits, vegetables, fish, grilled chicken, and more. Having these on hand really reduces your weekly shopping time, daily cooking time, and ensures you always have something healthy to eat.

Splurge: I found that having nice-looking, high-quality storage containers makes prepping and storing my food more convenient and a lot more fun. Plus, glass containers are non-toxic and I can see everything at a glance – no more guessing what’s wrapped in foil or stored in that cloudy container! In fact, put your healthy foods right up front on the shelves of your pantry, fridge and freezer so you “crowd-out” less healthier choices.

The Smart Part -- Step 3: Prep and Package

Preparing healthy and delicious meals in less time just takes a little scheduling. My favorite tip: cook once, eat twice (or more!) This is the best way I know to make mealtime more efficient. You might have heard this referred to as "batch cooking.” Here's what you do:

• Pick a cooking day. Instead of cooking every night, pick a day or two when you'll cook for the week ahead. Make it fun by turning on some good music and getting the whole family involved. Sure, you'll spend a little more time in the kitchen on your cooking day(s), but you'll save an extra few hours the other days (or evenings) of the week!

• Double or triple your recipes when cooking. When you prepare more than you need for one meal, you’ll have plenty to pack for lunches and future dinners. If you’ll have quinoa with a couple of meals this week, cook it in batches. If you bought a head of broccoli or cauliflower, roast or steam it all for the week and use half now, half later. Learn to love leftovers!

• Have it your way. Try different ways to eat the same meals; if you're grilling organic chicken breasts or grass-fed meats, make extra to chop and include in salads or soups. If you're cooking quinoa, make extra and the next day, add some veggies, olive oil and vinegar for a quinoa-based salad – served warm or cold.

• Prepare for the next day tonight. If you pack a lunch, select your favorite mix of leftovers the night before, and pack it in an insulated lunch box. Include everything you'll need to enjoy the meal at work, school, or wherever you'll be for lunch. Don’t forget to grab your lunch box before you head out in the morning!

• Package well. Remember the high-quality storage containers you bought? Use them to store your pre-cut veggies, fruits and leftovers in single-serving or family-sized portions, then freeze or refrigerate them. When you’re ready to prepare a meal, just take out the number of containers you need for the number of people eating with you, warm them up and serve!

When you cook in batches, you’ll begin to find your own favorite tips and short cuts. My clients who have tried this approach say it’s made their lives so much easier!

2016 Holiday Gift Guide for the Wellness Enthusiast in Your Life

JOW 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

  1. For Him: Beard Tonic Sampler by Herbivore Botanicals $22 - These highly nourishing, non-toxic oil based beard tonics from Seattle's own Herbivore Botanicals combine natural plant oils that promote a healthier looking beard while moisturizing the skin beneath. 

  2. Palo Santo Myst Bad Vibe Killer by Anima Mundi Herbals $18 - A potent anti-bacterial and anti-microbial, Palo Santo can help relieve sickness and expel undesirable microbes from your immediate space.

  3. Athleta Yoga Mat Tote $48 - This bag makes you look chic even when you're all sweaty after yoga.

  4. Suji Red Lip Whip & Lip Buff Duo $37 - I am OBSESSED with Seattle-based Kari Gran's Lip Whips and you will be too. This gorgeous, non-toxic, moisturizing red balm looks fab on everyone and can be applied to be sheer or bold depending on your mood. 

  5. Herbivore Botanicals Bath Salts Set $32 - This is a great gift for bath lovers. They smell divine and are non-toxic of course!

  6. Eco Travel Mat & Towel by Kriya Veda $58 - This ultra-lightweight travel mat fits into a tote, a fitness bag, or suitcase and doubles as a yoga towel. It's also washable, PVC free, Latex free, Rubber free, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, and recyclable.

  7. HotLogic Mini $49.95 - This fully automatic personal portable electric oven perfectly heats or cooks your meal so you don't have to nuke all the nutrition out of your food or eat a cold salad every day for lunch. Fits a glass container up to 8.75″W x 6.75″L x 2.5″H.

  8. Liver Cleanse/ Daily Green Detoxifier by Anima Mundi Herbals $25 - This nutrient-dense, therapeutic green superfood supports your liver and gall bladder, helps jumpstart digestion, and contains tons of antioxidants known to promote healthy detox and organ function.

  9. Certified Reconditioned Next Generation Vitamix $349 - Don't let the word "reconditioned" deter you... these blenders are just as good as the standard ones but without as hefty a price tag, and they also come with a 5-year warranty if you're the nervous type. I got my first Vitamix last year and I can't believe how much time and effort I wasted on crappy blenders. And yes, it's OK to give your wife a blender if its this amazing!

Breast Health and Thermography

One key to breast cancer survival is early detection. And breast screenings remain the gold standard for that early detection, typically in the form of routine mammograms. However, often painful, and sometimes inaccurate, mammography has generated false-positive test results, leading women to unnecessary medical treatments. To counter this, an imaging test known as breast thermography is becoming an important adjunctive procedure.

What is thermography?

Breast thermography (also known as Digital Infrared Imaging-DII) is a 15-minute, pain-free, non-invasive test that shows the structure of your breast while measuring heat emanating from the surface of your body. Changes in skin temperature are the result of increased blood flow. This is important because even early-stage cancers need a blood supply to bring in nutrients to feed the cancer.

Because temperature change shows up as colors brighter than those of healthy cells, thermography can identify precancerous or cancerous cells earlier and with less ambiguous results. Studies indicate that an abnormal thermography test is 10 times more significant as a future risk indicator for breast cancer than having a family history of breast cancer.

Is it Right for Me?

The FDA has authorized breast thermography as a risk assessment tool to be used in addition to - not in replace of - mammography. Women must be at least 20 years old. It's not suitable for women who have very large or fibrocystic breasts, are using hormone replacement treatment, have had cosmetic breast surgery, or are nursing or pregnant. Consult with your physician to determine if it's an option for you.

When to Test (may vary based on personal and family medical history)

Age 20 - Initial thermogram

Age 20 - 29 - Thermogram every 3 years

Age 30 and over - Thermogram annually

Boost Breast Health with these Bust Musts

From the bare-breasted days of the cave woman, through the Renaissance and into the era of blonde bombshells, a woman's bosom has been an icon representing both sexual prowess and vitality. But the breasts are also vulnerable. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and, each year, about 40,000 women die from the disease. From puberty through the elder years, it's imperative for a woman to take care of her breasts, from the inside out, both physically and emotionally.

The "bust musts" for breast health go beyond screenings and routine self-exams. Until recently, the prevalent thinking was that screenings are the best way to detect and treat cancer before it metastasizes. However, increasing numbers of false-positive tests have led to unnecessary medical treatment. In some cases, screenings have failed to detect active tumors. It could be that timing for screenings should be personalized, based on health and family history, age, and lifestyle habits.

More important than early detection is the power of prevention in the hands of every woman. This includes properly performing breast self-exams (BSE), and taking care of body and mind in ways that boost breast health.

Six Ways to Boost Breast Health

Know Your Bosom. It's important for a woman to be familiar with the look and feel of her own breasts. Performing a monthly BSE is the best way to detect a lump or other abnormality. This video will help you do it right.

Chill Out. In general, excessive stress has negative effects on health. Research indicates that stress can also increase your risk for breast cancer as well as its recurrence (Ohio State U). Because stress impairs immunity, there's evidence that it can alter how aggressively cancer develops. To manage stress, try yoga or meditation.

Go for Green. A component of green tea called epigallocatechin gallate (ECCG) is a powerful antioxidant that is believed to suppress the growth of new blood vessels in tumors. ECCG also seems to play a role in keeping cancer cells from destroying healthy tissue. Enjoy at least a cup or two of tea daily.

Get Crunchy. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables contain cancer-fighting compounds that convert excess estrogen into a form that is more "friendly" to a woman's body. Women who eat a high percentage of cruciferous veggies on a daily basis are less likely to develop breast cancer. Enjoy a "crunchy salad" or add steamed mixed veggies to your daily meal plan.

Get Spicy. The turmeric plant contains curcumin, which is known to support a strong immune system. Some research shows curcumin can reactivate genes that suppress tumor development and stave off cancer cells. Add a curry night to your weekly meal plan.

Fiber Up. Fiber from fruits and whole grains helps rid the body of toxins. In addition, flax contains cancer-fighting compounds, called lignans, that can block the negative effects of excess estrogen on cells. Sprinkle flaxseed on your salad or yogurt.

References:

  • Gotzsche, P. and Olsen, O., Cochrane Review on Screening for Breast Cancer with Mammography, The Lancet, (Oct. 20, 2001), 358: 9290, pp. 1340-42. Accessed Aug 7 2016: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001877.pub4/abstract;jsessionid=E57BF460F5DF9C64DECAC5608633A884.f02t03
  • Camp, Eli. "Breast Thermography." Shared in personal correspondence. Aug 4, 2016.
  • BreastThermography.com "Types of Breast Imaging." Accessed on Aug 7, 2016: http://www.breastthermography.com/mammography_thermography.htm
  • Northrup, C. "The Best Breast Test." Accessed Aug 7, 2016: http://www.drnorthrup.com/best-breast-test/
  • Gotzsche, P. and Olsen, O., "Is Screening for Breast Cancer with Mammography Justifiable?" The Lancet, (Jan. 8, 2000), 355: 9198, pp. 129-34. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(99)06065-1
  • O'Connor, S. "Why Doctors are Rethinking Breast Cancer" Time online. (Oct 12, 2015 print edition). Accessed on Aug 4 2016: http://time.com/4057310/breast-cancer-overtreatment/
  • American College of Clinical Thermography. Accessed Aug 5, 2016: http://www.thermologyonline.org/breast/breast_thermography_what.htm
  • Breast Cancer.org. "U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics." Accessed on Aug 4, 2016: http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics
  • How to Check Breasts for Lumps (video). Accessed on Aug 4, 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ga_mHYGgeFM
  • Yang, H., Brittany M. B., and Barbara L. A., "Stress and Quality of Life in Breast Cancer Recurrence: Moderation or Mediation of Coping?" Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine 35.2 (2008): 188-197. PMC. Web. 4 Aug. 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2486834/
  • Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Resources on stress, yoga, lifestyle habits, psychological resources effects on cancer treatment and aggressiveness of cancer. Accessed on Aug 4, 2016: https://cancer.osu.edu/research-and-education/clinical-research/breast-cancer
  • National Cancer Institute.com "Psychological Stress and Cancer" Accessed on Aug 4, 2016: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/feelings/stress-fact-sheet
  • TechTimes.com "Garlic, Broccoli, Boost Immune System to Fight Cancer". Accessed on Aug 4, 2016: http://www.techtimes.com/articles/21005/20141127/garlic-broccoli-boost-immune-system-and-help-fight-aggressive-cancers.htm
  • University of California San Francisco Online News Center. "Killing Cancer through the Immune System" Accessed on Aug 3, 2016: https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2014/01/111531/killing-cancer-through-immune-system
  • Du, Guang-Jian et al. "Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) Is the Most Effective Cancer Chemopreventive Polyphenol in Green Tea." Nutrients (2012), 4.11 1679-1691. PMC. Web. 4 Aug. 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3509513/
  • Singh, Brahma N., Shankar, S. & Srivastava. R.K., "Green Tea Catechin, Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate (EGCG): Mechanisms, Perspectives and Clinical Applications." Biochemical pharmacology (2011), 82.12 pp.1807-1821. PMC. Web. 4 Aug. 2016: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082721/
  • National Cancer Institute.com "Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention." Accessed August 3, 2016: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cruciferous-vegetables-fact-sheet
  • Rahmani, Arshad H. et al. "Curcumin: A Potential Candidate in Prevention of Cancer via Modulation of Molecular Pathways." BioMed Research International 2014 (2014): 761608. PMC. Web. 4 Aug. 2016: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4176907/pdf/BMRI2014-761608.pdf
  • American Institute for Cancer Research. "Flaxseed and Breast Cancer." Accessed Aug 4 2016: http://preventcancer.aicr.org/new/docs/pdf/AICR-InDepth-Issue-01-Flaxseed-and-Breast-Cancer.pdf
  • Marmot, M G et al. "The Benefits and Harms of Breast Cancer Screening: An Independent Review: A Report Jointly Commissioned by Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health (England) October 2012." British Journal of Cancer 108.11 (2013): 2205-2240. PMC. Web. 4 Aug. 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3693450/pdf/bjc2013177a.pdf
  • National Cancer Institute.org. "Mammograms Fact Sheet". Accessed Aug 4, 2016: http://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/mammograms-fact-sheet
  • O'Connor, S. "Why Doctors are Rethinking Breast Cancer" Time online. (Oct 12, 2015 print edition). Accessed on Aug 4 2016: http://time.com/4057310/breast-cancer-overtreatment/

The Daily Writing Exercise that Can Help You Lose Weight

If you'd like to understand, once and for all, the relationship between what you're eating and how you feel, try keeping a mind-body food journal. It's a powerful way to gain insight into your eating habits and how your food choices impact your mental and physical wellbeing. A mind-body food journal is different from a "diet diary" because the intention is different: it's not just about the fit of your jeans, it's about how food makes you feel physiologically and emotionally and how it fits (or doesn't fit) your lifestyle.

Too often we eat mindlessly - on the run, watching television, behind the computer. A mind-body food journal helps create clarity between what we choose and how we feel. It leads the way to improved choices and - because food is medicine - supports total mind-body health and healing.

What to Track in a Mind-Body Food Journal

Food Factors:

  • When did you eat?
  • What did you eat?
  • How much did you eat?
  • Why did you eat?
  • How did you feel after eating?

Mind Factors:

  • What was your overall mood before and after eating?
  • Did you have headaches, mental/emotional fatigue or any other symptoms?

Body Factors:

  • What did you notice about your body before and after eating?
  • Did your energy level change or did you experience sympotoms like gas or bloating?

Social & Environmental Factors:

  • Who were you with for the meal?
  • Did you eat hurriedly or calmly?
  • Were you feeling stressed?
  • Were you doing another activity while eating?

Review your journal at the end of each day and summarize your habits. Note the key factors for why you chose to eat the way you did, what was going on, how you felt and if there were any physical symptoms.

By keeping a mind-body food journal you will be able to connect the dots between your food, your emotions, and your physical body. I also find that it helps me make better choices because I'm less likely to go for that sweet treat if I know I have to write it down.

Start keeping your journal today. Track your eating habits for a few weekdays and at least one weekend day. Do this for at least two weeks and see what happens. You can keep a small notebook or journal on hand or use your notes app in your phone, whatever works best for you. I recommend avoiding most food tracking apps since they require you to enter macronutrients and/or calories which defeats the purpose of this exercise.

I'd love to hear how this worked for you and what you learned, so please comment below and share your experience. Happy journaling!

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:

6 Top Travel Tips for a Healthy Vacation

Tip #1: Plan and prepare. You wouldn’t go to the beach without making a list of essentials such as sunscreen, a hat, and a bathing suit, right? Get in the habit of planning and shopping for healthy snacks and food essentials before your trip too.

Tip #2: Pack healthy snacks. Flight delays. Traffic jams. Long lines at amusement parks. Travel is unpredictable and you don’t want to end up hungry without any healthy choices. That’s a sure-fire way to give into food temptations you might later regret. Pack a variety of healthy options. See the list of my favorites below. If you run out of snacks when traveling, look for a Starbucks in the airport terminal or on the road; you’ll usually find nuts or a protein pack with Justin’s nut butter or a hard-boiled egg and some fresh fruit or cut-up vegetables. These healthier snacks will give you the energy you need to enjoy without weighing you down!

Tip #3: Pick up fresh fruit and veggies when you arrive. Many people think because they are staying in a hotel that they can’t visit the local market. Not true! Many hotel rooms have mini-fridges, or you can keep a few snacks in the ice bucket! I love to have a banana or fresh blueberries on hand, as well as carrots and hummus – see my list below!

Tip #4: Stay hydrated. If you’re flying, bring a stainless or glass water bottle and once you’re through security, fill it up. The pressurized air on planes can dehydrate you quickly. Rule of thumb: drink half your weight in ounces of water every day – even more important when you’re in warm weather or traveling on planes.

Tip #5: Make good choices when dining out. Even when on a cruise, visiting a foodie town or staying at a resort, you can stave off food-related symptoms or weight gain by making savvy dining decisions:

  • Pass up the bread basket. If you want to have a healthier starter, ask for a fresh vegetable platter.
  • Order a side salad. It will give you fiber that will help you feel full and keep you regular, which can sometimes be challenging when traveling. Skip the creamy dressings and ask for apple cider or red wine vinegar, olive oil and lemon on the side.
  • Ask for changes. Is the fish special fried? Ask for it grilled. Does it come with a side of potatoes? Ask for veggies. Is it covered it sauce? Ask them to use olive oil and lemon juice instead. Most restaurants these days are very accommodating to their guests’ health-related requests.

Tip #6: Walk it off. Or run. Or bike. Or hike. Or swim. Whatever you chose, it’s important to take care of your body by keeping it moving every day. If physical activity is not built into your day, try to book a hotel with a gym, and consider hitting it first thing in the morning, before your day is filled with other activities.

Take-and-Travel Healthy Food Ideas

Following is a list of some of my tried-and-true travel favorites. Some I pack no matter where I’m going or for how long – like protein bars, shakes, nuts and grass-fed organic beef jerky. Others I pack depending on where I’m going, how I’m getting there, what access I’ll have to fresh markets, and how long I’ll be gone. The more prepared you are, the more likely you’ll be able to eat healthier and feel better.

• Individual chia seeds or flax packs. Traveling can disrupt your regularity. One of the best ways to “keep going” is to include healthy fiber in your daily meals. Stir flax or chia seeds into your smoothie, cooked oatmeal, soups or water.

• Amazing Grass Green Superfood. Superfoods powder on-the-go gives you great energy and a dose of greens. Just mix with water or add to a smoothie. If the “green powder” scares you, choose an appealing flavor like berry or orange and try it at home before you go. It might pleasantly surprise you!

• Fresh fruit that’s easy to eat on the road, such as apples, bananas, avocado, etc.

• Justin’s Almond Butter single packs. Delicious with a banana, an apple or spread on Flackers or Mary's Gone Crackers.

• Mary’s Gone Crackers, Sticks & Twigs and/or Flackers. These are my favorite gluten-free crackers.

• Q’ia Superfood Cereal. A mixture of buckwheat, chia seeds, hempseeds, almonds and cranberries. 

• Protein powder individual serving packets. I recommend Vegan Proteins+, Sunwarrior or your choice of a non-soy plant-based powder.

• Amazing Grass Protein Superfood All-In-One Nutrition Shakes in individual packets.

• Nut mixture. Combine your choices of walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds and store in individual serving containers or bags.

• Bars, bars, bars! My recommendations include Genuine Health Fermented Vegan Proteins+ Bars, Primal Kitchen Grass-Fed Collagen Bars, or InBars.

• Single serving hummus and raw baby carrots or apple slices

• Dry roasted Edamame or Chick Peas (Saffron Road brand)

• Primal Pacs organic grass-fed jerky

• Mount Hagen Organic Instant Coffee in single serve packets

Be sure to pack a shaker bottle to mix on-the-go protein drinks and a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated!