Tag Archives: nutrition

Leveraging Protein for Weight Loss

There is an interesting theory from scientists in Australia that is helping us view protein in a new and balanced light. They believe that there is a set amount of protein that we need and that we will feel a drive to keep eating until we have reached that level of protein intake. They claim the obesity epidemic is partially to blame on the increased availability of cheap, low-protein foods. If we are choosing more of these types of foods, we have to eat greater quantities of them to reach our protein requirements. Interestingly, scientists don’t believe there is the same set point amounts needed for carbohydrates or fats.

The amount of protein we need daily is still under debate, but most people agree it is in the range of 50 to 60 grams per day. To meet this need, I try to eat at least 15-20 grams of protein with all three meals. Some examples of foods that provide 15-20 grams of protein are:

  • 2 extra large eggs
  • 3 ounces of meat
  • ½ cup of cottage cheese
  • 1 cup of cooked black beans

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Since 1961 the percentage of protein in the average diet has dropped by 1.5% (from 14% to 12.5%). During this same time we have seen a 14% increase in overall calorie consumption. Imagine trying to get your daily protein needs from eating potato chips. You would have to eat 3.5 ounces to reach 7 grams of protein, but doing this would also mean you ingest around 550 calories. If you were to eat one extra large egg, you could get the same amount of protein, but only ingest 80 calories.

When I have been places were the food choices were only these low nutrient offerings, I never felt like I was full and satisfied. I kept eating even though my calorie intake was higher than normal.

What role might protein play in a weight loss lifestyle? By eating our protein first, we might be able to manage our appetites better by fulfilling this fundamental need. This doesn’t mean we have to eat excess amounts of protein like the Atkins style diets suggest but just the right amount for us. Also a moderate amount of fat in the diet might also increase our sense of satiety because, like protein, it helps us feel full longer.

Of course, lack of protein isn’t necessarily going to be the only factor contributing to food cravings, but increasing quality protein intake can give a boost in the right direction.

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An Apple A Day

It is apple season, and my apple tree gifted me with a nearly perfect ripe apple. It was delicious, and I was equally grateful for the health benefits it provides, beyond just the vitamins and minerals that most people think about. I use apples (as well as other fruit) as a method of detoxification!

apple

I intentionally make a point to eat fruit any time I eat fish. While fish is still a healthy food that I eat occasionally as part of a diverse diet, I am concerned about the levels of mercury and other heavy metals that are present in our waters and our seafood. Did you know that seafood is the number one source of toxic mercury exposure for most Americans? While I avoid the most contaminated species of fish, I also eat an apple or other piece of fruit any time I have seafood.

Why fruit after seafood? I started this habit after reading about a study in the Amazon among women who regularly consumed fish . They found that the women who ate more fruit accumulated less mercury in their bodies compared to those who didn’t eat much fruit. Although they were eating tropical fruits, the researchers thought that it might be the fibers in the fruit that bond the mercury so less of it was absorbed, rather than any specific fruit.

I decided there was no reason not to apply this idea using our local fruits. I tend to favor apples because they are high in the fibers that may help bind toxins. The peel of apples is also full of antioxidant nutrients that can help protect the body in other ways.

It is unfortunate that our world is now so polluted that we need to consider these types of daily detoxification and protection activities. These toxic metals are particularly troublesome for one of our most valuable resources: our minds. Mercury might have negative consequences for our memory, attention span, and even moods.

This simple life hack provides another safe way to live a detoxification lifestyle and stay in balance in our modern world.

Dr. Laurell is the resident homeopathic advisor for Grato Holding, Inc.

Don’t Be Afraid of Fat

Don’t be afraid to include some high fat foods in your diet for better health. Back in the 1980s, fat became the villain that we needed to avoid for heart health and weight loss. Unfortunately, most low fat products ended up being high in sugar or strange artificial ingredients that might do us more harm than the original fat. We also didn’t understand the health benefits we could gain from good fats such as the anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats from fish or flax.

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The concern about eating fats is that they are more calorie dense than proteins and carbohydrates. From this viewpoint, cutting out fat cuts down on calories and watching calories can help us maintain a healthy weight. But eating foods that have fat in them may help us feel more full and satisfied, which can help us avoid excess snacking. While if we ate a low fat product that was high in sugar, the possible blood sugar and energy crash later could make us want to eat more.

What are the possible health benefits of having healthy fat sources in your diet? Healthy fats can be important for our brain health. I think of the brain as being a complex series of “wires” that conduct electrical impulse. The insulation that surrounds those “wires” is made from fat, therefore our brains need fats to function properly. Certain fats can also be important fuels for our brain cells.

Choosing healthy fats, particularly sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, can reduce inflammation in the body and even protect us from heart disease. Some traditions recommend higher fat consumption to help with allergy and sinus issues. This is possibly related to inflammation reduction and/or adequate moisturization of the sinus passages. Likewise, healthy fats can be vital for healthy skin. I also look for adequate fat intake when trying to find underlying causes of constipation. Sufficient water, fiber and fat consumption can be important for proper bowel health.

Even saturated fats aren’t the offenders we once thought. For years, we were told that saturated fat from meat and dairy products contributed to heart disease. Now even more conservative groups are starting to question this connection, citing a recent study that showed higher saturated fat consumption didn’t mean higher rates of heart disease when looking at large population studies. The unique saturated fats in some oils like coconut oil are even being touted for their particular weight loss and brain health benefits.

There is still one type of fat out there that we need to avoid: transfats. These are the artificially made fats that were originally produced to replace butter and other saturated fats. Now, we know that these hydrogenated fats found in shortenings and many processed foods are the worst culprits when it comes to heart health. Surprise, surprise, the unhealthy fats are the artificial ones!

Besides avoiding transfats, the most important consideration is picking fat sources that bring a lot of other additional nutrients to the table. Many processed foods that are high in fat are just junk. Think of donuts and other white flour laden deserts. Now, stop thinking about donuts, and chose instead foods like nuts, avocados, eggs, and olive oil. These healthy fats sources are also loaded with vitamins and antioxidants to help protect our health.

eggs in basket

Finally because high fat foods are calorie dense, we need to watch our serving sizes. For instance, a serving of nuts is generally ¼ cup, so don’t sit there and eat a whole pound.

We are all different so the amount and types of fat we need can vary, but healthy fats are now in the good foods column. So don’t run from these healthy foods due to outdated propaganda.

Fight the Sugar Monster

Sugar is pretty much the worst food we can eat. On top of that, it is addictive and extremely prevalent. We are hardwired to crave sweet foods for the quick energy they provide, but this is a throwback to ancient times when sweets were very rare. Now, nearly every breakroom in this country has sugary temptations on a regular basis. Not to mention the entire grocery store aisles dedicated to cookies and sodas. With all of this abundance of sweets, the average American ends up eating 22 teaspoons of sugar daily, which represents 355 calories.

How is sugar bad for us? In addition to the obvious concerns like diabetes, sugar consumption can throw off our cholesterol. People who eat more sugar have higher triglycerides and lower HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol. Eating sweets can dramatically affect our dental health and may suppress our immune system. Some researchers are also linking excess sugar consumption with dementia, describing dementia as diabetes of the brain. Finally, sugar can feed harmful bacteria and yeast, such as candida, in our digestive tracts. This imbalance of gut bacteria can have tremendous negative consequences on our health including reduced ability to get rid of toxins.

So how do we fight the sugar monster? First, I try to figure out if there are any health issues contributing to sugar cravings. These can be things like insomnia, hormone changes, unstable blood sugar, stress, and brain chemistry imbalance. In addition if we have harmful bacteria and yeast overgrowing in our gut, they can release compounds to make us crave their favorite food: sugar.

As well as addressing any of these areas that might be an issue for you, come up with some strategies to help banish the sugar fiend. First, don’t keep sweets in your house or keep them in the garage or somewhere else where they are out of sight, out of mind. I have found it helpful to try to go cold turkey with sugar. The more I avoid it, the less I want it. Of course, I still crave sugar sometimes, often after a meal. Sometimes, brushing my teeth does the trick or I will tell myself wait 30 minutes. The craving will often pass in that time.

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If my sugar cravings persist, I will eat something else like fruit, in moderation. Or I have a small amount of a xylitol or stevia sweetened treat. But don’t choose artificial sweeteners like splenda and nutrasweet, as these cause other problems. Some people notice that a spoonful of coconut oil a few times a day significantly cuts their sugar craving. Others find that amino acids, such as glutamine or tryptophan, help them out, especially if they have mood issues. And if it is time to actually have some sugar, do it in style. Choose a high quality and lower sugar treat such as a part of a very dark chocolate bar.

I feel like I could go on and on about this topic since I tend to have a sweet tooth myself. But the simplest message I could share with you is start cutting back on sugar in any way you can. Small steps are better than no steps.

The Buzz About Bone Broth

When I first heard of bone broth, I had no idea what people were talking about. I mean obviously it was a broth made from bones, but what made it special. So I looked up a recipe. People were simmering bones in water for long periods of time to extract the minerals and other nutrients.

Then I realized I had made bone broth on and off for the last 15 years. I had just called it broth. Fifteen years ago, I was a vegetarian so I wasn’t making it for myself, but every time my cats got sick, I would turn to my copy of Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Cats and Dogs. He recommended that a special chicken broth be made to help sick animals recover faster. So even though I didn’t eat meat myself, I bought a chicken and made chicken broth. I don’t even remember what I did with the meat, but after I had made the normal chicken broth, I put the bones back in it and cooked it for many more hours. Dr. Pitcairn recommended added a few tablespoons of vinegar to the broth to help get the minerals out of the bones faster. This made total sense to me so it became a regular practice when I had a sick cat.

Cooking bone broth on my wood stove

Cooking bone broth on my wood stove

Eventually, I started eating meat and now I even raise my own chickens. Whenever I cook chicken, I like to save the bones in the freezer. When I have enough of them, I stick them in a pot and add enough water to cover the bones and a few tablespoons of vinegar. Then I cook it for as long as I reasonable can, adding more water if needed. Many people do this in a crockpot so they can leave it simmering for 24-48 hours. If you can cook it long enough, the bones become easy to break and you know you have extracted most of the nutrients. After whatever period of time, just strain and enjoy. I often freeze any extra for later use. If you are not ready to make your own, companies are starting to sell real bone broth ready to use.

Bone broths have been a part of traditional cooking throughout the world. For instance, I am also a huge fan of pho, the Vietnamese soup made with beef bone broth. If you asked a Vietnamese granny for her recipe, I bet she would tell you to simmer the broth at least overnight. Bone broths can be used as the base for any dish you would normally make with broth, such as soup, sauces, or as the cooking liquid for whole grains. Or you can drink it hot with salt and any other spices.

Bone broth is going to be rich in minerals as well as gelatin, glucosamine and other nutrients our bodies need. In addition to calcium, bone broth contains magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and a host of other trace minerals. We can also get collagen, gelatin, and glucosamine from the connective tissue on the bones. These combinations of nutrients are obviously good for bone health, but they are also likely to enhance the health of your hair, skin, and nails. Bone broth might also help keep your joints and connective tissues in good shape. Of course, many other conditions could benefit from this boost of minerals and nutrients, from insomnia to heart palpitations. And at this time of year, remember that broth is the traditional remedy during cold and flu season (or for a sick cat).

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Gluten Free Coconut Flour Pancakes for the Holidays

I find this time of year to be a great one for experimenting with food. I am not as busy with farm chores, and the cooler weather makes me want to stay warm in the kitchen.

Recently, I have been experimenting more with gluten free baking. Nothing fancy. I have just been wanting a little diversity in what I am eating while still keeping it healthy and delicious.

This last part can be a challenge because many gluten free items are lower in fiber than the whole grain versions I would have normally chosen. So, I started experimenting with coconut flour because it is high in fiber and healthy fats. Coconut also has some antiviral benefits that may help us stay healthy during the holidays. But the pancakes I made with just coconut flour were too coconut for me. It was nearly like I was eating a macaroon. Don’t get me wrong. I love macaroons, but that coconut flavor and texture wasn’t what I wanted in a pancake.

This is my less strict version of coconut flour pancakes where I added other grains and flours to find a balance between health and taste. I find them to be so tasty that I eat them with just butter and no syrup. This cuts out additional pointless sugar in my diet.

coconut flour pancakes

Coconut Flour Pancakes
3 eggs
¼ cup yogurt
¾ cup milk (or can drop the yogurt and use 1 cup of milk)
1 tablespoon honey

¼ cup coconut flour
¼ cup flaxmeal (aka ground flax seeds)
¼ cup cornmeal

½ cup gluten free flour (I used a mixture of arrowroot and potato starch)
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Butter or coconut oil for cooking

Beat eggs until frothy. Combine yogurt and all but ¼ cup of the milk. Stir in honey, coconut flour, flaxmeal, and cornmeal to soak while the mix up the remain ingredients.

In a medium size, mix the remaining dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Add remaining milk if mixture is too thick.

Preheat griddle or pan and grease with butter or coconut oil. Ladle 1-2 tablespoons onto hot pan for each pancake. Cook for a few minutes on each side until browned.

Probiotics for Weight Loss

Every year I find myself wanting to write another blog about probiotics, but you can’t blame me. There is a huge amount of research going on right now about the microbiome, a term referring to the complex community of abundant microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. Several recent studies are showing connections between these beneficial bacteria and maintaining a healthy body weight.

One study demonstrated a possible link between antibiotic use in children and a tendency toward weight gain. The study showed that especially boys tended to gain excess weight if given antibiotics in the first year of life. The authors suggested that doctors be more selective about giving antibiotics to infants and toddlers. Many parents push the doctors for antibiotics even for viral infection like colds that will not be helped by the antibiotics. Other times it is appropriate or even critical for antibiotics to be used. For these instances, it would be appropriate to take probiotics afterward even though studies have not been done yet to show if can help prevent weight gain after antibiotic use.

Previous studies have shown that obese people tend to have less diversity of bacteria living it the gut. To explore whether this was a cause of obesity or the effect of it, another research team gave mice the bacteria from sets of twins where one was obese and the other was lean. The mice that got the bacteria from the obese people gained weight, while mice that received bacteria from the lean people didn’t. The mice that gained weight didn’t eat more than their leaner companions. Later, those obese mice were given the bacteria from the lean people and lost weight. This benefit only occurred when the mice were also given a low-fat, high fiber diet. Without the fiber and other nutrients, the bacteria that support healthy weight seem to not flourish.

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Lactobacillus gasseri is one probiotic that is of particular interest for weight loss. A 2013 study had 210 overweight participants consume fermented milk that either contained no Lactobacillus gasseri, a moderate amount of Lactobacillus gasseri, or a large amount of it. After 12 weeks, both groups getting the Lactobacillus gasseri lost belly fat while the control group saw no change. Lactobacillus gasseri is available in probiotic capsules such as Kyo-Dophilus.

There are numerous health benefits from having a healthy population of bacteria living in our digestive tracts and helping us to maintain healthy weight is just one of them. Likewise, taking probiotics is just one component of maintaining healthy weight. Eating high fiber and nutrient rich foods helps the good bacteria thrives and provides our bodies with balanced nutrition to help us thrive too.

Stevia Beats Artificial Sweeteners For Blood Sugar

When I learned that artificial sweeteners are contributing to blood sugar problems, I decided that I needed to review the research on stevia to see how it compared. It turns out the news is good on stevia.

A recent and very thorough study on artificial sweeteners demonstrated that they are contributing to higher blood sugar levels after meals. The study showed that people consuming artificial sweeteners have different bacteria living in their gut. Then, healthy people who didn’t use artificial sweeteners were given saccharin for 6 days. Four out of the seven developed high blood sugar. The researchers used mice to determine that changes in gut bacteria were the cause. These new bacteria contributed to the absorption of some of the carbohydrates we don’t normally absorb. These new bacteria seem to make it as if we had eaten a higher carbohydrate meal. In studies on rats, saccharin, sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet) were all shown to have equal negative effects on gut bacteria and blood sugar. The researchers are suggesting that these artificial sweeteners are contributing to both diabetes and obesity.

Stevia

Stevia

So this left me with the question of whether stevia might do the same thing. Stevia is a plant from South America that is now popular as a natural non-caloric sugar alternative. But unlike the artificial sweeteners, stevia holds promise of helping people with blood sugar problems. Participants eating stevia-sweetened foods before a meal showed lower blood sugar and insulin levels after the meal compared to participants given aspartame or sugar-sweetened foods. The study also showed that eating stevia before a meal didn’t lead to increased calorie consumption during the meal. Many other studies are pointing to stevia as an agent that may help with insulin resistance, the issue responsible for most cases of diabetes.

Stevia is very sweet and can have an aftertaste somewhat similar to artificial sweeteners. I find it helpful to use a little bit less than I think I need so that my food is not overly sweet. This cuts down on the aftertaste too. I am also a big fan of the flavored stevia liquids, such as the cinnamon flavored on I like to put in my tea. To read more about stevia and xylitol, the other sugar alternative I use sometimes, here is a great article from LifeExtension.

Grain-free Nachos: A delicious way to eat your veggies

I created this recipe less because I wanted to avoid grains and more because I wanted to find another delicious way of eating more vegetables. When it comes to health, we seem to get more benefit from adding healthy foods to our diet as opposed to cutting out the bad ones. Increased vegetable consumption is one of the more important things we can do for our health, along with eating fruit, nuts, legumes, reduced-fat dairy, whole grains, and fish.
A recent Swedish study found that men who ate healthier diets reduced their risk of heart attack by 18%. When combined with 4 other healthy habits, they reduced their risk by 80% compared to men who did none of these things. These healthy habits were drinking alcohol in moderation, not smoking, exercising, and avoiding excess belly fat.
This study only included Swedish men, but clearly we can guess that these healthy choices could make a huge difference for anyone.

This recipe uses several of the foods on the list of healthful foods used in this study. Eating peppers in particular has been linked to lower rates of Parkinson’s disease.

Grainless nachos #1

Grain-free Nachos

3-4 peppers (I used poblanos, but bell peppers are fine)
1 cup cooked beans
1-2 cups reduced fat Monterey Jack or other cheese
½ – 1 cup onions, chopped
½ cup sliced black olives
1-4 jalapenos, sliced (I use Jalapenos En Excabeche that I make from this recipe)
1 cup tomato, chopped
1 avocado, chopped

Optional additinal toppings: sour cream, guacamole, seasoned meat, chopped green onions, cilantro, shredded lettuce or other greens, salsa or pico de gallo, or whatever else sounds good

Cut peppers in half and remove the cores.
Flatten with your hand onto a baking sheet.
Toss on the beans, cheese, onions, black olives, and jalapenos.
Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes until the cheese starts to brown and peppers get a little bit soft.
Sprinkle tomatoes and avocado and anything that you like on top and serve.
Note: In these pictures, I was making a double batch because they make awesome leftovers when reheated.

Grainfree nachos finished

Longer Telomeres for Longer Lives

How do we live longer healthier lives? Is it inevitable that our cells will stop functioning properly and we will get chronic degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and dementia? My goal is to support my body now so that I can delay the “inevitable” for as long as possible.

We can keep our DNA and therefore our bodies functioning optimally by emphasizing healthy diet and exercise. A recent small study by Dr. Dean Ornish demonstrated that following a healthy lifestyle plan could actually lengthen our telomeres. Telomeres are the genetic caps on the end of each DNA strand. I think of them like these plastic protectors on the ends of shoelaces.

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As our cells divide, our DNA is copied. With each copy, the telomeres get a little shorter. Eventually, we can lose so much of our telomeres that our DNA is not longer protected. The cells produced at this point don’t have all the tools they need to be fully functioning cells and our health can suffer.

The shortening of telomeres has been linked to many chronic diseases including some forms of cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes. Because of this, some people regard telomere length to be the best marker of our true biological age.
In Dr. Ornish’s study, participants followed a plant-based diet, exercised regularly, and participated in stress reduction activities like gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing exercises, and meditation. The 10 men doing these lifestyle interventions had a 10% increase in the length of their telomeres over 5 years. The control group showed a 3% decrease in their telomere length during that time.

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This was just a small study using participants who had prostate cancer, so we cannot definitely say that everyone making similar healthy changes will see the same results. We also need more studies that confirm that longer telomeres contribute to longer healthier lives, but we know that these types of beneficial changes make sense anyways. Additionally, another study showed that women who took multivitamins had longer telomeres that their peers the same age who didn’t.
I consider studies like these to be further motivation for us to make these types of healthy changes to our lives. They give us hope that we can even undo some of the damage we might have already done by making better choices today.