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Summer Shape-up

When the buds and bugs appear, so do the sneakers and gym shorts! After a heavy winter and a damp spring, you are probably a bit feverish to get outside and move. Maybe you want to shed some of your “hibernation fat” or maybe you just want to feel less sluggish. In any case, one of the best ways to re-boot your health for the season is to condition your plate.

Weight gain is a sign of imbalance in the body. That usually registers with most folks as too many calories ingested and not enough calories expended. But it can signal quite a different imbalance: not enough nutrients and too many “hollow” foods. This imbalance also leads to feelings of fatigue, unclear thinking, moodiness, insomnia, and cravings.

If you want to feel and look sharp this season, tighten your carbohydrate intake and not just your shoelaces.  That doesn’t mean eliminating wholesome plant foods – vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Rather, be cautious about foods made with white flour and sugar. These nutrient-poor foods are detrimental because they rob your body of vitamins and minerals in order to process them, they spike your insulin levels and they burn so quickly that they leave you flat when they’re extinguished.

A food is considered nutrient dense when it contains a wide array of amino acids, vitamins, essential fatty acids, and minerals for the quantity of calories it contains. In other words, for just a few calories, it really packs a punch. On the other hand, a hollow food carries a lot of calories without giving you the quality fuel your body needs to function properly. An example might be “extruded, corn-based, cheese-flavor puffs,” which have a nutrient-density rating of 1.4, compared to cauliflower, which rates a weighty 4.5 out of 5. For more information about these ratings, visit http://nutritiondata.self.com/

The point is that a food with a low-rating actually uses up your body’s stores of nutrients to digest it, while a food with a high rating replenishes your stores.

Another problem with nutrient-poor foods – which are most of the carbohydrates we eat (chips, breads, pastas, cookies, cereals, crackers, cakes, pastries, etc.) – is that they create an insulin surge. They enter the bloodstream so quickly that blood sugar levels rise with dangerous rapidity. The body must respond with a flood of insulin to bring sugar levels back to safety. Insulin is a storage hormone that does its job well: to stow excess sugars as fat tissue.  So excess carbs almost always means excess weight, too.

Carbohydrates burn much quicker than fats, so the flip side of the coin is that after the blood sugar rush comes the inevitable crash. Parents will probably recognize that children can be hyperactive one moment and in tears the next. But it happens to adults, too. Even athletes speak of the proverbial “bonk” when their energy comes crashing down.

Because nature hates a vacuum, it isn’t enough to limit empty or refined carbohydrates. They must be replaced with wholesome alternatives. A stellar choice is natural fat (cold-pressed, unrefined, and virgin, such as fish oils, coconut oil, and olive oil. Raw nuts, avocados, and seafood are also beneficial.) Natural fat doesn’t spike insulin levels and keeps the metabolism fueled for hours at a time.

Consider that most Americans get 60-80% of their calories from refined carbohydrates. You can make a huge impact on your health by choosing to change your plate this season to a more balanced distribution of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Try a 30-30-40 plan, where only 40% of your calories come from carbohydrates. You will almost surely think more clearly, sleep better, lean up, and feel more energetic.

America’s Most Common Deficiency

What necessary component is missing in the diet of more Americans than any other substance? Is it iron or protein or B vitamins? No, what most of us lack above all else is water!  H2O ranks second only to oxygen in sustaining life. But statistics estimate that three-fourths of us are chronically dehydrated! The reason for this stems from what we drink rather than how much we drink.

Per capita, American’s swallow almost a gallon of soda per week and roughly half that much coffee each week. Throw in fruit juices and milk and many individuals think their fluid requirements have been met. Unfortunately, coffee and other caffeinated drinks cause us to lose water. Beverages containing natural or refined sugars are also dehydrating. For every ounce of these drinks that we consume, we must sip an extra ounce and a half of water just to maintain normal balance in the body!

As the weather heats up, remember that your typical 2.5 cups of water lost through perspiration can easily double, so it’s even more critical to keep a water bottle in use! You only have to lose 2% of the body’s water volume to start feeling fatigued.

If you are playing in the sun and feel your concentration slipping and your aggravation rising, it’s quite possible you are losing too much water. Don’t wait longer to replenish because the consequences get worse: headache, dizziness, nausea, flushed skin, cramps  and weakness are troublesome, but they are followed by life-threatening symptoms: confusion, rapid heartbeat & breathing,  low blood pressure, lack of sweating and failing kidney function.

Since the body cannot store water as it does vitamins, minerals, or even fat, you have to replenish daily. An adult body is composed of 40 to 50 quarts of water! Most of that is fluid contained within the membranes of our trillions of cells. But you exhale about 1.25 cups of water each day through moistened air leaving the body, and lose roughly 6.25 cups through urination. Add that to the debt incurred by perspiration, and you’re down 2.5 quarts!

But hydrating isn’t just for restoring lost body fluids. The coming vacation season means travel. Along with new sites and adventures, come new pathogens. Your immunity can be truly challenged during these trips. You body’s first line of defense against foreign microbes is its mucous barriers: the sinuses, the lungs, and the gut. Ideally, these moist linings trap bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic invaders as they enter the body. Then white blood cells in these membranes destroy the harmful microbes before they can colonize and create disease. But what if these membranes – normally 98% water – are shrunken and parched? Where is your defense then? Is it asking too much to drink 8 cups per day?

Of course bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and 8 cups is only an average. A better measure of water need is your weight. To compute your water requirement, divide your weight in half. Take your answer and drink that much in ounces each day, capping at 100 ounces if you are over 200 pounds.

Perhaps your complaint is the too frequent trips to the bathroom when you try to hydrate.  Adding some electrolytes to your water can help you retain it better. Easy electrolyte solutions include a splash of lemon or lime juice, a pinch of sea salt, or a dribble of coconut water.

Be aware that plastic bottles left in hot cars can leach harmful BPA. Keep your water in a cooler or use a metal thermos to have a safe, wet summer!

Slow Starter?

If you can stay up late but have trouble waking in the morning, your cortisol rhythm may be skewed. Cortisol is your “get-up-and-go” hormone. It moves you from a parasympathetic restful state into action. Normally, it is highest in the morning, and gradually declines over the course of the day, until it reachest its lowest point around midnight – during your deep sleep.

Since cortisol is produced in the adrenals, disrupted cortisol cycles often point to some form of adrenal overload. Adrenals – tiny glands that sit on top of the kidneys – can be burdened by environmental toxins, food allergies, sleep deprivation, and many other factors. But the most prominent causes in the American lifestyle today are excess sugar intake and stress.

Excess sugar intake is considered by the American Heart Association to be no more than 9.5 teaspoons (or 47.5 grams) per day. Estimates in 2012 placed consumption at 3 times that much.

Love you adrenals with these measures:

  • Eat whole, not processed foods
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and refined sugar (watch food labels!)
  • Get adequate protein (roughly 1/3 of your daily calories)
  • Go to bed earlier (optimally around 10 p.m.) and sleep for 8 hours
  • Manage stress daily with laughter, nurturing, meditation, and deep-breathing
  • Engage in light to moderate exercise
  • Get outside as much as possible. Natural light is essential to healthy adrenal function.

Working with a health practitioner to obtain supplemental adrenal support may be necessary to normalize your cortisol output.

 

Kasha Krispies

Want a snack that won’t spike your blood sugars? This bar – a delightful combo of crunchy and chewy – is less than 50% carbohydrate and more than 50% healthy fat and protein.

1/2 c. honey

3 Tb. coconut oil

1/3 c. collagen powder

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. almond butter

2 c. uncooked kasha (roasted buckwheat)*

Melt honey and coconut oil together in the microwave. Whisk in collagen powder and cinnamon until no lumps remain. Addd almond butter and mix until smooth. Return to microwave and heat in 30 second increments until bubbly. Pour over kasha and mix until kasha is well-coated. Press into a 9×9 pan. Cool and cut into squares.

*If you can’t find kasha in your grocery store, you can get hulled buckwheat from the bulk bins. In a dry skillet over medium-low heat, roast the buckwheat, stirring every few minutes, until golden brown.

Night-time Relief

Have trouble getting to sleep? Or wake up and can’t get back to sleep? Sleeplessness can be a sign of wonky cortisol levels. A non-alcoholic nightcap might be just the thing to give you a restful night.

Cortisol is a hormone that has the job of raising your heart rate, quickening your breath, and raising your blood sugars so that you are ready to act. Normally, it should drop off in the evening allowing you to enter parasympathetic state, to stop churning through your list, and to catch your 40 winks. It typically rises toward morning as your blood sugars gradually fall from your night’s fast. This sloping increase of hormone gently brings you out of slumber.

When blood sugars plummet dramatically – as they always do after the insulin surge that accompanies high-carb eating – cortisol will rush to save the brain from “starvation” by sending a signal to convert amino and fatty acids into glucose (the brain’s primary fuel). There will be an accompanying increase in heart rate and breathing, tipping the body out of its “being” state into its “doing” state. Even if it’s the middle of the night!

And if this high cortisol state is chronic, getting to sleep in anything less than two hours may be completely futile. This happens if your adrenals – where cortisol is produced – are overworked; if your stress is chronically high; or if a carb-heavy diet keep cortisol pumping long into the evening.

A mug of warm coconut milk mixed with ashwaghanda and cinnamon is a perfect remedy for such a vicious cycle. The coconut milk provides enough fat to fuel your body through the night without a “sugar crash.” The ashwaghanda relieves stress (see this post); a pinch of salt supports the adrenals; cinnamon helps blood sugar regulation; a spoonful of honey makes it yummy, and the soothing warmth promotes relaxation. Try it!

 

Coconut Milk Nightcap

6 oz. boiling water

1 capsule (500 mg) ashwgandha root

2 oz. full-fat coconut milk without additives

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. honey

Open the ashwagandha capsule and sprinkle it into the hot water. Steep for 10 minutes. Add the other ingredients and stir. Sip slowly while reading a book, soaking in the tub, watching the stars, or some other relaxing activity.

Is There A Pill for That?

High blood sugars, chronic cortisol output, overwhelming stress, crippling anxiety… these are the modern plagues that keep you from feeling peace. Wouldn’t it be simple if there were just a pill that could fix all that?

The bad news is that no supplement will compensate for poor lifestyle choices. But the good news is that if you are addressing dietary and emotional factors and still experiencing some extremes, ashwagandha may help modulate your responses. This herb, also known as Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry, has been revered for millenia in Ayurvedic medicine. Native to India, its name means “strength of a stallion.”

The root is the part used in nutritional therapy and can be steeped in teas, or ground for use in capsules.

What are the purported benefits of ashwagandha?

  • Regulating blood sugars
  • Lowering cortisol levels
  • Blocking anxiety and relieving stress
  • Decreasing inflammation by reducing C-reactive protein (CRP)
  • Enhancing the immune response by stimulating the activity of natural killer cells
  • Promoting anti-oxidant activity to improve brain function and memory
  • Boosting thyroid function
  • Reducing cholesterol and high triglycerides
  • treating adrenal fatigue

The beauty of ashwagandha is that it’s an adaptogenic herb. That means it will treats extremes and tends to bring into equilibrium both highs and lows. So it may be used for both hypo- and hyper-thyroidism, and for depression as well as anxiety.

But before you order some, be aware that it should be tested on you by a certified practitioner, particularly if you have an auto-immunity. Since ashwagandha is a member of the solanacea family, individuals with an auto-immune response may experience extraordinary results if they are TH-1 dominant, but it could exacerbate their condition if they are TH-2 dominant because of its effect in stimulating natural killer cells.

Doses of ashwagandha are typically around 500 mg, taken once or twice a day. It works best when combined with a diet high in healthy fats and proteins, as well as a diet void of sugars.

Italian Parmesan Patties

Comfort food! Here’s a meal that fills your soul and your belly! Not only is it richly satisfying as a home-cooked meal that feels like restaurant fare, it is also nutrient-dense, featuring all-star root vegetables, hidden organ meat (you’ll never know it’s there) and gut-healing bone broth.
 Italian Parmesan Patties
4 c. peeled and grated turnips, or rutabaga (spiralized if you have that gadget)
1/4 lb. liver, frozen
1 lb. ground beef
1 tsp. each: rosemary, oregano, thyme, garlic powder and salt
2 tsp. onion powder
16 oz. tomato paste
2 c. bone broth
1/2 c. fresh basil, tightly packed
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
Layer the grated vegetable in the bottom of your crock pot. Grate the liver and mix with the ground beef and seasonings. Form six patties. Blend the tomato paste, broth and basil together. Lay 3 patties on top of the grated vegetable. Pour on half the sauce. Lay the remaining patties in the crock pot. Pour on the rest of the sauce. Cook on low for 4-6 hours. Top with parmesan cheese and serve.

Gargle to Lower Blood Sugars?

Surely this sounds insane! Yet, if you are chronically stressed, your cortisol levels are going to be detrimentally high. And cortisol raises blood sugars. One of the most effective ways to re-train your body to recover quickly from stress and to remain in a restful state is to stimulate the vagus nerve. That’s where gargling comes in.

Here’s the background on why gargling works. Cortisol is a mobilization hormone. It takes you from a state of being to a state of doing. It is a messenger that tells the liver to convert protein stores to glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis – literally the creation of new sugar from a non-carbohydrate source. Cortisol’s primary job is to make sure that quick energy (i.e. blood sugar) is available to the muscles (including heart and lungs) when action is necessary. Should you be startled and need to flee, cortisol insures that you have a fuel source to burn.

You don’t need a spike of cortisol to digest, sleep, or laugh with loved ones. These are performed in a para-sympathetic state – the place of being. But you do need cortisol to meet deadlines at work, handle that family crisis, save your child from a biting dog, and host the dinner party you forgot about. When demands are constant, cortisol never lets down. That means blood sugars remain dangerously high, putting you at risk for diabetes – not because of the pastries you ate but because you can’t relax!

Christopher Bergland wrote for Psychology Today that your vagus nerve is the commander-in-chief when it comes to having grace under pressure. While cortisol revs you up like the gas pedal in an automobile, the vagus nerve does the opposite. It slows you down like the brakes on your car, using neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine and GABA to literally lower heart rate, blood pressure, and help your heart and organs slow down.

While there are dozens of ways to stimulate the vagus nerve that I teach, I like gargling because anyone can do it anywhere at anytime – though I don’t recommend right in the middle of staff meeting! If you are being conscientious about hydrating, you can gargle a bit every time you sip from your water bottle.

The muscles that contract the back of the throat are controlled by the vagus nerve. That’s why gargling stimulates it. The more it is stimulated, the greater your ability to stay collected during the storm. And the more stable your blood sugars will be as a result.

Is Your Sweetheart Killing You?

The big, fat problem with heart disease isn’t the fat; it’s the sugar. Your sweet tooth is literally creating a sweet heart that is up to four times more likely to have an attack.

Simply put, sugar increases insulin output. Continuously high insulin damages the lining of the blood vessels, driving inflammation up to make repairs. Meanwhile, insulin resistance sets in as a high-sugar diet continues. Insulin resistance blocks the PG-1 anti-inflammatory pathway, preventing the body from putting the brakes on the inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation in the blood vessels compounds placque build-up and escalates heart attack risk.

To compound matters, insulin resistance also spurs mineral deficiencies. Both macro- and micro-minerals are blocked from entering the cells. Since rhythmic, powerful heart contractions depend on a balance of calcium and magnesium, insufficiency of one or the other contributes to arrythmias.

Love your heart. If you want to treat it right, don’t treat it with sweets. The heart is an endurance muscle, so its primary fuel is fatty acids. For heart health month, replace some of your carbs (white flours, fruit juices, soda, and desserts) with whole food carbohydrates (vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits with the peel) and traditional fats (fish, avocado, olives, coconuts, butter).

Aim to get approximately equal calories from proteins, appropriate fats and carbohydrates. Watch your food labels. Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the Blood Sugar Solution, notes that “most of us don’t know that a serving of tomato sauce has more sugar than a serving of Oreo cookies, or that fruit yogurt has more sugar than a Coke, or that most breakfast cereals — even those made with whole grain — are 75% sugar. That’s not breakfast, it’s dessert!”

Worst of all is the soda, which can contribute up to 500 calories per day just from sugar. So love your fats and give your heart some sweet relief!

Un-American Breakfast

Go ahead, break the mold! Life is too precious to not savor each moment!

That’s why it’s important to start each day by truly nourishing your body and soul. If you go into flight-or-flight from the moment the alarm goes off, and rush through your preparations only grab a doughnut and coffee on your way out the door, you are setting yourself up for instability the rest of the day. You’ve got adrenaline pumping, you’re dehydrated, and you’ve just given yourself an insulin surge that’s going to drop you cold about 10 a.m. How can you engage with life in a meaningful way if your energy is flat and you have no reserves?

Breakfast is a top priority for me because it lays the foundation for my well-being the rest of the day. I aim to eat equal proportions of carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats to give me a long, slow, even burn – instead of the roller coaster ride I used to experience with my repertoire of muffins, pancakes, and cereals. It can be rather liberating to stop the all-carb breakfast that is the American tradition.

Here are three well-balancedrecipes to start your day off right:

Breakfast Pizza  

Sourdough Bread or prepared whole-grain pizza crust

Ricotta cheese

Basil

Vegetables – chopped spinach, sliced tomatoes, olives, mushrooms, etc.

Crumbled bacon

Fried or scrambled eggs, optional

Spread bread/crust with ricotta cheese and sprinkle with basil. Add vegetables and top with bacon. Add egg if desired.

 

Chocolate-Cherry Smoothie  (“It’s chocolate pudding ice cream!” –Nathanael, age 3)

1 c. spinach

½ c. coconut milk

2 Tb. cocoa powder

2 Tb. collagen powder, optional

1 c. frozen cherries

½ c. cherry or pomegranate juice

1 avocado

Blend until smooth, adding water if needed for mixing. Serves 2

Note: freezes well for popsicles!

 

Buttered Crock Pot Oats  

1 c. steel-cut oats

2 c. water

1 c. milk, any kind (it’s nice and creamy with coconut milk!)

1 egg (or 2 Tb. collagen powder)

½ tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. nutmeg

2 Tb. butter, preferably grass-fed

Salt to taste

Nuts, berries, honey (optional)

Whisk eggs with milk and water. Combine with oats, seasonings and butter in a crock pot. Cook on low for up to 8 hours. Serve with additional milk  and top with honey, berries and nuts if desired. Serves 4.