This food experiment was inspired by a recent consultation with a patient who had found that if she regularly ate avocados and apples, she felt significantly healthier. I theorized that the fats in the avocados were enhancing her absorption of the nutrients and antioxidants in her other veggies. The apples were maybe helpful as a source of quercetin, which has antihistamine, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
I frequently have patients do food experiments to help them figure out foods that are wrong for them, but this recent patient got me thinking about new ways to find the foods that are right for a particular individual. Since we are all unique, our nutritional needs differ slightly from person to person. I always recommend a varied diet to help people get the wide range of nutrients and antioxidants they need and maybe hit on those foods that really resonate with them.
But to see if you can find a few foods that really help you feel vibrant, try this experiment with me. Check out the list of the 100 healthiest foods from World’s Healthiest Foods. Pick 10 or so foods from that list that appeal to you in some way. Try to choose a few foods that you haven’t eaten much before or are in season right now, like blueberries. For each food, eat a normal serving or two for three days in a row, while eating normally otherwise. Then try the next food on your list and so on. Take notice if there is one or more of these foods that you feel better after eating or you start liking more, or even craving! You could also find one that doesn’t agree with you. Just because it is healthy doesn’t mean it is the right food for everyone.
For each of these foods, World’s Healthiest Foods has a description of the health and nutrient benefits. Plus, there are recipes to inspire you with different way to prepare your chosen foods.
The same principle can be applied to herbs. If you take an herbal tincture or tea for three days in a row, often it will start tasting better to you (or at least more tolerable) by the end of those three days. This can be a message from your body that an herb is right for you and your tastes are adjusting to accommodate to what is healthier for you. If you don’t tolerate the taste any better, maybe try another herb that has the benefits you are looking for. Many of my friends have found that they like Kava kava better after trying it for a while, but it doesn’t agree with one so she uses California poppy instead to help her relax.
This experiment could be a great way to explore new foods and become more attuned with your body at the same time. I would love to hear about what you have learned from this experiment, so please leave a comment.
Some cooking traditions focus on artfully combining the flavors our tongue perceives. The five flavors are sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and bitter. American cuisine doesn’t emphasize bitter as much as some other cultures. We will have coffee after a meal for something bitter or dark chocolate or maybe some slightly bitter greens in our salads.
Bitter is often thought of as an undesirable flavor, but it does have significant digestive benefits. The taste of something bitter on our tongues helps shift our nervous system to rest and digest mode and away from fight or flight mode. This is extremely important for getting the most out of our food. When we taste something bitter, our bodies increase their production and release of digestive enzymes. Bitters also improve muscle tone in the digestive tract and stimulate the liver, aiding in detoxification.
As I mentioned, we can add bitter tasting foods to our diet. There are also bitter herbs that are traditionally used as digestive aids. These included gentian, chamomile, yarrow, blue flag iris, and Oregon grape root. Often five to fifteen drops of one of these herbs, or a blend such as the classic Swedish Bitters, is taken with a small amount of water a few minutes before meals. Some people use these herbs instead of digestive enzymes. Bitters may also help relieve indigestion when taken after a meal, but slightly higher doses might be needed. Another classic use of bitters is for reduced appetite.
So chose delicious nutritious foods and get the most out of them by ensuring you have optimal digestion. Bitters can be a great way to stimulate a sluggish digestive tract.
Posted in Health, Herbs
Tagged appetite loss, bitter herbs, bitters, digestive health, digestive tract, food, GI Health, health, liver health, nutrition
We have billions of microorganisms living in our guts, and having the right organisms in our bodies can have a powerful effect on our overall health. Imbalanced gut flora is common due to antibiotics, disease, stress, or diets high in meat and saturated fats. The wrong population of bacteria in our guts can contribute to digestive distress, but they can also contribute to less obvious issues. An imbalance of gut bacteria can deactivate digestive enzymes, stimulate dysfunctional immune responses, activate carcinogens, and contribute to migraines. On the other hand, beneficial bacteria help optimize digestion, stimulate immune function, improve the intestinal barrier, and prevent colonization of the gut by pathogens. In addition, they can break down certain toxins and synthesize some of our vitamins like vitamin K. Beneficial bacteria may also help prevent colon cancer by lowering intestinal pH.
Probiotics are normal, healthy bacteria that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. These are the organisms like the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species you see in most probiotic supplements used to restore and repopulate normal intestinal flora. Some of my favorite probiotic supplements also include prebiotics. These are medium length carbohydrates that feed our good bacteria. The most common prebiotic in supplements is fructooligosaccharide, also know as FOS. Food sources of prebiotics like FOS include garlic, beans, carrots, onions, honey, beer, rye, asparagus, banana, maple sugar, oats, and my favorite Jerusalem artichoke. Eating high fiber foods is another way to support proper gut bacteria. So feed your good bacteria so they can in turn support your health.
Posted in Health
Tagged beneficial bacteria, cancer prevention, detoxification, digestive health, food, GI Health, Gut bacteria, immune support, nutrition, prebiotics, probiotics
Since everything works together in our bodies, it is hard to say which organs are the most important for detoxification. However, the liver is clearly one of the most crucial players in clearing harmful substances from the body, because it has the highest concentration of detoxification enzymes. People like me who tend to have skin issues often have livers that don’t work optimally. I probably inherited some genetic variations that make my liver not quite as effective at neutralizing toxins. I often see this in my patients with multiple chemical sensitivities or just higher toxic burdens that makes sense from their known exposures. Sometimes medications can inhibit liver activity. Other people have increased exposure to harmful chemicals whether through their homes or jobs. I particularly worry about people in occupations like hairdresser, carpenter, and welder, just to name a few. My last blog emphasized the importance of making sure the bowels and kidneys are working optimally, which is a crucial step before you activate the liver’s detox abilities.
Once the kidneys and bowels are efficiently carrying toxins and waste out of the body, stimulate the livers capacity to neutralize toxins using herbs and nutrients. The liver detoxifies harmful compounds in a two-phase process, which is enhanced by supplements such as high quality multivitamins, whey protein, milk thistle, and N-acetyl cysteine. Phosphatidylcholine is another supplement with this effect while additionally helping to dislodge toxins from our cell membranes. Phosphatidylcholine also encourages the flow of bile in the liver to help move toxins from the liver to the bowels for final elimination. Other herbs that stimulate the production and flow of bile in the liver are milk thistle, alfalfa, and Oregon grape root.
As I mentioned in my first blog in this series on diet to aid detoxification, certain foods give the liver an additional boost. Seasonings such as caraway, dill seeds, and lemon and lime peel are some of the most amazing liver activators since they turn on both phases of liver detoxification. Artichokes and turmeric are both liver protectors that also increase bile flow. Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts activate the phase I of liver detox while also helping us neutralize our hormones more effectively. Raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, walnuts and pecans stimulate the second phase of liver detoxification, which is often the most important phase to activate.
As all naturopathic doctors are taught, if normal interventions aren’t working adequately to restore health, treat the liver. When we remove toxins from the body, our natural healing mechanisms can start to work more effectively. So love you liver and live healthier.
Many popular New Year’s resolutions involve being healthier, and lots of people kick this off by doing a whole body cleanse. Because we live in such a toxic world, I want to encourage these efforts by writing a series of blogs this month about detoxification support. This week I am starting with the basics: dietary changes to assist with detoxification.
While there are many different dietary approaches to detoxification, I am going to emphasize the essentials that apply to nearly everyone. Of course, some people with specific health conditions will need to modify these suggestions for themselves. The following diet promotes detoxification by minimizing toxins in, keeping the pathways of elimination free to deal with toxins leaving the body.
- Eat regularly, three times daily with snacks as desired, so your blood sugar doesn’t drop.
- Eat organic foods, if possible. Do not eat products that are canned, packaged or contain artificial colorings, preservatives, additives, or other chemicals.
- Eat lots of vegetables and some fruits; try for 4-5 packed cups each day. Veggies and fruits are full of antioxidants and fiber that are helpful in detoxification. Eat a variety of different types of veggies to get the full range of antioxidants, but especially emphasize the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and arugula.
- Eat less meat and dairy and more vegan proteins, such as beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, nut butters, and seed butters. If you eat fish (small salmon, cod, herring, sardines only) take 1000mg Chlorella with the meal; this will along with fiber reduces mercury absorption. If you eat meat, try to eat low-fat cuts from free range grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free animals or wild game.
- Eat lots of fiber. It is a great detoxifier as it binds fats, hormones, chemicals, metals and other undesirables in the intestines. Fiber is found in beans/legumes (the best!), apples, peaches, pears, berries, crunchy vegetables, and whole grains. Eat two to three of these fiber sources at every meal.
- Have good quality oils like extra virgin olive oil, flax, fish, walnut, or Omega 3-6-9 blends. Have at least 1 Tablespoon 1-3 times per day.
- Support friendly bowel bacteria by eating cultured foods: miso, kim chi, real sauerkraut, kvass, and kombucha.
- At least once daily, eat foods stimulating to liver function and bile flow such as lemon, lime, beet, carrot, parsnips, chlorophyll, artichoke, fresh rosemary, caraway, dill seeds, burdock and dandelion roots.
- Have no refined or concentrated sugar, sweets, caffeine, alcohol, fried or deep-fried food.
- Drink lots of filtered water – 2-4 quarts per day or more if you are exercising or sweating.
And remember because toxins are such a challenge for us these days, try to apply principles like these to your diet all year round.
I am not going to lie to you. Being healthy takes time. It takes time to cook healthy food for yourself. I always make sure I have at least 30 minutes in the morning to make a nutrition breakfast. It takes time to exercise, but every hour you exercise is essentially an hour you are adding to your life. Adequate sleep is vital because between the seventh and eighth hour of sleep, we get almost an hour of REM sleep, the time when the mind repairs itself. So if you don’t allow yourself a full night’s rest, you are missing this important opportunity to repair and prepare for the next day.
But I didn’t follow my own advice recently. I was working extra long hours and started to feel run down. I took some of my favorite immune supporting herbs like elderberry, Echinacea, and garlic and spent part of a day resting, but the very next day I was busy from 7 am to 11 pm. I had just harvested the last of the garden produce and was determined to get it in the freezer right away so I worked the extra hours. But the cold that I had nearly nipped in the bud became a terrible case of bronchitis. I had to take days off and cancel appointments with patients so I wouldn’t get them sick. In retrospect, I needed to change my priorities. Those veggies could have waited a few more days before I took care of them.
I know that for most people the demands on their time aren’t related to getting this year’s harvest stored, it most likely is the demands of work and family life. For many Americans, time is even becoming a more precious commodity than money, in that they don’t have enough of it for themselves. But we can always consider making different decisions to put ourselves first. When it comes to health, it is okay to be selfish. Our health is a very valuable commodity. In my case, a few hours early on could have saved me days of misery later. And this same equation can hold true when we take little steps to be healthier now. Every extra minute we give ourselves to sleeping enough or eating well may help extend our years of healthy life long term.
Give yourself the gift of time to be healthy. You deserve it.
I recently cut fruit juice out of my husband’s diet. I told him I wasn’t going to buy it anymore for him because of a recent study that correlated the consumption of 3 servings of fruit juice per week with a 10% increased risk of diabetes. Even before reading this study, I hadn’t been a fan of juice because it contains the sugar of the fruit without the fiber that slows the absorption of sugar. On the flip side, consuming 3 servings of fruit per week can help reduce the risk of diabetes by 3%. Certain fruits like blueberries, grapes, and apples had an increased protective effect, due to antioxidant compounds located in the skin of these fruits.
So why are antioxidants helpful at preventing diabetes? Excessive consumption of carbohydrates and calories in general causes an overabundance of energy on a cellular level. Unless we are active enough to be burning this excess energy, it actually contributes to the production of free radicals that damage our cells. To protect themselves from this excess energy and subsequent damage, our cells reduce the number of insulin receptors on their surfaces. The result of this is insulin resistance, a prediabetic condition where the body makes extra insulin to try to get cells to remove excessive sugar from the blood stream, but the cells ignore this message. This protective measure of the cells saves the cells from damage and possible destruction, but long term, insulin resistance can contribute to the development of not just diabetes, but also high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.
The solution is not to force the cells to take up the excess sugar from the blood stream, but to reduce the consumption of excess sugar, carbohydrates, and overall calories. Viewing insulin resistance as a defensive mechanism of cells helps us see why these dietary changes are so vital to preventing diabetes. Additionally, exercise increases the energy needs of cells and allows them to metabolize sugar without excessive damage from free radicals.
Finally, looking at insulin resistance in this way helps us understand why a number of antioxidants have been found to be useful in diabetes and insulin resistance. For instance, alpha lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight insulin resistance as well as having the potential to help diabetic neuropathy. Intake of minerals like zinc, copper, and manganese are commonly helpful to diabetics and prediabetics because they help the body make superoxide dismutase enzymes to neutralize free radicals. Understanding these mechanisms can help us make and stick to healthier dietary choices, especially at this time of the year when there are so many sugary temptations.
Posted in Health
Tagged antioxidant, blood sugar, cardiovascular disease, detoxification, diabetes, food, free radicals, health, heart health, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, nutrition, oxidative stress, reactive oxygen species
This ubiquitous spice on nearly every table in America is for more than just flavoring. Black pepper actually increases your ability to absorb nutrient. Black pepper stimulates the activity of the digestive tract by increasing the production of digestive enzymes and supporting normal gut motility. Black pepper also is a circulatory stimulant so it increases blood flow to the gut, which helps the digestive tract to work more efficiently and carries the nutrient to the rest of the body. Black pepper as a medicinal herb was traditionally used for sluggish digest and low stomach acid, but it can help nearly anyone get more out of their food and supplements. Its effects are intensified by heating so adding black pepper to your food as it cooks makes it a better digestive enhancer, but watch out too much black pepper cooked into a dish can get very spicy.
Because of these digestive benefits, black pepper extracts are used in some supplements to enhance their absorption. Piperine, an active component of black pepper sold under the name BioPerine, has been shown to increase the absorption of various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. This is especially important with harder to absorb supplements like curcumin from turmeric, a popular inflammation-modulating herb. Supplement companies choose many different strategies to help get curcumin into the bloodstream, but BioPerine is one of the most popular approaches. I also mix a little bit of ground black pepper into my jar of turmeric so I know I am getting more out of my turmeric every time I cook with it.
Posted in Herbs
Tagged black pepper, cardiovascular health, circulation, detoxification, digestive health, digestive tract, food, GI Health, health, heart health, inflammation, nutrition
For colds, most people reach for vitamin C to help them get back on their feet sooner. They might chose it because they can tell it helps them feel better, or they might have heard about one of the numerous studies supporting its use. Most studies show that vitamin C reduces the severity of cold symptoms. Even one famous “negative “ study showed that vitamin C reduced the severity of cold symptoms by 20%. This was only considered a negative outcome because these results were not deemed significant. Other studies show that vitamin C accelerates recovery, especially if taken early in the illness. One study using 3000-6000 mg daily showed an 85% reduction in cold and flu symptoms compared to the control. I notice that especially toward the end of a cold, taking vitamin C has a marked effect on my energy levels, helping me get back to work.
Vitamin C can be beneficial for other respiratory issues. In epidemiological studies, increased vitamin C intake is correlated to lower rates of asthma. Supplementation with vitamin C also has been shown to reduce exercise-induced airway reactions such as narrowing of the airways. Additionally, vitamin C may be helpful for asthma that is related to pollution. These benefits are partially due to vitamin C’s anti-histamine effects, which are augmented by the presence of bioflavonoids, compounds that occur in foods alongside vitamin C that potentiate its activity.
Vitamin C’s well-known antioxidant capabilities provide part of its protect of the respiratory tract. When we are exposed to pollutants and toxins, free radicals cause cellular damage, which in turn contributes to inflammation that can exacerbate conditions like allergies and asthma. It is probably these antioxidant actions that help me feel more energetic at the end of a cold. When the immune system is working hard it creates free radicals as part of the process, and these free radicals can contribute to fatigue. By helping remove these free radicals, vitamin C can help you feel normal again. Likewise, vitamin C can protect vital molecules in the body, such as proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and DNA from damage by free radicals that can be generated during normal metabolism as well as through exposure to toxins. This preserves crucial cellular functions and can help prevent cancer. Finally, vitamin C can regenerate the antioxidant capacity of vitamin E, which is in turn one of the most important fat soluble antioxidant that supports heart health by preventing the oxidation of cholesterol. Again, bioflavonoids also can work as powerful antioxidants supporting the activity of vitamin C so I always look for these when I buy vitamin C.
Posted in Health
Tagged antioxidant, cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular health, cholesterol, cold symptoms, colds, detoxification, food, free radicals, health, heart health, immune support, inflammation, influenza, nutrition, upper respiratory infections
Fish oil has numerous well-documented benefits for our health. It is probably best known for its cardiovascular advantages of decreasing cholesterol and clotting. Here I am going to focus on its mood supporting qualities, because there have been a number of exciting recent studies. In one study following patients with major depression, the likelihood of also having anxiety was much higher in those with the lowest blood levels of EPA and DHA, the major omega-3 components of fish oil. A second study found that in women a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduced the incidence of elevated depressive symptoms by 49%. This study also pointed out the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids was important. This means you can support your mood by both taking fish oil and reducing intake of omega-6 fats like those found in meat and most oils including corn, soy, and vegetable oils.
Fish oil may even be able to reduce suicidal tendencies. It has long been noted in epidemiological studies that low omega-3 levels are correlated with increased rates of suicide. Researchers have also found higher levels of a marker called SAT1 in people with strong suicidal ideation. This marker and related ones were also associated with stress, mood disorders, anxiety, and hallucinations. In mice that were genetically altered to have abnormal expression of these biomarkers, treatment with omega-3 fatty acids brought their levels of the troublesome markers back to normal. All of this very promising research reinforces the use of fish oil as part of the plan to support mental health for even very serious mood disorders.
Posted in Health
Tagged anxiety, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular health, cholesterol, cholesterol lowering, cognitive decline, cognitive support, dementia, depression, fish oil, food, health, heart health, memory, mental-health, mood disorders, mood support, nutrition, omega-3 fatty acids, stress