Nature’s Brilliance — Food as Medicine

How 6 Natural Foods Have Impacted Modern Medicine

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” is attributed to Hippocrates and although he did not see food and medicine as the same, it’s indicated from his writings that diet and lifestyle are central to health. 

But ancient cultures have used food as medicine for centuries, dating all the way back to the Egyptians who used various plants to treat everything from animal bites to mental health issues. Similarly, Chinese Herbalism and Indian Ayurvedic medicine are rooted in eating different foods to manage or cure different illnesses.

Pharmaceutical companies took notes from these ancient cultures and developed new drugs from the active compounds found on land and sea. My PhD thesis was on the synthesis of an anti-cancer compound that was extracted from natural plants – how cool is that?

This blog will highlight the wonders of nature – I’ll cover six foods and how they have impacted modern-day drugs.

 

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Whether it’s a green Granny Smith or a shiny Honeycrisp, apples have been integral to the research on drugs to balance blood sugar levels.

Apples have always been known to be great for managing blood sugar due to their fiber content, but a newly discovered compound in apples has actually led to the development of a new diabetes drug.

Discovered in the 2010s, the active compound in apples is phlorizin. The compound is found in unripe apples as well as apple tree bark, and it’s now used in drugs to help balance blood glucose levels in people living with diabetes.

 

Yam’s Medicinal Qualities

Yams are known for being sweet potato’s less popular cousin who gets to shine on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. But did you know a compound in yams, specifically Mexican yams, has provided a multitude of medicinal benefits?

In the 1930s, researchers found the compound diosgenin in Mexican yams. Diosgenin was first used in the advent of birth control pills in the 1960s. In the years to follow, developers found that the compound was also effective to decrease inflammation for people with arthritis and dermatitis.

The Mexican yam derivative, diosgenin, is still used in drugs today, though it is more likely to be made in a laboratory than extracted from yams themselves. The holidays remain a yam’s time to shine!

 

Willow Bark’s Medicinal Qualities

Willow bark may be less commonly seen in day-to-day life, but if you have a willow tree in your yard, you may encounter it regularly!

In the 1820s, salicin was discovered in the bark of several varieties of willow trees. Since then, its uses have blossomed, providing anti-inflammatory as well as pain relieving effects. Its derivative, salicylic acid, is commonly used in the treatment of acne.

Salicin was also the original source of aspirin, one of the most commonly used pain relieving agents today.

 

Barley’s Medicinal Qualities

Barley is a grain that serves as a base to many foods: cereals, bread, beer, whiskey and more. Barley is a good source of carbohydrates and energy (and a buzz when in alcohol form), and has also opened doors for researchers to develop new drugs to assist with dental surgery.

Within Barley is a compound called gramine, which scientists found in the 1930s. Research on gramine led to the discovery of isogramine, which was then used to design lidocaine.

If you’ve ever gotten a tooth pulled, the dentist likely used lidocaine. We have barley to thank that a trip to the dentist can be (relatively) painless!

 

Peppermint’s Medicinal Qualities

Anyone have any gum? Well, a stick of gum likely doesn’t include peppermint’s active compound, though it takes on the minty flavor.

Peppermint is one of the longest used herbs for its medicinal qualities. Ancient cultures and today’s pharmaceutical companies alike have used peppermint to decrease joint pain, soothe itching on the skin, and manage hives (specifically hives connected to a condition called urticaria).

The compound in peppermint resulting in all of these health benefits is menthol, which is more of a household name as far as drug compounds go. Menthol directly sourced from peppermint is still in use today! BenGay is a commonly used topical pain reliever that uses menthol for pain relief.

 

Chili Pepper’s Medicinal Qualities

Chili peppers add more than a little (or a lot) of spice to your food. They’ve also made leaps and bounds in various pain relief medicines!

In the 1870s, scientists discovered the compound capsaicin in chili peppers. This is actually the same compound that makes your mouth burn when you eat something spicy!

In the medicinal context, however, capsaicin has been used in topical creams to relieve pain, especially for people suffering from osteo-arthritis and nerve pain from the shingles.

“Nature is so smart it put the medicine inside the food”  

Nature has created a plethora of fruits, herbs, and veggies that have been used to support health for centuries, in ways beyond providing basic nutrition. The best part? This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Researchers are currently exploring how herbal remedies, traditional medicines, and other compounds in everyday foods can open the doors to life-changing medicines. If you want to dive deeper into how food is used as medicine, check out the BBC article linked here for more information!Please note: this information is shared out of interest and not as a replacement for current medical treatment or as any medical advice. If you have any of the conditions mentioned in this article, please consult your doctor for medical advice.

What’s Growing in Your Backyard? An Introduction to the World of Herbalism

If you do not use chemical fertilizers or weed killers around your house (like me), then you may have some healthy herbs growing in your backyard. However, they can be tricky to identify, so as tempting as it might be, it’s best to leave the foraging to the professionals. With that in mind, we can still look to the vibrant, colorful plant kingdom for inspiration. Even if we aren’t going out and picking plants ourselves, exploring natural remedies can be rewarding.

In this blog, I’ve invited an herb nerd and colleague (Teaghan Aston) to take us on a journey to introduce us to the world of herbalism.  

Generally speaking, herbalism describes the intricate world of the use of plants to promote wellbeing. Most cultures have their own unique systems and beliefs surrounding how plants can be used to promote wellness, some of which have roots going back thousands of years. For example, Ayurveda is more than 5,000 years old, with Traditional Chinese Medicine following close behind, rooted in practices that began approximately 3,000 years ago.

While these two systems, in particular, typically incorporate many different modalities, herbs often play a huge role in how they work to improve balance in people’s lives.

The US is home to a plethora of valuable plants and herbal traditions of its own, which vary based on region. Many of these plants are still valued today by the herbalists and practitioners of holistic medicine.

Herbalism in Today’s World

Thanks to today’s training programs, modern herbalists have access to all sorts of information. As a result, many combine herbs from various traditions and parts of the world when working with clients. However, some specialize in traditional systems and stick to using herbs and modalities from those systems exclusively.

With that said, not everybody interested in using natural modalities can afford to work with an herbalist. With the ongoing increase in popularity of using natural approaches to foster wellbeing, all sorts of herbal products and formulations can be found online and in large chain stores.

Caution: The availability of herbal products makes it easy for people to explore these options, but access comes with a BUYER BEWARE warning.

  • Not all herbal products are created equally, and not all herbal products are for everyone.
  • There are herbs out there that have contraindications, which is why everyone, even those who have access to an herbalist, should still check with their doctor before adding an herbal product to their routine. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should never start working with a new herbal product or supplement without first consulting your healthcare provider.

  • Many herbal products are contaminated with heavy metals with sources of origin unknown or suspect. And you cannot tell from their online reviews.

On a more positive note, there are some things that you can do to reduce your risk while exploring herbal remedies.

Gather Your Information From Trustworthy Sources

While heading over to sites like Pinterest to look at other people’s recipes may seem quick and easy, it’s best to avoid finding information on sites like that when it comes to wellness, as anybody can put up anything, making it hard to discern what can and cannot be trusted.

Stick to Simple, Well Researched Herbs 

As mentioned above, there are all sorts of different herbal concoctions out there. However, complicated doesn’t always mean better, and when you’re working without the guidance of an herbalist, it’s generally best to keep things simple, and some herbs are more beginner-friendly than others. However, “beginner-friendly” is a very subjective term, and it’s important to use your discernment when assessing your comfort level surrounding the use of herbs for wellness.

Where to Begin?

Teaghan mentioned some herbs that she thought would be great to discuss in this post (purely for educational purposes). The herbs mentioned below are primarily a mixture of adaptogens, nervines, or nourishing herbs, although some (cinnamon) do not fall into the pre-mentioned categories.

Here is a great educational blog post from Mountain Rose Herbs, which breaks down the basics of understanding nervines and adaptogens that may be helpful if these terms are new to you.

Here are Teaghan’s top picks:

Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn is a wonderful plant that may have cardiac trophorestorative (rectifies deficiency in organ/organ system) properties. It is a favorite among herbalists and people who are looking to provide their hearts with extra support. While popular as a general heart tonic, Research suggests that Hawthorn extract as an adjunct treatment (although most certainly not a “cure,”) may even be of benefit for symptom control in individuals experiencing chronic heart failure. Some people believe that Hawthorn can also be useful for soothing the “emotional” heart as well – although this is anecdotal. This makes sense, as in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Hawthorn is one of the many herbs used when creating herbal formulas for calming “disturbed shen” (spirit).

With that in mind, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing cardiac symptoms. If you are already receiving treatment for a cardiac condition, it is essential that you get approval from your healthcare provider before determining if Hawthorn is appropriate for you, as there is some important information to be aware of, including but not limited to how Hawthorn can increase the risk of bleeding after cardiac surgery.

Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms is experiencing a surge in popularity, which is no surprise, as there is much excitement in the herbal world surrounding their potential benefits. Reishi is thought by many to be a powerful ally for immune support, the nervous system, as well as a host of other things. While Reishi has a long, rich history of traditional use, the human research that we currently have available is limited although the studies that we do have are promising. For example, in this study, it was shown that a mycelium-based extract of Ganoderma lucidum may have been responsible for suppressing colorectal adenomas (precancerous lesions in the bowel).

In another human study, it was found that Ganoderma lucidum spore powder improved cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer patients during endocrine treatment. In this same study, the participants also reported overall improvements to quality of life, such as less anxiety and depression.

If you have mushroom allergies, Reishi products are not a safe choice for you. Additionally, Reishi may interact with anticoagulants/antiplatelets, immunosuppressants, and potentially other medications, such as those used for blood pressure and diabetes.

This is not a complete list of potential contraindications, so be sure to speak with your doctor before trying out Reishi mushrooms if it has piqued your interest.

Milky Oats (Avena sativa)

Teaghan says a tincture made out of fresh milky oat tops is one of her go-to choices when she’s feeling frazzled from the effects of stress and when she knows that her nervous system is in need of extra support. However, since oats are considered to be a “food” herb and are thought to primarily work through trophorestorative actions, they seem to work best when used consistently over time (from Teaghan’s personal experience), much like Hawthorn. Generally speaking, slower-acting herbs like these also tend to be more gentle than quick-acting herbs (although this is not always the case), which is why these “nourishing” herbs are typically the first ones that those new to herbs choose to experiment with.

However, research indicates that there could be some acute benefit, as we’ll touch on below.

While Teaghan’s knowledge of milky oat tops is mostly anecdotal, as human research is very limited, she did point out this study, which takes a look at both the potential acute effects as well as the potential chronic effects of Avena sativa (Green oat) extract.

Here is a brief excerpt from the study: “The results showed that both a single dose of 1,290 mg and, to a greater extent, supplementation for four weeks with both 430 mg and 1,290 mg green oat extract resulted in significantly improved performance on a computerized version of the Corsi Blocks working memory task and a multitasking task (verbal serial subtractions and computerized tracking) in comparison to placebo. After four weeks, the highest dose also decreased the physiological response to the stressor in terms of electrodermal activity. There were no treatment-related effects on mood. These results confirm the acute cognitive effects of Avena sativa extracts and are the first to demonstrate that chronic supplementation can benefit cognitive function and modulate the physiological response to a stressor.

It’s important to note that Milky Oat products are contraindicated for those who have celiac diseaseas well as those who have gluten sensitivities. There could also be other contraindications that we are unaware of, so be sure to double check with your provider.

Ceylon Cinnamon

If you’ve heard about the numerous reported benefits of Cinnamon, you’ve probably run into some confusion. When most people hear Cinnamon, they assume that there is only one kind, but there are multiple, and they are not all created equal. The variety that we are discussing here is Ceylon Cinnamon, also known as “true” Cinnamon, and its potential extends far beyond the spice cabinet.

According to this randomized, controlled trial, it was discovered that participants with type 2 diabetes who had been given Cinnamon experienced reductions in serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol, although it is unclear to readers which type of Cinnamon was used during the trial.

With that being said, Ceylon Cinnamon is generally thought to carry fewer risks than other varieties of Cinnamon, like Cassia cinnamon. This is because “True” Ceylon Cinnamon is believed to have lower amounts of coumarin (which can be toxic to the liver) than other varieties.

If you’re curious to learn more about Ceylon Cinnamon, Teaghan noted that this article published by Healthline appeared to do a great job of explaining it. However, while additional online resources are helpful, you still need to check with your doctor before pursuing cinnamon supplements. This is especially true if you are already taking diabetes medications or insulin, as mixing these with cinnamon products could lead to Hypoglycemia.

As you’ve probably determined, there’s a lot to consider even when working with seemingly basic herbs like the ones we’ve touched on here. If the research we’ve linked to is any indication, the plant kingdom holds a lot of potential power. While precautions need to be taken, such as those we’ve touched on throughout this post, we hope you’re left feeling inspired by some of the possibilities!

Genius Kitchen – Can I eat this?

I recently listened to an interesting podcast featuring Max Lugavere, a health and science journalist and author of a new cookbook called Genius Kitchen. His earlier New York Times bestseller, Genius Foods, has been published in 10 languages. Some of the research he has done for the Genius Kitchen is highlighted here in this blog. 

Dessert:

  • It’s fine to eat dessert and indulge every once in a while – that means infrequently, not every other day 😉
  • The best time to eat dessert is after some activity so your body can clear the glucose from the blood with exercise. So, eat dessert later in the day after a workout. Also, going for a walk after dinner reduces postprandial blood sugar.
  • Max recommends drinking apple cider vinegar (ACV) and taking cinnamon to reduce blood sugar spikes after eating starches. So if you’re going to treat yourself to that pasta dish, it may be a good idea to have a glass of ACV-infused water and some Ceylon cinnamon tablets. Here’s one to try:

Sugar:

  • Max likes non-glucose spiking sugars like monk fruit, stevia and erythritol. But sugar alcohols like erythritol may give you an upset tummy, gas and diarrhea although it is often better tolerated than xylitol and sorbitol. Did you know that prunes are a natural source of sorbitol? That’s why they’re widely used to keep the bowels moving.
  • Erythritol’s action is a bit different as it is fully absorbed in the small intestine and you’ll pee it out. Hence, it may be okay but given that everyone has different levels of tolerance, make yourself the guinea pig and test it out.  
  • There is a new sweetener called allulose which may be worth trying as it shouldn’t give you an upset stomach. I found this at my co-op and it’s used one to one with regular sugar. Here’s a brand you can try:

Dairy:

  • Dairy is a good source of protein like whey and casein. Whey is a highly bioavailable source of protein and the amino acid leucine which are required for muscle synthesis and maintenance. His bottom line is: if dairy doesn’t agree with you, do NOT consume it. Popping lactaid while indulging in foods your body cannot digest is not the solution.
  • Whey protein isolate is 99% free of lactose so you may be able to tolerate it. One of his favorite recipes is faux ice cream where he mixes whey protein, water and frozen berries. I may have to try this recipe – I’m lactose intolerant but the isolate may be something I can have every now and then.
  • If you can have dairy, Max recommends Greek yogurt (full fat) due to the high biological protein value (~19 g protein in a serving).
  • Full-fat dairy has a significant amount of vitamin K2. K2 is an underappreciated vitamin – it helps maintain calcium homeostasis so it stays in your bones and teeth and not in the arteries and kidneys. Vitamin K2 is present in higher amounts in grass fed cows and organ meats.
  • Here’s why Max recommends full-fat dairy:
    • Full-fat dairy has a compound called milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) and this MFGM encapsulates triglycerides in the dairy. 
    • Consumption of full fat dairy is associated with BETTER metabolic health and NOT associated with higher levels of cardiovascular disease. 
    • Heavy cream and butter are the same product but when you churn cream to make butter, you disrupt the MFGM. I found this fascinating: there is no impact on LDL cholesterol with heavy cream consumption but with butter, there is an increase in LDL. The protective effect is MFGM which encapsulates the fats. MFGM is also rich in phosphatidyl choline which is part of the brain cell membrane. So, the takeaway is: if you can handle dairy, enjoy products like full-fat cream that have intact MFGM, but go easy on the butter.  

Coffee:

  • It is the most commonly consumed psychoactive drug but it can be addictive so don’t over consume. 
  • Caffeine is a PCSK9 inhibitor which increases the efficiency of liver to recycle LDL particles.
  • Max recommends starting your day with a glass of lemon, electrolyte or ACV-infused water and then after about 45 minutes, drink coffee. Coffee can raise cortisol levels in the morning (when our levels are already high) which can contribute to the mid-body weight gain.
  • To make coffee healthier, he suggests using a paper filter for drip or a pour-over. Why? Because coffee has a compound called cafestol which is known as a powerful elevator of LDL cholesterol. So, while caffeine inhibits LDL, the cafestol elevates it. If you’re using a French press, filter the coffee before imbibing (I’ve been doing this anyway because I don’t like the small grinds in the cup but now I have an even better reason to do it).

Fat:

  • No need to fear fat. Foods like grass fed beef and fatty fish both have saturated fat but there are different types of saturated fat (i.e. stearic, myristic, palmitic) and not all are created equal. For example, stearic acid can boost mitochondrial function. Grass fed beef has a higher portion of stearic acid with less overall saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Breast milk is filled with saturated fat and that’s what babies thrive on.
  • As for fatty fish, the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks (mercury and toxins in seafood).
  • I was surprised to learn that ghee (which is clarified butter) has a prevalence of oxidized cholesterol so it’s not good to over-consume.
  • Max is not a fan of concentrated coconut and MCT oils and suggests eating the whole foods instead.

Salt:

  • Salt is important and unfortunately, most of what we consume comes from processed and canned foods. If you take out processed and restaurant prepared foods, only 11% of the dietary sodium comes from the salt shaker or is added to recipes. So, where are you getting your salt from? 
  • Did you know that the #1 source of salt in the American diet is from bread and rolls?
  • We need salt for good health and if you’re eating a low carb diet, you will need more sodium.
  • Flaked salt (vs. fine or coarse) is a great way to finish off the food.
  • About ~25% of the population are sodium sensitive so if you have hypertension, you have to be careful. But remember that added sugar also plays a huge role in the hypertension epidemic. It’s been shown that one single sugar beverage raised systolic pressure for two hours. So, it’s not just about the salt!
  • We used to consume 4X more potassium than we do now and it’s important to balance out the sodium intake with adequate potassium. Grass fed beef and wild salmon are good sources of potassium.

Bottom line:  Every food has benefits and risks and you have to know what works for you – it’s important to get blood work done annually to check your status so you’re not eating ‘in the dark’.

Here’s the podcast:

https://shows.acast.com/broken-brain/episodes/top-food-hacks-to-supercharge-your-health-with-max-lugavere

And here’s Max’s new book:  

www.Geniuskitchenbook.com

The Role of Uric Acid on Diabetes and Chronic Diseases (It’s Not Just about Gout)

I listened to a great podcast featuring Dr. David Perlmutter’s new book. He is a board-certified neurologist and five times New York Times bestseller including the well-known “Grain Brain”.  The new book was released in Feb 2022 and called “Drop Acid” which is NOT about LSD but refers to the role that uric acid plays in the development of diabetes and other chronic conditions. 

Here’s a summary of the podcast interview:

  • Up to 88% of Americans are metabolically unhealthy, with at least one component of metabolic syndrome like high blood sugar, insulin resistance, hypertension, obesity, cardiac disease and even Alzheimer’s. It was very eye-opening to learn about how uric acid plays a critical function on the development of chronic conditions.

  • Uric acid is measured in blood and typically associated with gout BUT it’s also an important marker for metabolic conditions.

  • In an 8-year study, it was found that all-cause mortality was dramatically increased with high levels of uric acid. For example, heart disease and stroke related mortality was 35-40% due to high levels of uric acid.

  • Uric acid levels are easy to check during an annual check-up. Ideal level should be 5.5 mg/deciliter or below. For every point above 7, there is an 8-13% increased risk of all-cause mortality in addition to gout.

  • Uric acid is raised by 3 key factors: Alcohol, Purine and Fructose
    • Wine has not been shown to raise uric acid much; Hard liquor raises some but BEER raises it a lot. Why? Beer contains purines from the brewer’s yeast so it’s a double whammy of alcohol AND purine to contribute to the beer belly
    • Purines are from organ meat consumption but unless you’re eating a ton, it doesn’t raise the bar much
    • Fructose is the elephant in the room!

  • Unlike glucose, fructose is metabolized directly into uric acid. As fructose raises uric acid, weight, blood pressure and insulin all go up. An interesting study showed that if you give the gout drug (allopurinol) to participants eating a lot of fructose, their uric acid levels drop.

  • Fructose means energy storage whereas glucose means energy utilization. That’s why bears eat a ton of fruit during the summer so they can store fat for hibernation in the winter.

  • Fructose in the form of fruit is okay because it’s a whole food and not processed. It has fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. However, modern fruit has been hybridized for ultra sweetness so an apple a day is fine but that doesn’t mean a half dozen…

  • 60% of the food in the store with a bar code has been sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or some derivative of it. Our bodies are designed to seek out sweet food for our survival. Were you aware that the US gov’t sponsors corn production to the tune of ~$500B/year and a lot of that goes into making HFCS which then makes us fat and sick?

  • When you eat fructose like HFCS, you are turning on gluco-neogenesis (body makes glucose), compromising insulin functionality and setting the stage for diabetes. Fructose inhibits leptin sensitivity (hunger suppressing hormone) which makes us want to keep eating and contributes to weight gain. Fructose also requires energy for it to be absorbed and uses up all the ATP (energy cells) in the gut. The uric acid enhances inflammatory bacteria and increases gut permeability leading to leaky gut syndrome. 

  • There are also medications that increase uric acid: Aspirin, diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, acid blockers, beta blockers and even the sugar substitute xylitol.

 

What to do?

  • First, get your uric acid levels checked. You can ask your physician or buy a test kit on Amazon: Here’s one to try.

 

How to Reduce Uric Acid

  • Eat a mostly plant-based, high fiber, high color diet. It’s better for you and your bacteria.
  • Limit fruit and do NOT drink fruit juice as it’s a concentrated form of fructose. I stopped buying green drinks at the grocery store because they contain fruit juices to make it palatable to most of us. If you drink juice, stick to vegetable juice only (which is hard to find).
  • Shellfish, anchovies and organ meats are rich sources of purine – it’s hard to eat a pound of anchovies in one sitting so no worries as long as everything is enjoyed in moderation.
  • Alcohol, especially BEER, should be avoided except for an occasional glass of wine (and I mean occasional, not every other day occasional!)
  • Coffee is a great drink for lowering uric acid.
  • Vegetables like broccoli have higher levels of purine BUT it is rich in fiber, bioflavonoids and vitamin C so enjoy to your heart’s content. 
  • Minimize consumption of refined grains like flour – flour elevates insulin and this increases uric acid by inhibiting its excretion in the kidneys.

  • Supplements that Dr. Perlmutter suggests to lower uric acid include:
    • Quercetin (500mg/day) is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory bioflavonoid and is present in foods like onions.
    • Vitamin C (1000mg/day) aids in the excretion of uric acid.
    • Luteolin (100 mg/day) also lowers uric acid and is on par with the gout drug allopurinol!
    • DHA (1000mg/day) present in fish oil offsets the damage of uric acid.
    • Tart cherry extract can also bring down uric acid.

It has been estimated that 25% of the western world has elevated uric acid so it’s important to get our levels checked so we’re not part of this statistic. 

Here’s the podcast.

And Dr. Perlmutter’s new book.

The Importance of Self-Care Part 1

We all know that the choices that we make, even seemingly small ones, can have a big impact on our health. Incremental efforts add up like little steps which over time can amount to skyscraper-height changes!

The key to making these positive, lasting changes is patience (sprinkled with kindness). If you’re making the shift towards a healthier lifestyle, you have to be patient and commit to caring for yourself (first) so you have the health and vitality to care for those around you.

And self-care doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It can be a rewarding and luxurious experience, all while on a budget! So, in the next several blogs, I’ll cover some simple self-care tips that will help you stay on track with your wellness goals.

Building a Foundation With Nourishing Foods

You’ve probably had people advise you to stay out of the “inner” aisles while at the grocery store, as this is where most of the processed, sugar-laden foods hang out.

While that’s fantastic advice, it’s also intimidating. But focusing on fresh vegetables and whole foods doesn’t mean you have to give up flavor.

Instead, try thinking of it as an opportunity to experiment!

  • How about adding in a new spice each month? These days, most basic chain grocery stores have large seasoning sections with inexpensive options.

  • If you see a spice that you’re unfamiliar with, try looking it up to see what recipes it’s traditionally used in. This is a great way to get inspiration, keep your home-cooked meals from getting boring, and to learn about new cultures.

  • Try out new ways of working with produce. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have flavorful, roasted, caramelized broccoli than mushy bland steamed broccoli. Check out this recipe that packs an explosion of flavor with just a couple of ingredients:         

Do You Wake Up Feeling Rested?

Getting a good night’s rest is more than just managing fatigue. Sleep plays a crucial role in all sorts of bodily processes. Research has shown that those who have poor quality sleep are at an increased risk for numerous health issues.

Some of the potential short-term consequences of sleep disruption:

  • Decline in cognition, memory, and performance
  • Difficulties with emotional regulation

Some of the potential long-term consequences:

  • Increased risk of hypertension
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Increased risk of metabolic syndrome
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus

Not to scare you, but evidence shows that practicing good sleep hygiene is imperative to any good self-care routine. So, if you aren’t sleeping well at night, it’s best to consult with a professional to get to the root of the underlying cause. However, if you suspect that it’s simply a matter of being stressed out or not being able to “shut your mind off” at night, there are some things that might help you out. And even if you are sleeping well at night, these techniques are great for relaxing in general and could make a great addition to your stress management toolbox.

Breathwork

Guided breathwork is a beginner-friendly way to practice mindfulness. If you’re like me who’s tried meditation but rather than being present, you’re busily putting together a to-do list, then following a guided video could help you ease into a calm state. Guided videos give the brain something to listen to and make it easier to stay focused on the exercise.

Several studies have shown promising data on how deep breathing exercises could improve mood and anxiety.  

How about this guided video with several tips to try:

How About a Massage? No Spa Required!

Treating yourself to an at-home massage could be just the thing you need to facilitate relaxation at the end of a long day, or even in the morning if you find yourself waking up “on the wrong side of the bed”.

There are many techniques for self-massage, but rest assured that no fancy oils, equipment or uncomfortable twists and turns are required to give yourself relief!

Have you heard about the Vagus nerve? The Vagus nerve is a main nerve that connects our brain to our organs in the body. This nerve also activates our rest and digestive system (parasympathetic). By stimulating simple points within our ear, this Vagus nerve massage technique can help reduce stress and anxiety. Give it a try:

It’s All About What Works for You

Everyone’s circumstances are unique. A part of what makes self-care enjoyable is finding little ways to nurture yourself that mesh well with your needs.

The suggestions mentioned here are only meant to serve as inspiration for your journey. Always be sure to check with your healthcare provider before beginning a new regimen, and most importantly, have fun!

7 Budget-Friendly Winter Recipes – Part 1

During the winter months, I love roasts and one-pot wonders like soups and chili. I also prefer cooked vegetables and greens to get my five daily servings of vegetables. It keeps my insides warm when it’s cold outside. So in this blog, I’ll share some healthy recipes which are simple to make and easy on the budget. I always make extra to have leftovers throughout the week.  

Turkey Chili

Here’s my sister’s simple version of chili (you can easily substitute turkey with ground beef or chicken)

  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 2 1/2 TBSPs chili powder
  • 2 TBSPs ground cumin
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 (15 oz.) cans red kidney beans or pinto beans (or a mix), drained

1. Heat oil in a medium-sized soup pot over medium heat.

2. Fry diced onion and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally until wilted.

3. Add ground turkey and break it apart with a wooden spoon. Cook for 6-7 minutes until browned.

4. Add garlic, chili powder, ground cumin, salt, and pepper and cook for 1 minute to bloom the spices.

5. Add diced tomatoes and beans. Bring to boil and then simmer over low heat, covered for 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally.

6. Let it stand for 10-15 minutes before eating

Roasted Veggies

A whole sheet pan of these veggies will last you multiple days so you can store them in the fridge for future meals.

  1. Cut up root and cruciferous vegetables into bite-size pieces and place on baking sheet/sheet pan – any combination of turnips, rutabagas, brussels sprouts, beets, cauliflower will do.
  2. Add one sliced yellow onion and 3-5 sliced garlic cloves (you can vary depending on how much you love vampires!)
  3. Pour ~½ cup of olive oil over the veggies.
  4. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and whatever herbs you have (parsley, oregano, basil).
  5. Roast in 400 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes until veggies are soft and browned.
  6. It’s ready to enjoy!

Stir-Fried Cabbage

Stir-frying is one of the quickest cooking methods and originated from a Chinese cooking technique that involves cooking at high temperatures with very little oil. The high temperature required for stir-frying cooks the food quickly and helps retain the nutrients. 

Cabbage is plentiful year-round but I love making this warm dish in the winter

  1. In a pan, sauté 2 cloves of garlic in 2 TBSPs olive oil.
  2. Add half a head of chopped cabbage (I love purple cabbage for this recipe but any kind will do).
  3. Stir-fry for ~5 minutes to soften the cabbage.
  4. Add 3 TBSPs of low-sodium soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of grated ginger.
  5. Cook until cabbage is browned on the edges.
  6. It’s ready to serve!

Roasted Mushrooms

Did you know that mushrooms are a superfood and one of the most health-promoting foods on earth?

Numerous studies have shown the benefit that mushrooms have for a variety of conditions and improving overall health. Mushrooms are meaty tasting so can also serve as a great substitute for red meat. Here’s a simple roasted mushroom recipe:

  1. Trim and quarter 1 pound of white button mushrooms (you can use portobello or cremini) and place on a baking sheet.
  2. Add 4 sliced cloves of garlic.
  3. Drizzle with 3 TBSPs olive oil.
  4. Add 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt and 1/4 teaspoons of black pepper.
  5. Toss to coat evenly and put them in a 450 degree oven for ~18-20 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and drizzle with 1 TBSP of balsamic vinegar.
  7. You can garnish with parsley before serving. Yum!

Collard Greens

This is a super-easy side dish that is packed with nutrients.

  1. Take one large bunch of collard greens, de-stem and chop into small pieces. 
  2. In a stockpot, add ½ cup of bacon or ham bits and cook with just enough water to get it browned.  
  3. Add collard greens to pot with ½ chopped onion, 1 clove minced garlic and 1-2 cups of water and cook until the greens shrink and soften.
  4. Towards the end of cooking (~15-20 min), add soy sauce to taste (~2 TBSPs) and apple cider vinegar (~1/8 cup or to taste). 

Hearty Vegetable Soup

I make my own bone broth in an instant pot, freeze it in mason jars and thaw as needed. However, to simplify the prep time, just buy chicken or beef broth. If you want to make your own, check out my blog (What I Eat Part 2).

  1. In a soup pot, brown 1-2 cloves of minced garlic in 2 TBSPs of olive oil.
  2. Then add 32 ounces of chicken, beef, or vegetable broth.
  3. Add a 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes (you can get ones with added herbs also).
  4. Add 3 cups of chopped veggies (any combination of diced cauliflower, peas, carrots, onions, broccoli, potatoes, peppers – frozen ones are inexpensive and convenient).
  5. Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  6. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 TBSP of low-sodium soy sauce, 1 TBSP of Worcestershire sauce, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper.
  7. You can garnish with parsley, oregano or basil and serve.

3-Bean Salad

You can use any 3 beans you like for this. I like chick peas, kidney, northern, limas or whatever I have in the house. This tastes better the longer it sits so you can make a big batch and enjoy it throughout the week.

  1. Drain and rinse 3 cans of beans (15 oz.) into a mixing bowl.
  2. Add ¼ c. chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon oregano, ¼ c. chopped green/yellow pepper, ¼ c. chopped red onion and ¼ c. chopped celery. 
  3. Toss with white or red wine vinegar (1/8-1/4 cup) and olive oil (1/2 cup).
  4. Add salt to taste (~1 teaspoon) and enjoy!

Stay tuned for more seasonal updates on easy recipes!

Let Food Be Thy Medicine – What I Eat (Part 2)

As I mentioned in Part 1 of my blog, I try to live by Hippocrates’ famous quote: ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’. In the busy world we live in, all of this takes advance planning. Although I am known as the ultimate planner, I often use up all my planning points for work and family so I have to keep things simple when it comes to meals.

Here are some dinner ideas that are part of my regimen.

Dinner at Home

My dinner menus are on the simple side and rarely contain more than 8 ingredients. I know that spices are some of the best additives to create a superfood meal but I am pretty lazy so don’t work with many – probably on my list to improve!

Tofu Steaks

Here is my sister’s recipe for Asian-style tofu steaks. It’s a great meatless dinner option and delicious with a side salad.

  • 1 lb extra firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce (if using regular soy sauce, reduce to 1/8 cup)
  • 2 TBSP sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 TBSP honey or maple syrup 
  • 1 TBSP Worcester sauce
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • Black pepper to taste

Cut tofu lengthwise into four equal slabs and put into a baking dish or a bowl. Mix all the other ingredients to make the marinade and pour over tofu and let it sit for 30 minutes. Remove tofu from marinade and fry it in a greased hot pan (olive oil or avocado oil) for about 2-3 mins on each side until browned. Place on serving dish. Then add the marinade to the pan, heat until boiling and pour over the fried tofu steaks. You can garnish with scallions if you’d like.

Simple Salmon

This is so easy I can do it in my sleep. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. To salmon filets, sprinkle some olive oil and salt and add to a heated skillet (make sure it’s oven safe). Cook with skin side up (so it’s easier to flip in the oven) on stovetop for 2 minutes then put skillet in oven and bake 5 minutes per side. It’s crispy on the outside and delicious! Here’s another simple recipe that you may want to try that uses butter: https://www.markbittman.com/recipes-1/roasted-salmon-with-butter

Cod, Sea Bass, Grouper or other white flaky fish

For each pound, make a mixture of 2 tablespoons of miso, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, dash of garlic powder, juice of half lemon, 2 TBSPs olive oil and some water to dilute. Marinate the fish in the mixture (you can do this overnight if you plan ahead) and throw in oven at 400 degrees for around 15 minutes (this will vary based on size of filet and thickness). If you want to make it a bit richer, you can top it off with a knob of butter towards the end.

Broccoli Salad

Buy bagged broccoli florets in produce aisle as they are similar in size and cook evenly. Steam (5-8 minutes) or boil (3-5 minutes) the broccoli florets, add some garlic powder, minced shallots (or red onion), olive oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper. Toss together and it can be served warm or cold.

3-Bean Salad

You can use any three beans you like for this. I use chick peas, kidney, northern, limas or whatever I have in the house. To the three cans of beans (15 oz.), add ¼ cup chopped parsley, 1 tsp of oregano, ¼ cup chopped yellow/red pepper, ¼ cup chopped red onion (or green onion) and ¼ cup chopped celery.  Toss with white or red wine vinegar (1/8-1/4 cup), olive oil (1/2 cup) and then add salt to taste. This tastes better the longer it sits so you can make a big batch and have it throughout the week.

Kale Salad

I prefer to chop up my own kale as the bagged ones have too many stems which make it difficult to digest. To one bunch of kale de-stemmed and chopped, add ~¼ cup pomegranate seeds, 1/3 cup olive oil, 2 TBSP red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Massage kale and dressing to release the pomegranate juice and soften the kale. You can top off with ¼ cup nuts (pine, walnut) or some pumpkin seeds.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Another simple dish to add to any protein source. To a bag/pound of brussels sprouts (cut in half and tops cut off), add ¼ cup olive oil, 4 cloves chopped garlic, 1 tsp Rosemary, salt and pepper. Bake in 425 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes until garlic and brussels sprouts are golden brown.

Collard Greens

These are widely available and easy to prepare. Wash one large bunch of collard greens, de-stem and chop into small pieces. In a stockpot,  add ½ cup of bacon or ham bits and cook with just enough water to get it browned. Throw in collard greens, ½ chopped onion, 1-2 cups of water and cook until soft. Add soy sauce to taste and finish off with some apple cider vinegar (~1/8 cup or to taste). We have collard greens in our garden that will NOT die no matter what the weather is or how much we neglect it so are enjoying them year-round.

Stir-Fried Zucchini/Squash or Mushrooms

This is a super easy side dish to add to any meal. Cut zucchini or yellow squash into rings and saute them in a tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter). Add salt to taste. You can do the same with mushrooms – the buttery goodness makes the veggies pop!

Sous Vide Chicken

Have you heard of the term sous vide? In French, it means “under vacuum” and in sous vide cooking, the food is sealed in an airtight container and submerged in a hot water bath. The temperature of the water bath determines the temperature of the food so it’s easy to cook foods without over or under cooking. Chicken is a perfect meat for sous vide as it cooks evenly without turning it into cardboard (especially chicken breasts). You will need to invest in a sous vide cooker which are widely available now.

To several chicken breasts or thighs, add salt, pepper, olive oil and whatever herbs you’d like (Herbs de Provence or Mrs. Dash). Mix well and put them in the sous vide bags. Immerse in water that’s come up to 145 degrees (for chicken). It should be done in around 2 hours but you can keep it on as it will not overcook. I usually start them sometime in the afternoon and it will often sit in the bath for 4 hours before I’m ready to make dinner. Take them out of the sous vide bag, put them on a pan and brown the skins on the broiler to get a nice crust.  Serve with the juice from the sous vide bag as gravy. 

Here’s a simple sous vide to buy.

And I only use re-usable silicone bags to minimize plastic contamination in the food.

Salad Dressing

This is my friend’s staple – she makes them in huge batches and gives them away as gifts in pretty bottles. It stores nicely in the fridge if you make more than you need.

To 2 TBSP of red wine or balsamic vinegar, add 1 TSP of Dijon mustard and ½ TSP salt. Whisk to dissolve the salt. Add 1 clove of finely minced garlic, and 6 TBSP of extra virgin olive oil and mix well. Black pepper can be added to taste. This dressing goes with any type of salad – arugula, spring greens, fennel, cabbage, radicchio, etc.

Dinner Out

  • Try to stay away from heavy sauces as it’s most likely laden with unhealthy fats and sugars (Chinese food is a big culprit). It’s difficult to know what’s in them and it’s likely no one will tell you.

  • It’s important to remember that food diversity is good for our gut. We are not designed to eat the same thing over and over. So when dining out, expand the variety by ordering foods that you wouldn’t normally have at home (especially the plant foods). For me, this includes lots of varieties of veggies and greens, pasta/bread (I rarely make this at home), fish of the day (I have a limited repertoire but restaurants offer more options), sushi, meats like lamb, duck or game. I actually enjoy cooking with game meats like venison but my meat supplier (my husband) hasn’t gone hunting in a while so off to a restaurant I go.    

Fasting and Why It’s Sexy

I listened to another great podcast on fasting and why Dr. Jamnadas, the featured cardiologist considered it ‘sexy’. Dr. Pradip Jamnadas is known for his work in interventional cardiology and has been awarded Orlando’s Top Doctor for over a decade. He shares the research and evidence he’s accumulated over 30 years of practice on why people get fat and how fasting can reverse heart disease, obesity and make your skin glow. I’m getting ready to do a 5-day fasting-mimicking program in January and this is the motivation I needed to kick my body into gear. 

Here are the highlights:

Why we get fat

The calorie theory of why we get fat is not true. It’s not simply calories in and calories out – it’s what and how often we eat that changes our hormones (like insulin). We are constantly bombarded with messaging that tells us to consume often, especially junk foods. These processed foods are like a drug and create an addictive habit that becomes nearly impossible to break. Dr. Jamnadas claims that highly processed foods should be labeled as addictive substances and chemicals! Recent data has shown that highly processed food is responsible for 11M deaths globally every year. These addictive substances which are laden with sugar, bad fats and refined carbs cause changes in insulin which creates insulin resistance leading to diabetes and a host of other diseases.

Why you should avoid vegetable oils

One of the first things Dr. Jamnadas does with his patients is to take them off all polyunsaturated vegetable oils along with trans fats. Vegetable oils like canola, corn, grapeseed are pro-inflammatory – they are easily oxidized and turn into trans fats which causes inflammation in the body. He recommends that his patients eat like our ancestors did – modest consumption of saturated fats from ghee, butter, grass-fed meats and organic poultry. He’s even leery of consuming a lot of heart-healthy olive oil – olive oil is a blend of about 50% mono-unsaturated and 20-30% of polyunsaturated and some saturated fats. So, although it is definitely better than vegetable oils, it should never be heated as it will oxidize into trans fats. Also, the wonderful polyphenols present in the olive oil are destroyed when it is heated. Olive oils should always be consumed as fresh as possible and sans heat.

What happens when you fast

According to Dr. Jamnadas, no drug can provide the same level of benefit as what fasting can do! When you don’t eat, your insulin level drops and the body switches to an alternative source of energy – your body fat. Because so many of us have high insulin levels, our body will NOT mobilize the fat stored in our cells. The insulin level must drop in order for the body fat to start mobilizing as an energy source. Then our liver goes to work producing ketones from the body fat to create the form of alternative energy. So the process of fasting unleashes the new metabolic pathway through the use of ketones. Humans are amazing creatures as we were built with this alternative pathway to survive through harsh winters/famines.

Benefits of fasting

Fasting is the process to get rid of excess body fat so you don’t get obese – a way to stay sexy! Fasting also makes your body stronger because it is a form of hormetic stress which is a controlled stress that triggers a healthy adaptive response. Hormetic stress can:

  • Stimulate a stronger immune system
  • Make you smarter through BDNF protein release (brain-derived neutrophic factor is like Miracle Gro for brains)
  • Release stem cells to keep you young
  • Increase growth hormone production allowing you to maintain and repair muscles
Out with the old, in with the new

Fasting stimulates autophagy which is the process by which our body clears out all our old proteins and cellular parts. It’s a deep cleaning for our body where sub-cellular organelles are destroyed and new ones are built to replace them. We have to get rid of the junk in order to make room for new cells which is HOW it can help reverse aging – this sounds like the Fountain of Youth!

Before getting started…

When Dr. Jamnadas works with his patients, depending on their state of ‘addictiveness’, he advocates transitioning to a whole foods diet first. He stresses the importance of fixing the neuronal pathway which has modified the brain to become addicted to junk food. Depending on the level of addiction, he focuses on changing the junk food habit pathways first before introducing any fasting. His belief is that a person’s psychological state is a much greater risk factor that their diet so also tries to understand what level of stress is contributing to the patient’s lifestyle before starting any program.

Fasting guidelines
  • First, transition to a whole foods diet and eat plenty of foods that are rich in nutrients and good for your gut microbiome (like natural fiber and pre- and probiotics)
  • Start with Time-Restricted Eating (TRE)/Intermittent Fasting (IF) – and gradually work up to a shorter window of eating. For example, eat lunch at 12pm and dinner at 8pm and then nothing until the next day at 12pm. This is an 8 hour eating window. You can then shrink this to a 6 hour window until you can get to one meal a day.
  • One meal a day is a 24 hour fast – once you get acclimated to this schedule, you can then work up to a 3-day fast.
  • As your insulin levels come down from fasting, you will have more urine output and electrolyte loss. So, it’s important to replenish what you lost – drink plenty of water and add some sea salt. I like this as it has salt and other electrolytes:  https://www.vitacost.com/liquid-i-v-hydration-multiplier-stick-packs-passion-fruit  
  • Your blood pressure will also go down when you fast so keep a BP monitor on hand to track (you may have to reduce your BP meds so talk to your doctor about this)
  • If you are a diabetic on insulin therapy, you need to have a medical professional to oversee any extended fasting as you may become hypoglycemic. It’s also a good idea to have a continuous glucose monitor on hand.
  • Did you know that your liver can store up to 2 months of vitamins?  So, there is no danger of you becoming nutritionally malnourished for a 3 day fast.

Here’s the podcast:

I have done a raw foods and juice fasting (~350 calories) program for seven days at a health spa in Texas (Optimum Health Institute – OHI) several times over the years. Although it was VERY hard the first two days (food and caffeine withdrawal headaches were no joke), I felt like I was walking on air after day 4 – my eyes and skin were much clearer, I had boundless energy and lost five pounds which stayed off.  After that first experience, I was ‘hooked’ on the high of fasting. However, the time (one week minimum) and resource commitment (it was not cheap) plus Covid made it difficult for me to return for my third week (which officially completes the OHI program). So, I’m sticking to the fast-at-home program (time restricted eating/intermittent fasting and fasting-mimicking program) for the time being.  To learn more about fasting-mimicking, click here: https://www.valterlongo.com/fasting-mimicking-program-and-longevity/

5 Tips to Starting Off the New Year in a Healthy Fashion

I used to make New Year’s Resolutions every year until I realized that making promises at the beginning of the year which inevitably get broken within 90 days was not a sustainable habit. So, in light of the New Year, I’ll share some things you can do to take control of your health without a calendar to dictate your actions.

Cut the Carbs, Sugar & Bad Fats

One of the first things we can do is control what goes into our mouth. We as a society eat way too many carbs, sugar and bad fats. As you may be aware, chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity are all tied to our over-reliance on what has become the standard American diet. Have you noticed how having a high-carb/high-sugar meal makes you crave more snacks several hours later? These high-carb foods (breads, cereals, pastas, waffles, pancakes, cookies, cakes, pies) cause blood sugar fluctuations that lead to incessant carb cravings thereafter. So, what to do after weeks of eggnog, wine (of course – alcohol is formed from sugar), grandma’s pumpkin pie and that holiday feast with turkey, stuffing, and mac and cheese?

First, reduce your carb and sugar intake. This does not mean you have to go on a ketogenic diet as moderation is key as you transition from all the holiday festivities.

  • Get most of your carbs from plant-based sources, primarily non-starchy vegetables like greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage). You can add some fruit like apples and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and beets to up your carb intake but the key is to make greens and veggies the mainstay of your daily plate. And no need to count calories – eat until you are satisfied as these veggies are high in fiber and volume and low in calories. Also, eating a naturally fiber-rich diet will help with elimination and keep you ‘regular’.

  • Eliminate bad fats and add good ones.
    • Man-made fats that are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils like margarine should be avoided like the plague. If nature intended for humans to consume them, they would be naturally available. Also, vegetable oils (corn, soybean, canola, grapeseed, peanut, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower) are HIGHLY processed and READILY oxidized when exposed to light, air or heat. Oxidized or ‘rancid’ oils are NOT healthy for humans so it’s best to avoid them.
    • Healthy fats should be added to the diet – it sounds counter-intuitive for losing weight but healthy fats are necessary building blocks for cell membranes and for keeping hormones in balance. Non-animal sources of fat include avocados, avocado oil, nuts and nut butters, coconut and coconut oil, olives and olive oil. Animal sources include lard, grass-fed butter/ghee, grass-fed/wild-caught/pasture-raised meats and fish. 

Good Health Begins in the Gut

Good health = healthy gut = good intestinal bacteria. The human gut is home to more than 100 trillion micro-organisms and contains 10 times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body. Recent studies suggest the role that the gut microbiome plays in regulating the risk of diseases like cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer AND the importance of diet in altering the gut’s microbial composition. So to keep your gut flora healthy:

Manage stress levels as studies have shown that prolonged stress can negatively alter intestinal microbiota composition

Get Moving!

If you don’t have time to exercise, how about starting off with a daily 7-minute workout? This free app called 7M offers exercises for a variety of body parts and they are only 7 minutes long. They have options with weights or without so no need to invest in equipment to get going.

Here are two 7-minute high-intensity interval training workouts to try without downloading the app:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/well/workouts/

Take Time to Meditate/Reflect

You don’t need a 30-minute meditation or yoga practice to get your mindfulness quotient in. Upon waking, try a 5-minute breathing or meditation exercise. Here are a couple to try:

And before bed, try to reflect on the happenings of the day – what went well and what could be improved. This raises awareness of the positive things achieved in the day along with areas for improvement. Continuous improvement and learning is key to keeping us youthful and vibrant!

Practice Good Sleep Habits

And last but not least, establish a sleep rhythm that works for YOU as we all have different sleep clocks. I have tried to be an early riser (before 6:30am) SO many times but it’s not my optimal sleep clock and ends up making me more tired and run down. Against my better judgment, I woke up REALLY early (5:30am) over Thanksgiving holiday to go walking with my sister – although I got my steps in, I ended up with a head cold which lasted for weeks.

If you are an early morning person, you can do a lot of the important tasks early in the day. But if you’re like me and cannot get going until around 7am after a stiff cup of coffee, you may be more prone to get some productive work done well into the evening.

So, in addition to when you sleep, determine how much sleep you need to feel optimal – some feel fantastic after just six hours but if you’re like me, you will need at least 7-8 hours to survive the next day.

So, how about a New Year’s plan of consistency, moderation and steady improvement to keep you going and going? Happy Holidays!

Natural Detoxification Strategies

We live in a world full of environmental toxins. According to the CDC, more than 400 toxic chemicals have been measured in human samples. With over 80,000 chemicals used regularly by industries, it’s no surprise that our bodies are a sponge for toxins that are in our air, water, oceans and ground! This blog highlights the importance of incorporating detoxification strategies to eliminate and reduce the risk of toxins everywhere. You don’t need to sign up for an extensive fasting program with unpleasant procedures (like colonics) to clean you out. You’ll be pleased to hear that there are more sustainable and gentler ways to get the junk out!

Detoxification Pathways

Our body is built to naturally detoxify through 4 major systems:

  • Sweat – Our skin is the body’s largest organ and has tremendous surface area for eliminating toxins. If you naturally sweat easily, good for you! Your body is very efficient at reducing toxins via your skin. I remember the aerobics instructor telling me many years ago that I didn’t work out hard enough as she didn’t see me dripping with sweat like the others – I didn’t realize then that not sweating efficiently is BAD for your health! Regular vigorous exercise will stimulate circulation, deep respiration and removal of toxins through the skin. If you have access to a hot sauna, that’s a great add-on to get some serious perspiration in. Did you know that studies have shown that 15-20% of infrared sauna-induced sweat is composed of fat-soluble toxins and heavy metals? If saunas are not an option, try to spend time outdoors (in the summer) to induce sweating, take hot baths, or go to a hot yoga class.
  • Pee – Proper hydration allows us to pee the toxins out of our body so it’s important to drink plenty of CLEAN water. Did you know that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated? Water is critical for flushing out the urinary tract and regulating the gut microbiome. Make sure to drink plenty of clean water – add in some fresh lemon or lime juice to help the body neutralize the free radicals that are generated by the toxins.
  • Poop – We should all be going to the bathroom 2-3X a day and eliminating what we eat within 12-24 hours. For most of us, even once daily is an accomplishment but constipation and lack of bowel movements keep the toxins in our bodies which may be reabsorbed (yuck). To improve the trips to the bathroom, start with an anti-inflammatory diet that is rich in fiber (eg: chia and flax seeds) and include fermented foods and probiotics to create the optimal gut environment. To bind toxins in the gastrointestinal tract, try adding activated charcoal in between meals. Activated charcoal acts like an absorbent sponge and can bind up to 100 times its own weight in toxins, parasites, and bad bacteria. I carry activated charcoal with me when traveling – if I’m not sure what I’ve been eating, I take them with my meals (or right after). If you are a fan of sushi like me, it’s a good idea to take them with the meal to bind to any parasites in the raw fish. Here’s one I use:

  • Breath – We need to practice deep breathing often to help move toxins out through our respiratory system – short, shallow breathing isn’t effective at moving the junk out. Here’s a detox breathing exercise to try:

5 Foods to Detox Naturally

Chlorella

Chlorella is a freshwater algae that is considered a nutrient-dense superfood as it’s loaded with phytonutrients, amino acids, chlorophyll, beta-carotene, potassium, phosphorous, biotin, magnesium and B vitamins. One of the main health benefits of chlorella is its amazing ability to help the body detox heavy metals and prevent them from being reabsorbed. Here’s my favorite – USDA certified-organic, cracked-cell-wall chlorella algae tablets. There are less expensive sources out there but I like that this brand has been tested for purity.

Curcumin in Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice containing the active ingredient, curcumin, and is well known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies also suggest that curcumin is effective in promoting optimal detoxification. Turmeric spice only contains about 3% curcumin so you may want to supplement with a curcumin extract to get the full strength benefit. Here are several that have been tested:

Leafy Greens

Dark leafy greens are one of Nature’s best methods to support natural detoxification, so make this the mainstay of every meal. Leafy greens are full of minerals, vitamins and the necessary fiber which is critical for getting the bowels moving. Greens that are particularly detox-effective include spinach, kale, alfalfa leaf, moringa leaf and parsley. If you are sensitive to oxalates like me, try to avoid excess spinach and kale (or steam or cook gently to reduce the oxalate content) – yes, too much of a good thing is not a good thing!

Broccoli Sprouts

Broccoli is good for you but if you want to kick up the antioxidant richness, try broccoli sprouts – they contain a compound called sulforaphane that has been shown to protect cells from environmental toxins and also induce cell death of various cancer cells. You can try these sprouts in the produce section of many grocery stores.

Beets

Beets are like a bodywash for your liver. Your liver is your detoxifying organ so it needs to be healthy and nourished in order for it to do the proper job of filtering out toxins during the digestive process.  Beets are high in antioxidants, nutrients and contain pectin, a natural blood cleanser. So add roasted beets or beet soup to the diet to keep the liver happy. Here’s a simple recipe to try.