Inflammation Reducing Foods

Inflammation: It’s not just for health headlines,  it’s a fact that many people struggle with significant inflammation, even if they don’t realize it.

Scientists are measuring levels of inflammation in our bodies and finding that it can be pretty bad for our health; this is especially true when it’s chronic (i.e. lasts a long time). Inflammation has been linked to obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, just to name a few.

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However, instead of writing all about what it is, how it’s measured, and where it comes from; why don’t I focus on some foods packed with anti-inflammatory antioxidants that are proven to help reduce it?

Here are my top anti-inflammatory food recommendations:

Anti-inflammatory Food #1: Berries, Grapes, and Cherries

Why save the best for last? Perhaps the most amazingly delicious anti-inflammatory foods are a sweet favourite of yours? Berries, grapes, and cherries are packed with fiber, and antioxidant vitamins (e.g. vitamin C) and minerals (e.g. manganese). Oh, and did I forget to mention their phytochemicals (phyto=plant)? Yes, many antioxidants such as “anthocyanins” and “resveratrol”  are found in these small and delicious fruits. In fact, berries, grapes, and cherries may be the best dietary sources of these amazingly healthy compounds.

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Anti-inflammatory Food #2: Broccoli and Peppers

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that contains the antioxidant “sulforaphane.” This anti-inflammatory compound is associated with reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. Bell peppers, on the other hand, are one of the best sources of the antioxidants vitamin C and quercetin. Just make sure to choose red peppers over the other colours.  Peppers that are any other colour are not fully ripe and won’t have the same anti-inflammatory effect.

I pack these two super-healthy vegetables together in this week’s recipe (see below).

Anti-inflammatory Food #3: Healthy Fats (avocado, olive oil, fatty fish)

Fat can be terribly inflammatory (hello: “trans” fats), neutral (hello: saturated fats), or anti-inflammatory (hello: “omega-3s), this is why choosing the right fats is so important for your health. The best anti-inflammatory fats are the unsaturated ones, including omega-3s. These are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Opt for fresh avocados, extra virgin olive oil, small fish (e.g. sardines and mackerel), and wild fish (e.g. salmon). Oh and don’t forget the omega-3 seeds like chia, hemp, and flax.

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Anti-inflammatory Food #4: Green Tea

Green tea contains the anti-inflammatory compound called “epigallocatechin-3-gallate”, otherwise known as EGCG. EGCG is linked to reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, and Alzheimer’s. Drinking steeped green tea is great, but have you tried matcha green tea? It’s thought to contain even higher levels of antioxidants than regular green tea.

Anti-inflammatory Food #5 – Turmeric

Would a list of anti-inflammatory foods be complete without the amazing spice turmeric? Turmeric contains the antioxidant curcumin which has been shown to reduce the pain of arthritis, as well as have anti-cancer and anti-diabetes properties.

I’ve added it to the broccoli and pepper recipe below for a 1-2-3 punch, to kick that inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory Food #6: Dark Chocolate

Ok, ok. This *may* be slightly more decadent than my #1 pick of berries, grapes, and cherries. Dark chocolate, with at least 70% cocoa is packed with anti-inflammatory antioxidants (namely “flavonols”). These reduce the risk of heart disease by keeping your arteries healthy. They’ve even been shown to prevent “neuro-inflammation” (inflammation of the brain and nerves). Reducing neuro-inflammation may help with long-term memory, and reduce the risk of dementia and stroke.

Make sure you avoid the sugary “candy bars.” You already know those aren’t going to be anti-inflammatory!

Conclusion

There are just so many amazingly delicious and nutritious anti-inflammatory foods you can choose. They range from colourful berries, vegetables, and spices, to healthy fats, and even cocoa. Which anti-inflammatory foods will you add to your diet to get your daily dose of “anti-inflammation”?

Recipe (Broccoli, Pepper, Turmeric): Anti-inflammatory Quinoa (Serves 2)

  • ¾ cup dry quinoa (pre-rinsed)unnamed
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 dash salt
  • ½ tbsp turmeric
  • 1 dash black pepper
  • 2 cups broccoli, chopped
  1. In a saucepan place 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add the quinoa and simmer until the water is absorbed (about 10-15 minutes).
  2. Melt coconut oil in a skillet. Add diced onions, turmeric, pepper and salt, and lightly sauté for a few minutes.
  3. Add broccoli and lightly sauté for 5-6 minutes, until it becomes softened.
  4. Add the cooked quinoa and stir everything together.
  5. Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Add some cayenne pepper or curry spice for an extra spicy kick.

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The Mineral Reducer: Phytic Acid

Have you heard that you should soak or sprout your nuts, seeds, grains and legumes? Have you wondered why? Is it to help improve their digestibility? To help increase their nutrition? Perhaps, it’s to reduce phytic acid?

Phytic acid is naturally present in most nuts, seeds, grains and legumes; it is the plant’s storage form of the mineral phosphorus and is used as energy when the plant starts to grow. The highest levels of phytic acid are found in rice bran, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, and walnuts.

Phytic acid and minerals

Perhaps you have heard of phytic acid being referred to as an “anti-nutrient?” This is because phytic acid binds to the minerals iron, zinc, and calcium preventing them from being fully absorbed when eaten.

FUN FACT: Phytic acid’s effects only apply to mineral-containing foods in the current meal. Once digested, there is no mineral reduction on any future meals and there is no impact to the minerals your body has already absorbed.

 

Phytic acid’s health benefits

Phytic acid isn’t all bad – in fact it has some health benefits too. It can act as an antioxidant and it can also help reduce your risk of kidney stones, heart disease, and even some cancers.

Because it loves minerals (which are metals), phytic acid in your gut can also bind to any heavy metals (the metals we don’t want too much of) that may have hitched a ride with your food.

 

How to reduce phytic acid

As you now know, phytic acid shouldn’t be a huge concern, unless your main foods at most meals are nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Because many of these are nutritious foods, you probably don’t want to cut all of them completely out of your diet.

Considering both the good and bad properties of phytic acid, you may still want to reduce how much you consume. Perhaps you would like to increase your mineral intake. If so, here are two popular methods to naturally reduce phytic acid:

 

  • Soaking – Place nuts, seeds, grains or legumes in a bowl, cover with water and leave overnight. Then drain the water and rinse before eating or preparing.
  • Sprouting – After soaking, draining, and rinsing, place damp nuts, seeds, grains or legumes into a container that’s exposed to the air (like a mason jar with a mesh lid). Every 8 hours or so, re-rinse them and drain the water. Continue doing this for a few days until you see sprouts peeking out.

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Why do soaking and sprouting help reduce phytic acid in certain foods? It’s because being wet is a “sign” to leave their dormant (dry) state and start a new life.  Enzymes activated during soaking and sprouting deactivate phytic acid to use its energy and stored minerals for the plant as it begins to grow.

 

Conclusion

Phytic acid has a bad rap as a mineral reducer. It’s found in nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes. Yes, it most definitely prevents absorption of critical minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium, if they’re in your gut at the same time. Phytic acid in food can become a health concern if you are deficient in these minerals, or if your diet is largely based on nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes, but if you eat a varied diet, then phytic acid shouldn’t be as much of a concern. In fact, phytic acid does have some health benefits.

If you want to reduce it in your food, you can soak or sprout your nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes.

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Recipe (soaked almonds): Almond Vanilla Latte Smoothie (Serves 1)

  • ¼ cup almonds, soaked overnight & rinsed
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • ½ cup strong coffee, cold (or chai tea if you prefer)
  • ½ banana, frozen
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • optional: tbsp of natural peanut butter

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend on high until almonds are smooth. Add ice, if desired. Serve & enjoy!

Tip: By using soaked almonds, they tend to blend up smoother than hard and crunchy dry almonds do.

The Blood Sugar Balancing Act

Oh, the words “blood sugar.” Does it conjure up visions of restrictive eating, diabetes medications, or insulin injections for you?

Blood sugar is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood. You need the right balance of sugar in your blood to fuel your brain and muscles.

The thing is, it can fluctuate. A lot.

This fluctuation is the natural balance between things that increase it; and things that decrease it. When you eat food with sugars or starches (“carbs”), then your digestive system absorbs sugar into your blood. When carbs are ingested and broken down into simple sugars, your body keeps blood sugar levels stable by secreting insulin. Insulin allows excess sugar to get it out of your bloodstream and into your muscle cells and other tissues for energy.

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Why keep my blood sugar stable?

Your body wants your blood sugar to be at an optimal level. It should be high enough, so you’re not light-headed, fatigued, and irritable. It should be low enough that your body isn’t scrambling to remove excess from the blood.

When blood sugar is too low, this is referred to as “hypoglycemia.”

When blood sugar is too high, it is referred to as hyperglycemia.  Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels (chronic hyperglycemia) can lead to “insulin resistance.” Insulin resistance is when your cells are just so bored of the excess insulin that they start ignoring (resisting) it, and that keeps your blood sugar levels too high. Insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia can eventually lead to diabetes.

So let’s look at how you can optimize your food and lifestyle to keep your blood sugar stable.

Food for stable blood sugar

The simplest thing to do to balance your blood sugar is to reduce the number of refined sugars and starches you eat.  To do this, you can start by dumping sweet drinks and having smaller portions of dessert.

Eating more fiber is helpful too. Fiber helps to slow down the amount of sugar absorbed from your meal; it reduces the “spike” in your blood sugar level.  Fiber is found in plant-based foods (as long as they are eaten in their natural state, processing foods removed fiber).  Eating nuts, seeds, and whole fruits and veggies (not juiced) is a great way to increase your fiber intake.

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FUN FACT: Cinnamon has been shown to help cells increase insulin sensitivity. Not to mention it’s a delicious spice that can be used in place of sugar. (HINT: It’s in the recipe below)

 

Lifestyle for stable blood sugar

Exercise also helps to improve your insulin sensitivity; this means that your cells don’t ignore insulin’s call to get excess sugar out of the blood.  Not to mention, when you exercise, your muscles are using up that sugar they absorbed from your blood. But you already knew that exercise is healthy, didn’t you? Having trouble finding motivation to get moving? Check out this post.

Would you believe that stress affects your blood sugar levels? Yup! Stress hormones increase your blood sugar levels. If you think about the “fight or flight” stress response, what fuel do your brain and muscles need to “fight” or “flee”? Sugar! When you are stressed signals are sent to release stored forms of sugar back into the bloodstream, increasing blood sugar levels.  So, try to reduce the stress you’re under and manage it more effectively. Simple tips are meditation, deep breathing, or gentle movement.

 

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Sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, you tend to release stress hormones, have a higher appetite, and even get sugar cravings. Sleep is crucial, often overlooked, factor when it comes to keeping your blood sugar stable. Make sleep more of a priority – it will do your blood sugar (and the rest of your physical and mental health) good.

Conclusion

Your body is on a constant 24-hour quest to keep your blood sugar stable. The body has mechanisms in place to do this, but those mechanisms can get tired (resistant).  Long-term blood sugar issues can spell trouble.

There are many nutrition and lifestyle approaches you can take to help keep your blood sugar stable. Minimizing excessive carbs, and eating more fiber, exercising, reducing stress, and improving sleep are all key to having stable blood sugar (and overall good health).

5-day Sugar Free Challenge

 

Need some help kicking processed sugars to the curb? I have just the thing! Check out my  FREE 5 day Sugar Free Challenge and together we can start reducing refined sugars and increasing your energy!

 

Recipe (blood sugar balancing): Cinnamon Apples  (Serves 4)

 Ingredients: chilled-cinnamon-apple-snack-1024x681

2 apples, chopped
1 tbsp coconut oil
½ tsp ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp vanilla extract

 

Instructions:

  1. Place chopped apples into a small saucepan with 2 tbsp water. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  2. After about 5 minutes the apples will become slightly soft, and water will be absorbed.
  3. Add 1 tbsp coconut oil. Stir apples and oil together.
  4. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring every minute or so.
  5. Add cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Stir well.
  6. Cook for another few minutes, stirring until the apples reach your desired softness!

Serve and enjoy!

Tip: Keeping the peel on increases the fiber, which is even better for stabilizing your blood sugar.

Reality Check:  Say No to Summer Weight Gain

So… you spent the winter working hard:  you exercised consistently, you were careful to eat more healthy foods and you watched your portion sizes.  Why? So you would look great at the lake and have plenty of energy to enjoy summer, right?  You greeted summer with a healthy, toned body.

But summer, in spite of all the fun and relaxation it brings, can also be really tricky and deal us a cruel blow when it comes to our fitness and nutrition.

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Have you noticed the scale creeping up a little over the last couple of months? If so, you are not alone. Summer, with all of its BBQ and patio bevies is a very easy time to overindulge and pick up those pounds that you shed during the winter months.

What do you want though?  Are you willing to undo all that you worked so hard to accomplish just to have to do it all over again? 

Remember that bad habits creep in slowly.  Perhaps you are skipping your workouts a couple days each week, because ‘You have so much to do.’ Or maybe you have been indulging in unhealthy food or drinks a little more frequently when you are with friends or because its a “special occaision”.  It happens-little by little.  It happens one small choice at a time.  But those choices add up fast if you don’t keep things in check.

Ok so maybe you realize that you have been slipping up – but don’t worry! It’s not too late to turn around and get back on track. Really!  There is still plenty of summer left for you to regain whatever ground you might have lost and get back to feeling awesome.

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Here are a few common reasons that people gain weight in the summer and how to remedy them.

  1. Disrupted sleep cycle. Summer brings with it more daylight and longer days.  This extra sunshine can cause our circadian rhythms to change which causes us to sleep less.  But if we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies will respond by packing on a few extra pounds! The solution?  Be diligent to get at least seven hours of sleep each night!
  2. Baby, it’s hot out there! When it’s hot and humid, we tend to move around less.  Our energy is lower and besides, who wants to sweat even more, right? But the less you move, the slower your metabolism is and the fewer calories you will burn.  Be intentional about keeping up with your exercise. Find indoor exercise alternatives like boot camp classes or maybe even take up swimming.  Just keep moving!
  3. On the road again. Summer meals travel and travel means healthy eating just got harder.  Eating on the road presents big challenges if you are trying to eat well.  Before your summer trips, brainstorm some ways to reduce the amount of restaurant food that you will consume while you are away.  Consider packing a cooler with hummus, nuts, lean proteins sources like chicken, fresh fruit and raw veggies.
  4. Caution:Cookouts! Ahhh…summer cookouts, parties, family reunions.  All this spells danger because the food at these festivities is usually about as unhealthy as you can get!  Make sure to go easy on the hotdogs, potato salad, oily salad dressings and rich cakes. Instead, try to fill up on light salads or grilled vegetables, fresh fruit and lean cuts of meat prepared without greasy marinades.

 

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Don’t let the summer creep undo all the hard work you’ve done to get you where you are right now.  Decide to fight back.  Make up your mind to finish well this summer and your future self will thank you!

 

Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

When we think of “vitamins,” we know they’re super-important for health.  But vitamin D is special.

It’s difficult to get enough vitamin D; vitamin D is, therefore, a very common deficiency. So, let’s talk about how much of this critical fat-soluble vitamin we need, and how you can get enough. The three ways to vitamin D are exposure to the sun, consuming vitamin D containing food, and through supplements.

Why is vitamin D important, and how much do we need?

Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium from our food and acts like a hormone to help us build strong bones. Vitamin D can also help with immune function, cellular growth, and help to prevent mood imbalances such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.

Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to bone diseases like osteomalacia. Inadequate vitamin D can also increase your risk of heart disease, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, and even death. The “official” minimum amount of vitamin D to strive for each day is merely 400-600 IU. Many experts think that this is not nearly enough for optimal health.

To ensure you get adequate amounts of vitamin D, you can implement any combination of the three vitamin D sources mentioned above on a weekly basis.

 

How can I get enough vitamin D from the sun?

Your skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed to the sun; that’s why it’s referred to as the “sunshine vitamin.”How much vitamin D your skin makes depends on many things. Location, season, clouds, clothing, all affect the amount of vitamin D your skin can produce from the sun. One standard recommendation is to get about 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. to the face, arms, legs, or back. This should be done without sunscreen, at least twice a week.Of course, we should always avoid sunburns and of course in some locations (and seasons of the year) it’s not easy to get sun exposure.  So, how can we get enough vitamin D in other ways?

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How can I get enough vitamin D from food?


Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks. Some mushrooms make vitamin D when they’re exposed to the sun.

Some foods are “fortified” (which means vitamin D has been added) with vitamin D. These include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and yogurt. It will say on the label how much vitamin D has been added per serving.

Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can increase absorption of it from your food if you eat it with some fat (healthy fat, of course).Between sun exposure and food, it still may be difficult to get even the minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D each day; this is why vitamin D supplements are quite popular.

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How can I get enough vitamin D from supplements?

It’s easy enough to just “pop a pill” or take some cod liver oil (which also contains vitamin A). Either of these can ensure that you get the minimum amount of vitamin D, plus a bit extra.

But before you take vitamin D containing supplements, make sure you check that it won’t interact with other supplements or medications you may be taking. Always read your labels, and ask a healthcare professional for advice.

Do not take more than the suggested dosage on the label of any vitamin D supplement, except under medical care.

The maximum amount recommended (for the general population) is 4,000 IU/day. Too much vitamin D can raise your blood levels of calcium (to an unsafe level), and this can affect your heart and kidneys.

The best thing, if you’re concerned, is to ask your healthcare professional to do a blood test and make a recommendation about how much vitamin in supplement form is right for you. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation for a short time while under their care.

Conclusion:

Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin which; many people have a hard time maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D.  There are three ways to get enough vitamin D: sun exposure, through certain foods, and in supplements.

I’ve given you some ideas how you can get the minimum 400-600 IU or vitamin D daily. But if you’re concerned, it’s best to request a blood test that tests your vitamin D levels to be sure what’s right for you. Always take supplements as directed.

Recipe (vitamin D): Super-Simple Grilled Salmon (Serves 4)

Ingredients:salmonAsparagus

4 wild salmon fillets

1 bunch asparagus

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/4 black pepper

1/4 tsp dried parsley

1/4 tsp. dried dill

4 tbsp olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven broiler and raise the oven rack.
  2. Place parchment paper on a baking sheet and place fish on top, skin-side down. Surround with a single layer of asparagus.
  3. Sprinkle the fish and asparagus with sea salt, pepper, parsley, and dill. Drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Broil for 8-10 minutes until fish flakes easily with a fork.

 Serve & enjoy!

 Tip: Serve with a side of rice or quinoa.

Adrenal Fatigue: What Is It? and Do I Have It?

Stressed? Tired? Craving sugar? Can’t sleep?

All of these can be related to the constant stress we feel in our lives. We know that stress can have a huge impact on our health and wellness. And, since your adrenal glands produce stress hormones, adrenal fatigue (or “HPA Axis Dysregulation,”) is a popular theme lately.

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Your adrenal glands look like walnuts that live on top of both of your kidneys. These important glands produce many hormones, including stress hormones.

But what happens when they become “overworked?”  You’ve heard of “adrenaline junkies,” right?
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Adrenaline and cortisol are the stress hormones that give you the commonly known adrenaline rush; when you’re totally alert and living in the moment. This feeling is known as your body’s “fight or flight” response.

Some people (perhaps you?) just love that intense feeling.

The release of hormones in the fight or flight response is your body’s normal reaction to stress.  Stress can sometimes be positive, like when it helps you swerve and prevent a crash.

After a short time, the flight or flight response dissipates, your body goes back to normal, and all is good. But what would happen if you felt constant stress? Like all day, every day? Like “chronic” stress?

It wouldn’t feel like an awesome (once-in-a-while) “rush,” anymore would it? And what do you think happens to your poor adrenal glands when they’re constantly working?

They’d get fatigued, right?

Do I have adrenal fatigue?

When your adrenal glands start getting tired of secreting stress hormones day in and out, you can start getting other symptoms.

Symptoms like fatigue, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, weight loss or gain, joint pain, sugar cravings, even frequent infections like colds and the flu are signs that your adrenals are overworked.

First off, I have to tell you that there aren’t medically accepted blood tests for adrenal fatigue. In fact, it’s not recognized by most medical professionals until the point when your adrenals are so fatigued they almost stop working. At that point, the official diagnoses of “Adrenal Insufficiency” or “Addison’s Disease” may apply.

However, if you do have symptoms, you should see your doctor to rule out other conditions. He or she may even be open to discussing adrenal fatigue, or at the very least, wellness strategies that can help to reduce your stress (and symptoms).

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What to do if I have these symptoms?

There are many actions you can take to reduce your stress and improve your health and energy levels.

Ideally, if you think stress is starting to burn you out, stress reduction is key. There are tons of ideas how you can reduce your stress. My favourites are meditation, walking in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or taking a bath.

Of course, I also recommend reducing sugar and processed food intake and eating more fruits and vegetables. Better nutrition can only help your body. So go ahead and do it.

Conclusion

Your adrenal glands produce hormones in response to stress. After long-term daily stress, they may get tired.

Adrenal fatigue is a controversial disease that doesn’t have a true diagnostic test, nor specific telltale symptoms.

The most important thing you can do is to get tested to rule out other potential conditions. You can also try stress reduction techniques like meditation, walks in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or even a lovely bath.

 

Recipe (Stress-reducing bath salt): Lavender Bath Salts

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For one bath:

2 cups epsom salts

10 drops lavender essential oil

 

As you’re running your warm bath water, add ingredients to the tub. Mix until dissolved. Enjoy your stress-reducing bath!

It’s Summer! Beat the Heat with these HOT Summer Workout Tips

Baby, it’s hot out there! 

If you have been working out over the past winter and spring months, you may be surprised at the new challenges that full-on summertime fitness throws at you.  Now that we are entering the peak summer months, you are probably discovering that your body reacts to the heat and humidity differently than it does to cooler, drier conditions.

But don’t let the heat cause you to lose your momentum.  You can keep working hard in the summer, you just have to adjust your approach a little.  Keep the following summertime fitness tips in mind as you continue getting stronger and healthier.

  1. Cool down first! You can improve your performance in the heat by lowering your body temperature before heading outside.  Taking a cold shower or simply putting ice cold cloths on the back of your neck can help you to better tolerate the heat.
  2. Find some shade. You may need to move your workout to a different area in order to be in the shade. If you are a runner or biker, change your route to a wooded area.
  3. Avoid caffeine. Because caffeine acts as a diuretic, it forces water out of your system.  This is the last thing you want when exercising in the summer heat.  Save your caffeine intake for several hours before or after your workout, rather than near the time you will be exercising.
  4. Stay hydrated! Drinking plenty of water before, during and after your workout will reduce the heat stress on your body. Couple staying hydrated
  5. Sunscreen up! Be sure to slather on the sun protection before heading out during the day. The sun is strongest in the afternoon, so you may also want to consider bringing along the sunscreen so you can reapply as needed after or during your sweaty workout!
  6. Choose your clothing carefully. Now more than ever it is important to wear clothing that will move sweat away from your body and help it evaporate it quickly.  A cotton t-shirt may be fine in the winter, but you will be much cooler in a fabric designed for exercise. You can also keep cooler in lighter coloured clothing than in dark coloured clothing.
  7. Change your workout time. If you are used to exercising during lunch or in the afternoon, you may need to adjust your schedule for the summer months.  Early mornings and late evenings are the best times for outdoor exercise.  On blistering, hot days, even the shade will not bring much relief.Cotswold-Allure-Magazine-Lottie-Fitness-Summer-Heat-Workout-1
  8. Take breaks. Your body can only handle so much extreme heat.  When the thermometer climbs, you may find that you need more frequent breaks to keep performing at your best.  Be sure to take them.  Listening to your body and caring for it is not a sign of weakness:  it’s smart.
  9. Monitor your heart. The heat places greater stress on your heart.  Keep tabs on your heart rate as you work out in the heat. If it spikes quickly or stays too high, give it a rest.
  10. Hit the gym.You may find that it is best to simply move your workout indoors for the summer.  If you would prefer not to put your body under summer stress, work out in a gym.  You will have the added benefit of personal attention and group accountability. It’s a great time to work on form, increase intensity, and plan out a new and exciting workout routine.  Beat the heat by mixing things up this summer-try a gym workout. shutterstock_406397302-1-1000x500

 

The Gut-Brain Connection: How To Feed Your Brain

If there was ever a call for “digestive health,” this is it!

Yes, it’s true. Your gut is considered your “second brain.” There is no denying it anymore.

And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

I find it amazing (but not too surprising).

 

What exactly is the “gut-brain connection.”

Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!

There seem to be multiple things working together.  Things like:

  • The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
  • The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
  • The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
  • The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
  • The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

This is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.

I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)

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Vagus nerve

There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.

And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!

 

The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?

I knew you would! And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”

If you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?

Guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”

In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!

 

The immune system of the gut

Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!

And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?

Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

 

Gut microbes

Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

 

How do these all work together for brain health?

The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don’t know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

So, how do you feed your brain?

Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.

But two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

 

Recipe (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats (Serves 2)

Ingredients:Liver-Doctor-Chia-and-Oat-Porridge-660x330

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

1 cup oats (gluten-free)

1 cup almond milk

1 tablespoon chia seeds

2 tablespoons hemp seeds

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 banana, sliced

¼ cup chopped walnuts

Instructions:

  1. Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
  2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
  3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.

The Coconut Oil Craze – Should I Jump on the Bandwagon Too?

Yes you should (end of post).

 Just kidding. Sort of.

Anyways…. what exactly is it about coconut oil that makes it so healthy? And which type is best?Let’s dive into some of the fascinating research and find out.

Coconut oil is a special kind of fat

Coconut oil is fat and contains the same 9 calories per gram as other fats.

It is extracted from the “meat” of the coconut. Coconut oil is a white solid at room temperature and easily melts into a clear liquid on a hot day.

The idea of adding coconut oil to your diet is NOT to add on to what you already eat but to substitute it for some of the (possibly) less healthy fats you may be eating now.

And here’s why – Because not all calories or fats are created equal.

Coconut oil contains a unique type of fat known as “Medium Chain Triglycerides” (MCTs). In fact, 65% of the fat in coconut oil are these MCTs.

What makes MCTs unique is how your body metabolizes them;  they’re easily absorbed into the bloodstream by your gut, where they go straight to the liver, and they’re burned for fuel or converted into “ketones.”

This metabolic process, unique to MCTs, is what sets coconut oil apart from other fats.

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Coconut oil MCTs may help with fat loss

Coconut oil’s MCTs have been shown to have a few different fat loss benefits.

First, it can help to increase feelings of fullness, which can lead to a natural reduction in the amount of food you eat.

Second, because of their unique metabolic route, MCTs can also increase the number of calories you burn; this happens when you compare the calories burned after eating the same amount of other fats.

In fact, a few studies show that coconut oil may increase the number of calories you burn by as much as 5%.

Third, some studies show that eating coconut oil can help reduce belly fat (a.k.a. “waist circumference”).

Just remember not to add coconut oil to your diet without reducing other fats and oils!

How much coconut oil should I eat?

Many of the studies that showed increased fullness, increased metabolism, and reduced belly fat only used about 2 tablespoons per day.

You probably don’t need any more than that.

What kind of coconut oil is the best?

There are so many coconut oil options available in grocery stores these days that it can make it difficult to know which is best.

I recommend you stay away from “refined” ones, and opt for “virgin” coconut oil. That is because it is processed at lower temperatures and avoids some of the chemical solvents used in the refining process;  this helps to preserve more of the oil’s natural health-promoting antioxidants.

Pro Tip: Always (and I mean ALWAYS) avoid “hydrogenated” coconut oil. It can be a health nightmare because it contains the infamous “trans fats.”

One thing you should also consider is that each oil has a specific high temperature that you should avoid surpassing (e.g. its “smoke point”). For virgin coconut oil, that temperature is 350F. That means you can safely use it on the stovetop on a low-medium setting, as well as in most baking.

Conclusion:

Substitute some of the fat you eat with virgin coconut oil;  this may help you to lose weight and belly fat by naturally helping you to eat less, as well as slightly increasing your metabolism.

Oh, and it tastes great too!

Recipe (Coconut Oil): Homemade Healthy Chocolate (Serves 12)

Ingredients:chocolate-coconut-oil-treats

⅓ cup coconut oil, melted

1 cup cocoa/cacao powder

4 tablespoons maple syrup

2 dashes salt

4 tablespoons slivered almonds

 

Instructions:

1. Melt coconut oil, and whisk in maple syrup, salt, and cocoa/cacao powder until smooth.

2. Stir in slivered almonds until evenly distributed.

3. Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.

4. Store in fridge or freezer to avoid melting.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Substitute other seeds, chopped nuts, or dried fruit instead of the almonds if you wish.

The Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

You probably know the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars” like in soda pop, candy, baked goods, and many commercially-available cereals, just to name a few.  Added sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store.

Yes, ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues.

A while ago, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great, was artificial sweeteners.

The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories; like when you have a “diet pop” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.

But, it doesn’t always work out the way we think it will…

 

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Types of artificial sweeteners

Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar.

Today we’ll specifically discuss “artificial sweeteners,” which are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.

They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners,” and include things like:

  • Saccharin (Sweet & Low),
  • Acesulfame potassium,
  • Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and
  • Sucralose (Splenda).

 

Health effects of artificial sweeteners

Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, and while many studies show effects, others don’t. Cancer? Maybe yes, maybe no. Heart disease? Maybe yes, maybe no. Not to mention that much of the research has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people.

I did want to point out one ironic thing, to do with artificial sweeteners and weight.

One study found that people who tend to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t.

Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.

While these results don’t apply equally to everyone, they do somehow seem ironic, don’t they?

 

How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?

Now that’s a million-dollar question!

There are so many ideas out there to try to explain it, but the reality is we don’t know for sure; plus, it might play out differently in different people.

  • Is it because people feel that they can eat cake because they’ve switched to diet soda?
  • Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste worse, and veggies taste terrible?
  • Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more (real) sweets?
  • It can be that the sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar; but, because we didn’t actually ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings.
  • Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it.
  • Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.

 

Conclusion:

Understand that added sugar is not good for you, but the solution may not be to replace them all with artificial sweeteners.

I highly recommend reducing your sugar intake, so you naturally re-train your palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn’t overly sweet.  This way you’re reducing your intake of added sugar, as well as not needing to replace it with artificial sweeteners.

Try having ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink. Try reducing a ¼ cup of the sugar called for in some recipes. Try diluting juice with water.

Your body will thank you!

 

 

Recipe (naturally sweetened): Sweet Enough Matcha Latte (Serves 1)

how-to-make-a-matcha-latte-01

 

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon matcha powder

1.5 cup almond milk, unsweetened

1-2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (optional)

 

Instructions:

  1. Heat almond milk and maple syrup/honey (if using) in a small pot.
  2. Add matcha powder to cup.
  3. When almond milk is hot, add about a ¼ cup to matcha and stir to combine.
  4. Add rest of the milk to cup.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can steep a chai tea bag in the milk if you prefer chai tea over matcha.