Do I really need more omega-3 fat in my diet? How much is enough? How can I increase my omega-3 levels? Isn’t flax seed oil just as good as fish oil? These are questions I hear a lot in my practice.
Why are Omega-3’s Essential Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are classified as essential because your body can’t make them. But you need them for life itself. Every cell in your body incorporates omega-3’s into its membranes, in order for nutrients to enter and wastes to exit. Omega-3 fats are necessary for cell receptors to work properly. Not only that, you have to have omega-3’s to create hormones that regulate blood clotting, inflammation, and arterial dilation. They seems to be important in preventing heart disease and stroke, and may help control eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, and other immune conditions. They may even be cancer-protective.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA is the most common in the American diet, showing up in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds, particularly walnuts, chia, and flax. The other two omega-3 fats are considered marine oils because they occur mainly in fish. EPA and DHA do not exist in plants.
Why is DHA Important?
DHA, short for docosahexaenoic acid, perhaps should be considered an essential fatty acid in and of itself. While your body can convert some ALA from nuts and seeds into DHA, that conversion rate is less than 10%.
DHA is critical for your brain. A full fifth of all the fat in your brain is from DHA. Additionally, DHA functions like the insulation on all the electrical wires in your house: it forms the myelin that insulates all your brain circuits. The reason animals have DHA and plants don’t is because it’s used for focus, decision making, and problem solving. I haven’t met any reasoning plants, yet.
The science of essential fatty acids is still young, and there are not defined minimums for omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. But here are some recommendations that we do have: According to the National Institutes of Health, an adequate intake of ALA for women is 1100 milligrams per day (1600 mg/day for men). The USDA 2015 dietary guidelines encourage adults to obtain at least 250 mg per day of marine omega-3 fatty acids to protect against heart disease.
Best Sources of DHA
Land animals have very little omega-3 compared to fish. While grass-fed beef may have twice as much omega-3 fat as corn-fed beef, still it only has about 80 milligrams in 3-4 ounces, compared to 1000 milligrams in the same size serving of salmon. Recently, however, lamb has come to the forefront as an alternative for those who can’t abide the smell or taste of fish. The chart below compares the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in various cuts of meat.
Still, those numbers include ALA, and are not truly reflective of the amount of DHA available for your body. So, the bottom line is that yes, you do need to eat fish! A good recommendation is 8 ounces per week.
The Thanksgiving dilemma is that we want to FEAST, but we don’t want the food coma that follows!When you make your Thanksgiving unprocessed, you will actually eat less and be more satisfied! Switch out manufactured foods for whole foods that don’t come with a nutrition label to have a truly pleasurable meal that doesn’t leave you feeling sluggish and sick!
It’s time to think outside the box – the stuffing box! In this wild rice stuffing, say goodbye to stale bread & long ingredient lists. Say hello to tender wild rice, crispy bacon, mushrooms, herbs, nuts, & cranberries.
1 c. wild rice blend
2 c. chicken bone broth
1 bay leaf
1 Tb. butter
6 slices bacon, fried and crumbled
1 onion, diced
8 crimini mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
½ c. fresh cranberries
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 Tb. fresh snipped sage
1/3 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Salt & pepper to taste
Bring the bone broth to a simmer. Add the wild rice, bay leaf, and butter. Then cover, reduce heat to low, and cook until all liquid is absorbed, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, saute the onions, mushrooms, garlic and celery in a little bit of the grease left from cooking the bacon. When vegetables are soft, stir in cranberries and cook just until they pop. Mix in the herbs.
Combine the rice, bacon, sauteed vegetables and nuts. Season to taste. Voila! A classic recipe for Thanksgiving, unprocessed and original!
Green Beans with Mushroom Gravy
Forget the canned soup for this green bean casserole that is loaded with flavor! Portobello mushrooms and balsamic vinegar are sauteed in butter and thyme, then topped with baked leeks for a bit of crunch in this amazing unprocessed Thanksgiving comfort food!
1 leeks, thinly sliced (white part only)
1/2 Tb. avocado oil
1/8 tsp. each salt and paprika
24 oz. frozen green beans
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 1/2 c. sliced portabello mushrooms
3 minced cloves garlic
2 Tb. butter
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tb. balsamic vinegar
¾ c bone broth
24 oz. (2 pkg.) frozen green beans
Toss the leeks with avocado oil, paprika and salt. Microwave in a covered bowl for 2 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spreading them out into a single layer. Place 6″ beneath the oven element and cook on low broil for 4-5 minutes until golden.
Saute the onion, mushrooms, and garlic in butter and thyme until tender. Add salt, vinegar, and broth. Simmer 10 minutes. Blend until smooth.
Steam the green beans according to package directions. Fold beans into mushroom gravy. Garnish with leeks.
Traditional Candied Yams
Dates, pure maple syrup and cinnamon lend a decadent sweetness to these classy candied yams– without artificial ingredients — to make an unforgettable comfort food for your Thanksgiving Unprocessed.
6 c. yams, peeled and cubed (2-3 yams)
4 Tb. butter, melted
1 c. chopped pitted dates
1/2 c. boiling water
4 Tb. pure maple syrup
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ c. unsweetened coconut flakes
2 Tb. butter, melted
Toss yams with 4 Tb. butter and layer in a 9×13 baking pan. Roast at 425° for 25 minutes.
While yams are roasting, pour boiling water over dates to soften. After 5 minutes, strain the dates. Combine the dates, maple syrup, cinnamon, coconut flakes, and 2 Tb. butter. Toss with roasted yams and bake at 350 for 15-20 more minutes.
Pass up the frozen dough and gluten bloat when you make this absolutely scrumptious corn bread from millet, buttermilk, and sweet potatoes. No sugar needed!
2 Tb. coconut oil
1 c. millet flour
1/4 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. sea salt
1 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. sweet potato, cooked and mashed
Melt the coconut oil in a 10″ oven-proof skillet.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, mashed potato, and egg. Add the potato mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until combine
Spoon into skillet and bake in a preheated 425° oven for 20 minutes.
Fresh Fruit Salad
In this rosy cranberry fruit salad, there’s no need for imitation whipped topping! The unprocessed burst of flavor comes from honey, warm spices, and orange juice, perfect for your Thanksgiving meal!
5 whole cloves
3-4 allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon
½ c. honey
½ c. orange juice
1 pkg. fresh cranberries
2 red pears, diced
2 green apples, cubed
Put spices in the center of a coffee filter. Bring the edges together like a bag to enclose the spices. Secure with a wire twist tie or a piece of string. Put the honey and orange juice in a saucepan. Add spice bag. Simmer over medium heat until reduced by half.
Remove and discard the spice bag. Add the cranberries to the pot and cook until berries are softened. Remove from heat. Cool, then add pears and apples.
Unprocessed Thanksgiving Pie
You’ll love this mouthwatering no-bake pumpkin pie! The yummy cookie crust contains only unsweetened coconut flakes and dates. So there are no trans-fats or processed flours. And the delicious pumpkin filling is made without canned milk!
2 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
1 ½ c. pitted medjool dates, roughly chopped
Process the coconut flakes and dates until the mixture resembles brown sugar. Press mixture firmly into a pie tin. If you desire a crisper crust, poke holes in it with a fork and bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes. Cool and fill.
1 Tb. gelatin
3 Tb. water, divided
2 c. cooked pumpkin (may be fresh, frozen or canned)
2 ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
½ c. butter, softened
1/3 c. honey
Soften the gelatin in 1 Tb. cold water. Add 2 Tb. boiling water and whisk until frothy. Blend the gelatin mixture, pumpkin, spices, butter, and honey. Pour into crust & refrigerate.
Your Thanksgiving Unprocessed
When you eat real food, you are less likely to overeat. But if you do happen to gorge yourself on all this appetizing, nourishing food, your best bet is to take a walk instead of hit the couch.
If you feel bloated or have heartburn, try these natural remedies instead of reaching for Tums or Zantac:
With a chill in the air, I’m eager for an oven-roasted meal full of fall flavors! But just because I’m eating whole foods doesn’t mean cooking a sheet pan meal needs to be complicated. When my husband wants take-out, I tell him I can have the meal ready before he can drive to the take-out counter and get home again. Really, a sheet pan meal only needs 20-25 minutes to cook – no tending needed! Throw it in the oven and read a book while it makes its magic of savory deliciousness!
Advantages of a Sheet Pan Meal over Fast Food
Aids detoxification with its inclusion of onions, garlic, or other alliums.
Anti-inflammatory! Find me one fast food meal that isn’t inflammatory!
Provides antioxidants to protect your cells against damage that leads to disease.
Can be adapted to any budget, any level of pickiness, any dietary restraints.
Uses good fats that are necessary to your health and avoids bad fats that contribute to inflammation.
Contains more vegetables than the typical take-out meal.
Doesn’t contribute to blood sugar imbalance.
Aborts cravings because it is so filling, mouthwatering, and nutrient-dense!
Saves well, so you can make a double or triple batch and not have to cook again for a couple of days.
So, let’s get started!
Pick Your Protein
What’s your preference: land or sea? A sheet pan meal needn’t be limited to beef or chicken. Shrimp, crab, scallops, fish fillets, and even mussels work wonderfully in oven-roasted fare. So do pork, venison, and lamb! Vegans can use products such as tempeh to create an appetizing dish. How much you use is up to you. I recommend 3-6 ounces per person, cut into bite-size pieces.
Choose Some Color
Here’s where it gets fun! Think of the rainbow. Mix and match colors and flavors to suit your personal preferences. Add as many as you like, but make sure you have at least 1/2 cup of cubed or julienned produce per person. Include firm fruits to provide sweetness if you want. The options you select for your individualized sheet pan meal may lend themselves to a particular ethnic flavor, so let your creativity reign! (See image at the end of this post.)
Yellow/Orange: summer squash, winter squash including pumpkin, yellow and orange bell peppers, pineapple, yellow beets, sweet potatoes/yams, carrots, and corn
Red: tomatoes, beets, red bell peppers, chili peppers, radishes, cranberries, red pear, rhubarb, red pear
Purple: eggplant, purple endive, purple cabbage, purple carrots, purple potatoes, dried plums, black currants, figs, or even elderberries
Green: beans, peas, broccoli, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, asparagus, artichoke hearts, celery, endive, celery, green bell pepper, jalapeno, green chilies, serrano pepper
Grab Some Leafy Greens
In traditional cultures, a meal is not complete without some dark green leaves. Think beyond spinach here! Some options are mustard or beet greens, chard, kale, collards, arugula, bok choy, rapini, and watercress. Be generous because they are one of the most concentrated sources of nutrients on the planet. They will cook down substantially, so aim for at least 1 cup torn leaves per person. Since these do not require a long cook time, you can just toss them onto your sheet pan meal the last 3-5 minutes of cooking.
Remember The Sulphurs
No sheet pan meal – or other meal, for that matter – is truly balanced in flavor and composition without sulphurs. What are these? Primarily, they are the foods in the onion family, including leeks, garlic, chives, shallots, and scallions. But that’s not all. Mushrooms are sulphurs, too. So are the cruciferous vegetables. If you haven’t already added a cruciferous vegetable as one of your colors, here’s your chance to include some of the healthiest plant foods of all time. One onion and 2-3 cloves garlic are usually sufficient quantities for a single recipe of this oven-roasted entree.
Dress With a Temperature-Safe Oil
Polyunsaturated liquid oils, such as canola and safflower, are unstable and degrade at high temperatures. So stick with monounsaturated or saturated fats, like avocado oil, coconut oil, pastured tallow, or ghee (clarified butter). If your oil is solid, warm it enough to melt it, then toss with all your other ingredients in your sheet pan meal. Use about 1 tablespoon for every 2-3 cups of food on your tray.
Season With Herbs and Spices
Flavor your dish to suit your palate. Fresh thyme, oregano, basil, parsley, tarragon, and sage are winners. You may also like chili powder, cumin, coriander, turmeric, bay leaf, paprika, or cayenne. Just sprinkle your favorite flavors over you meal until the vegetables are very lightly dusted. Don’t forget salt and pepper. Now slide the whole tray into a preheated 450 degree oven and bake until meat is cooked through and vegetables are fork-tender (20-30 minutes). I usually turn the food after about 15 minutes to insure even cooking.
The Finishing Touch
When the sheet pan meal comes out of the oven, I like to give it just a splash of vinegar to add depth of flavor. My favorite is balsamic vinegar, but red wine vinegar is good, too! Of course, rice vinegar would be the perfect choice for an Asian meal.
You know washing your hands helps prevent the spread of germs, but there are 4 more action tools you can use to fight colds and flu.
1. Deeply Nourish Your Body
Your immune system is a nutrient hog. It uses more nutrients than any other system or organ – even your brain. To work optimally, it needs vitamins A, C, E, D, K, B6, B9, and B12. In addition, it requires the minerals zinc, selenium, iron, iodine, magnesium, and copper. Also, your immune system needs antioxidants and essential fatty acids.
So while it might be easy to gulp an “Emergen-C” tablet with a glass of water when you feel a sore throat coming on, you need a lot of nutrients all the time to fight colds and flu. It’s smart to regularly eat foods that are nutrient dense. These include dark leafy greens, brightly-colored produce, omega 3-rich fatty fish, and organ meats. I posted about how these foods are also anti-inflammatory. It’s as if nature is showing us their benefit by displaying such rich, vibrant colors.
2. Relax a Lot!
We know that stress raises inflammation. Did you know it raises your blood sugars, too? That’s bad news if you’re under chronic stress. Why? Chronically high blood sugars lead to insulin resistance and even more inflammation.
But that’s not all. Scientists think they have found a link between insulin resistance and decreased immunity. Insulin appears to boost immune T-cells. When mice were genetically engineered with missing insulin receptors in their T-cells (to mimic insulin resistance), they were unable to fight certain infections, including the H1N1 flu virus.
So the bottom line is that to fight colds and flu, you need to guard against inflammation and insulin resistance that can impair immunity. In order to do that, you need to manage your stress effectively. Take time every day to unwind. It only takes a few minutes to employ one or two of the 50 stress hacks I have compiled.
3. Feed the Right Bugs
Since as much as 80% of your immune system lies within your digestive tract, it makes sense that the micro-organisms that live there should be healthy. If you feed the symbiotic bacteria that lie in your GI tract, you can boost your immunity. These helpful bacteria serve as “bouncers” against pathogenic strains of microbes that cause illness.
Your “good” bacteria like to eat fiber! They especially like to feast on cruciferous vegetables, the onion family, and asparagus! But they don’t digest simple sugars. In fact, white sugar and white flour are fodder for pathogens.
Cutting out refined carbohydrates from your diet does not guarantee you can fight off all colds and flu. But your odds are much higher if you do get sick, that you’ll bounce back quicker if you cut down on the sugar.
4. Sleep More
When you sleep, your body “cleans house.” It repairs what is broken, sweeps up what is dirty, and takes out the trash. This is the time when your immune system is most effective at fending off invaders and reducing inflammation. So, reason says that if you are sleep deprived, you are less able to fight cold and flu viruses.
But there’s more. When you are chronically sleep-deprived, your body actually initiates a stress response, raising blood sugars and creating inflammation. You can become insulin resistant with just 36 hours of sleep deprivation.
Ultimately, you end up with an impaired immune system. That means greater susceptibility to illness.
Here are some suggestions for better sleep:
Create a bedtime that allows for 7-9 hours of sleep.
Eat a nutrient dense diet (see #1).
Exercise, but do it at least 4 hours before bedtime.
Stick to the same sleep schedule every day.
Get sunlight in the morning.
Cool your room.
Avoid blue light before bed.
Engage in evening meditation.
Fight Colds and Flu
No one can avoid all illness forever. But taking care of your health by eating well, relaxing frequently, sleeping enough, and nourishing your microbiome will keep you strong so that if you do get sick, you can recover rapidly.
You may take supplements to reduce inflammation, such as curcumin. But there are several entire food types you need to include in your daily routine! These groups are your weapons against inflammation. In fact, their mere absence in your diet may make you vulnerable to inflammation.
Let’s review a few key concepts:
Inflammation is the battleground where your white blood cells clash against invaders. When there is injury to your tissues, inside or out, the body sends its soldiers, white blood cells, to the scene, to fight against whatever is causing harm. That might be bacteria, in the case of a skinned knee, or foreign proteins, in the case of an allergy. A special substance, known as histamine, opens up the tissues to let the white blood cells in. During and after the battle, there is a lot of cell debris that must be cleaned up. These open tissues, full of white blood cells and cellular debris are classified as “inflamed.”
Oxidative stress causes inflammation. The process of living creates free radicals – atoms with unpaired electrons. Since electrons naturally seek to be paired, these free radicals cause tissue damage when they “steal” electrons from various cells in your body. Normally, your body has “antioxidant mechanisms” to combat this damage. But when the number of free radicals outstrips your antioxidant potential, the tissue damage accumulates and you become inflamed.
If you have symptoms, you have inflammation. Simply put, when inflammation is occurring, you perceive pain, swelling, heat, or other forms of discomfort. Symptoms are the signal for you to slow down, take care of yourself, and support healing. Good nutrition, restorative sleep and stress management allow your body to amass its resources against the problem.
Only chronic inflammation is a problem. Because inflammation is a necessary part of healing, we don’t want to squelch it all together. But not being able to put out the fire puts your body in a state of distress that leaves you open for diseases such as cancer, autoimmunity, and heart disease. Since chronic disease in America is epidemic, you need several weapons against inflammation.
Inflammation Weapon #1 – Polyphenols
Polyphenols are absolutely vital! They are the antioxidant compounds! Therefore, they fight free radical damage and are thereby anti-inflammatory. Polyphenols are naturally found in plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, tea, dark chocolate, and wine. There are literally thousands upon thousands of polyphenols. You might recognize some of their them: quercetin, catechins, anthocyanins, lignans and resveratrol. The biggest group of polyphenols are known as flavanoids. These are the pigments that that give brightly-colored produce their rich, vibrant colors.
To make sure that you can combat oxidative stress, you should eat at least of cup of richly-colored produce daily. A cup every meal would be better. To do this, eat the rainbow! Include fruits and vegetables that are red, orange, yellow, green, purple/blue, and even white every time you eat.
An additional benefit of polyphenols is that they feed your health-supporting gut microbes. Consequently, they increase your wellness because a happy microbiome makes a happy host.
#2 – Fight Inflammation with Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens, such as cress, arugula, chard, mustard greens, beet greens, kale, and spinach, are tops (pun intended)! Not only do these plant tops fight inflammation, they help stabilize blood sugars and also support detoxification. Stabilizing blood sugars is important because blood sugar fluctuations can trigger inflammation.
Dark green leaves are full of polyphenols, including beta carotene and quercetin. But they also contain folate, which is a must for detoxification. You see, in order to mop up the inflammation, your liver has to be able to detoxify all those waste products from the battle. Your liver depends on folate in a process called methylation where it makes your master antioxidant, glutathione. You cannot fight inflammation without enough folate as a weapon.
Every indigenous culture has depended on some type of leafy greens as a mainstain in its diet. Asians, Africans, and Indians can teach us much about how to eat more greens. Challenge yourself to not eat a meal without dark leaves included.
#3 – Fatty Fish are Anti-Inflammatory
Dark and oil-rich fish, such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring, are your best source of the Omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. These fatty acids are associated with lower levels of inflammation. However, your body can’t manufacture them. So, it’s important to get them through your diet. While plant sources of Omega 3’s, including flax and chia, are popular, they provide only ALA, that must be converted to DHA and EPA. Your body doesn’t do this conversion very efficiently, and you lose much of your Omega 3 potential during the process. Consequently, it’s best to not rely only on plant sources for these anti-inflammatory fatty acids.
As a bonus, the dark-fleshed fatty fish also include a special polyphenol called CoQ10. This polyphenol has powerful antioxidant properties. Eating fish about 3 times per week will provide the anti-inflammatory benefit you need.
Bonus Inflammation Weapon
There’s one food that has more Vitamin A than brightly-colored produce, more folate than leafy greens, and more coQ10 than fatty fish. That’s organ meat – specifically liver. Of course, it makes sense that the organ that plays the biggest role in fighting inflammation would be a storehouse for the nutrients needed for this process. Although liver is not a significant part of American food culture, you can include it in your diet by mixing ground liver in with ground meats – hamburger, pork sausage and ground poultry products, such as turkey sausage.
A little bit of liver goes a long way. Just an ounce a day will provide the many nutrients you depend as weapons against inflammation.
I’m ditching orange and going teal this Halloween! The Teal Pumpkin Project is a movement to create a safer Halloween for all trick-or-treaters by avoiding treats that contain food allergens. Since 1 in 13 kids has food allergies, we need more houses where they can get allergy-free treats. You let kids know your house is allergy-safe when you put a teal pumpkin on your doorstep.
I’m making my Halloween teal by purchasing non-food treats to give to trick-or-treaters. Glow sticks, bouncy balls, stickers, and spooky toys are always a hit in our neighborhood! You can add your house to the Teal Pumpkin Project map here.
I’m also making sure that for parties, I offer treats that don’t contain common allergens, such as wheat, soy, eggs, corn, nuts, or fish. Here are some ideas you can use:
Apricot Pumpkins and Banana Ghosts
All you need is a little melted chocolate and some fruit! Using a toothpick, drop dots of melted chocolate onto fresh, frozen or dried apricots and onto halved, peeled bananas to make faces of jack-o-lanterns and ghouls.
You will need:
red apple slices
Each apple slice will become a top or bottom jaw. Press ends of pumpkins seeds into fleshly part of apple slices to make teeth. Join two apple slices together with toothpicks, keeping the red skin facing out to resemble lips. Lay a strawberry slice over the pumpkin seeds on the bottom apple to look like a tongue.
Black Cat Fudge
This Teal Halloween-friendly recipe is chock-full of anti-inflammatory ingredients to help offset high-sugar treats that are almost inevitable for trick-or-treaters. Combine the following:
2 avocados, mashed
1/4 c. each melted virgin coconut oil, and melted cocoa butter
1 tsp. each vanilla, cinnamon, and salt
1/4 c. each carob powder and honey
2 Tb. coconut cream, optional (use if you want a milkier taste. Omit for that dark chocolate taste)
Mix until smooth, press into an oiled loaf pan. Freeze, then cut into squares. Alternately, you could press onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Then, after freezing, you can use Halloween-themed cookie cutters to cut shapes of bats, cats, and spiders.
Teal Halloween Caramel Apples
These caramel apples use no butter or milk to make them allergy-safe. Also, they use no refined sugar or corn syrup, making them healthier for all children.
14 oz. can full-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 granny smith apples
tongue depressors or skewers, stuck into the apples for handles
Simmer coconut milk and maple syrup over low heat for 30 minutes or more, stirring frequently, until very thick and light brown-colored . Remove from heat and stir in oil and vanilla. Pour into two round cake pans coated with cooking spray. Refrigerate until set. Using a spatula, release the caramel from each pan and lay it on a piece of parchment or wax paper. Set an apple in the center of each caramel disc. Fold the caramel up and around the apple, pressing firmly so that the caramel stays in place. Keep refrigerated.
Hauntingly good! You won’t miss the gluten, eggs, nuts, or the sugar, either!
1/2 cup coconut oil, softened
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup honey, warmed
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup coconut flour
1 teaspoons each ginger powder & cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon each sea salt & baking soda
6 Tb. water
2 Tb. unflavored gelatin
Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl whisk together the coconut oil, honey, molasses, and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, measure 2 Tb. of cold water. Sprinkle the gelatin into the water. When the gelatin has absorbed all the water, heat the remaining 4 Tb. of water to boiling and pour over the gelatin mixture. Stir well until all of gelatin has dissolved. Whisk the gelatin mixture into the wet ingredients.
In another small bowl, mix the coconut flour, spices, salt, and baking soda. Add these dry ingredients to your large bowl, mixing until creamy. Shape dough into finger-length “snakes.” Score knuckle lines with a knife. Press a pumpkin seed “fingernail” onto each finger. Set fingers on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 17-20 minutes, until edges are browned and cookies are firm to the touch.
Test for Food Sensitivities
The whole idea of a Teal Halloween may seem foreign to you if you do not have known food allergies in your family. However, the chance of having food sensitivities is much higher than the probability of having food allergies. What’s the difference?
Manifest within seconds of ingestion.
Impact skin, airways and eyes with classical allergy symptoms (hives, restricted throat, mucous, watery eyes).
Require only a few molecules of the allergen to trigger a response.
On the other hand, food sensitivities
May take up to 3 days to manifest
Can impact any system of the body, causing joint pain, mood changes, headaches, digestive distress, and many other symptoms
Are dose dependent, meaning they may not trigger a response at all unless a certain threshold is passed. So, you may be able to eat a tablespoon, but not a cup.
You may order a home blood test kit that detects your response to 132 different foods. Results are confidential and are color-coded to give you a range of tolerance. For example, you may have no response, indicated by a green bar. You may have a minor or moderate response, indicated by a yellow or orange bar. Finally, you may have a dramatic response, indicated by a red bar.
Let’s make Halloween safe for everyone by identifying and avoiding food triggers.
Being well is a deliberate pursuit. You choose to nurture your good health by the actions you take every hour of every day. No, you don’t maintain wellness by accident or by luck. But you do focus on diet and lifestyle keys. I use the acronym NURSE to remember the vital components of a healthy lifestyle: Nourishment, Unwinding from Stress, Restorative Sleep, Sunshine, and Exercise.
Nourish Good Health
There’s a difference between eating and nourishing. The term Hidden Hunger refers to individuals who are starving with their stomachs full. In other words, they are putting nutrient-poor foods into their mouths and missing essential nutrients meal after meal. Although they appear to be eating plenty of food, they can not achieve optimal function. Brain fog, cravings, fatigue, and anxiety are just a few symptoms of Hidden Hunger.
Good health absolutely must incorporate nutrient-dense foods. You should be eating at least 6 cups of vegetables per day, have no fewer than 15-18 grams of protein in a meal, and include natural essential fatty acids in every meal. You can only attribute about 25% of your chronic symptoms to your genes. The rest result from diet and lifestyle.
Unwind Frequently and Consistently
Aside from diet, stress is the greatest contributor to chronic inflammation in the body. Since inflammation is at the root of all chronic disease, we can infer that stress is making you sick! However, you are not likely to remove all stress from your life. The key is to defuse it by conscientious daily – even hourly – exercises. Breathing and stretching are just the beginning. You can employ techniques such as reframing, acupressure, laughter, and journaling. If you need some help knowing how to unwind, or if you want some quick tips that you can employ in just 1 or 2 minutes, check out my Stress Hacks Course.
Restore Good Health Through Sleep
Did you know that sleep deprivation is linked with depression, obesity, and increased risk for substance abuse and suicide? One-third of Americans do not get even the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night, although even that amount is skimpy. A century ago, our forefathers averaged 9 hours a night. But lying in bed for a certain number of hours isn’t the complete requirement. You must arise refreshed, without having had interruptions or poor quality sleep.
Although you can search out many recommendations for better sleep on the internet, one often over-looked remedy for disrupted sleep rhythms is to rebalance blood sugars. Insulin surges throughout the day can contribute to blood sugar crashes at night. When your blood sugar dips, cortisol kicks in to save your brain and vital organs from fuel deprivation. But cortisol is a “wake-up” hormone. You can work with me to normalize your blood sugar patterns.
Soak Up Some Sunshine
Just 15 minutes a day of direct sunlight on your skin can boost immunity, strengthen bones, improve mood, and augment a good night’s rest. Chances are that if you live north of the 42nd parallel, you’re not getting enough sunshine to maintain adequate Vitamin D levels, which impacts heart health as well as gut and immune health. Try these tips to get more sunlight.
Exercise Your Way to Good Health
Movement is essential. You can adapt your plan to your circumstances. An individual with autoimmunity may choose a walk in nature daily, while someone with insulin resistance may opt for interval training. The point is to challenge yourself to do just a little more and a little better each day. Sitting is actually dangerous to your health. Take frequent breaks to get up and move around, and find ways to incorporate movement into your daily routine.
You might find a local gym where you have a variety of choices, such as yoga classes, weight machines, and cross-fit training.
Demographics Don’t Matter
Everyone can and should implement these strategies. You don’t need to be privileged. All cultures, economic backgrounds, personalities, and special needs still need to NURSE their health. We are all created equal in our need for wellness and in our ability to choose nourishing foods and healthy lifestyles.
A nutrient-dense breakfast isn’t optional for me. If it isn’t convenient to eat well in the morning, will it be more convenient to be unwell? As a functional nutritionist, I know that every bite I eat has the power to inflame or heal. Plus, I know that my breakfast sets my blood sugars for the day, giving me either steady or erratic metabolism. Since it’s vital to get minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants from my food, I want a breakfast that is nutrient-dense as well as balanced.
So what does a functional nutritionist eat for breakfast? A broad variety! I’m as likely to have leftovers from dinner as to actually prepare a meal in the morning. But if I were to pick several meals that rotate through my menu frequently, you would see a diversity that reflects several cultural influences.
Eggs are Nutrient-Dense
I like to make up creations, such as taco eggs, pizza eggs, or eggs-in-a-nest that contain a variety of vegetables and perhaps a little extra protein as well. Here are some common egg breakfasts at my house:
Thai Curried Eggs (You can omit the venison, but be sure to use plenty of Chinese greens, such as bok choy and pea sprouts!)
Meals with Breakfast Meats
While I do not follow a paleo or keto diet, per se, I like to make sure I get about 20 grams of protein in any given meal. Getting meat in the morning helps insure I am having a nutrient-dense breakfast. I like these vegetable-meat combinations:
Hawaiian Wraps (For convenience, I use pre-made sausage patties and pineapple rings. I omit the cornstarch from the sauce and add a little honey to make it thicker.) Here’s a cleaner version that I’m dying to try because it look so yummy!
Farmer Hash (I enjoy grating or chopping rutabaga, turnip, cabbage, parsnips, yams, squash, carrots, or beets for mine. And of course, there’s always the addition of dark leafy greens and some crunchy vegetables such as celery and bell peppers.)
Nutrient-Dense Comfort Food
Everyone likes some comforting carbs once in a while. How do I do that and still maintain balanced macro ratios? To begin with, I use unrefined carbohydrates. Then I add fiber-rich vegetables, healthy fats and quality protein. Check out these enticing selections:
Will your kids eat veggies? Perhaps they’ll be more eager when you apply the principles below.
Veggies are Vital
It is not just a good idea to eat veggies. It is imperative! Without abundant vegetables in the diet, it is unrealistic to expect that you or your children will be getting enough vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals to regulate the immune system. The tragedy is that an immune system that does not have sufficient micronutrients becomes vulnerable to cancer, infections, autoimmunity, allergies and asthma. If you want to prevent chronic disease in your family, you have to eat more nutrient-dense food. That means lots of leafy greens, plenty of vibrantly-colored vegetables, and ample sulphur-containing vegetables (those in the cruciferous, onion, and mushroom families).
In addition, when you eat veggies in place of other carbohydrates, such as grains and fruit, you help balance blood sugars. We have an emergency to steady our blood sugars, because statistically, one in three is pre-diabetic.
Help Kids Eat Veggies
It’s not a psychological mystery that children love making cookies and hate eating their vegetables. Beyond the difference between natural sugars and refined sugars, there are fundamental distinctions in the way we approach cookies versus vegetables.
It’s a sign of “mom love” to make cookies together. You and your child bond when you share the experiences of mixing ingredients, frosting, and celebrating with cookies. But do you get excited to make vegetable recipes and serve them to friends during holidays and special occasions? Most likely, you sternly tell your children that they have to eat their vegetables before they get a treat.
Principles for Celebrating Vegetables
The following principles are taken from the work of Melanie Potock, feeding therapist, who blogs at My Munch Bug.
Friendship Principle: If you want to be friends with vegetables, they have to come play at your house frequently! Not only that, you have to model a friendship with veggies yourself.
Curiosity Principle: Let your child experience and explore veggies through cooking, eating out, growing food, and culinary field trips. A child should be able to touch and smell a vegetable long before he is expected to touch it to his lips, put it on his tongue, and eventually eat it.
Play Principle: Encourage him to use all of his senses in exploring the unique characteristics of each vegetable! Be creative and spontaneous. No ultimatums here!
Firmness Principle: If your child knows that you will not require him to eat something if he doesn’t like it, he will learn he doesn’t have to try anything new. Instead, model this sentence: “I don’t care for it yet, but I’m practicing!” Kids must understand that vegetables are not optional.
Kindness Principle: Kids may have anxiety about eating new foods. So, rather than forcing them, help them become comfortable by repeated exposure and play.
Play with Your Veggies
Here are some ideas evolved from Potock’s book, Adventures in Veggieland, that you can use to help your children eat more veggies.
Stamp on some tattoos with beets, then rub them off with potatoes.
Create sheep, or even teddy bears and other beasts, with cauliflower, broccoli, and toothpicks.
Play Mr. Potato Head with large vegetables, such as eggplant, butternut squash, celery root, or jicama.
Build log cabins with asparagus stalks. Also, you could also use green beans, or julienned yams, turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi, or parsnips.
Play Tic Tac Toe with any veggies that can be made into coins and matchsticks.
Make Veggies Playful
I suggested several ways to present vegetables in a playful manner in my post, The Nutrient-Dense Lunchbox. In addition, you can always use vegetables in making a treat. For example, you could put pureed spinach in chocolate pudding, or make cake using cauliflower (See my post, Eat More Veggies.) How about ice cream with red bell peppers in it, or apple crisp that uses squash?
Recipes to Help Kids Eat Veggies
The following recipes are adapted from Potock’s book.
Can’t Be Beet Dip
1 medium beet, or 2-3 small beets
1 small banana
3 Tb. plain Greek yogurt
1 Tb. honey (optional)
Roast the beet(s) by wrapping in foil and baking at 375 for 45 minutes or by slow-cooking in a crock pot for 2-3 hours. (Hint: you may cook a whole batch at once and refrigerate them until use.) Cut off the ends and slip the skin off. Puree in a blender with the remaining ingredients. Serve with apples and crackers.
4 large asparagus stalks
2/3 c. coconut milk
6 oz. dark chocolate bar (70% cacao)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Strawberry & banana slices for dipping
Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and peel away the thick skin. Steam asparagus until very soft. Place in blender with 2 Tb. of the coconut milk. Process until very smooth. Melt the chocolate with the remaining coconut milk and the vanilla over low heat. Add the asparagus mixture and get ready to dip!
2 heads cauliflower, different colors if desired
1/4 c. melted coconut oil
2 Tb. pure maple syrup
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, break cauliflower into tiny florets. Combine coconut oil, maple syrup and cinnamon and pour over florets, coating evenly. Spread on foil-lined baking sheets and roast 20 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and serve.
Butternut Squash Crumble
1/2 of a butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cubed ( or 8 oz. package)
1/4 c. dried tart cherries
1/4 c. chopped pecans
1 Tb. melted butter
2 tsp. pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toss all ingredients together and place in a square baking dish. Cover with topping (below). Bake 45 minutes, until topping is lightly browned.
1/2 c. oats
1/4 c. oat flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. softened butter
Mix topping ingredients together with a fork until crumbly. Scatter over the squash filling.
Cherry & Red Bell Ice Cream
1 large red bell pepper, seeded & cut into chunks
1 c. frozen cherries
2 c. half & half (or coconut milk, if preferred)
1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Blend until smooth. Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.
Functional Nutrition seeks to give you living nourishment for optimal wellness, supporting you on a cellular level from the ground up.
When you’re motivated to improve your health, what practitioner is best to guide your eating habits? Should you contact a dietitian, a health coach, or a functional nutritionist? That depends on the question you’re asking.
A Dietitian Diagnoses and Treats What is Wrong
Suppose you are concerned about your weight. A dietitian will identify whether you are simply overweight, or whether you are actually obese. She may even classify you as insulin resistant or pre-diabetic. She will then prescribe a diet aimed at correcting that condition. A dietitian’s program will most likely work for you in the short term. It is what we call an “end-stage” approach.
A Health Coach Assesses How You Can Treat Your Condition
A health coach will take on more of a mentor role, and will discuss options that fit your lifestyle. He may present you with several possible diet plans and will work with your to craft the one that harmonizes best with your individual needs. He may also suggest exercise and stress management plans, for a more whole approach to wellness. You may engage in several fitness challenges with other program participants and have classes on implementing new lifestyle strategies.
A Functional Nutritionist Asks Why You Are Having Trouble
She will look for root imbalances. Are you gaining weight because of eating habits, stress, hormone imbalances, lack of activity, disease, or food sensitivities? Her goal is not to treat the weight itself, but to bring your body back into homeostasis (stability) so that your weight will normalize within your ideal range. She is not diagnosing or even “treating a condition.” She is looking at the “terrain” of your body. Her aim is to work with dysfunction on a cellular level to support optimal wellness before you reach the end-stage condition.
A Comparison of Conventional Nutrition and Functional Nutrition
The conventional nutritionist works within the framework of:
A diet plan based on symptoms
The low-fat, low calorie approach
Emphasis on food quantities
Less meat, sugar, fat, and sodium
Inclusion of some processed and fortified foods
Increased exercise to burn more calories
The functional nutritionist’s paradigm includes:
Your relationships to food and other individuals
The roles of stress, sleep, and exercise in your life
Emphasis on quality of food
More nutrient-dense options in your menu
Suggested testing for nutrient sufficiency and genetic tendencies
A bio-individual approach based on personal need
Your Story Matters to a Functional Nutritionist
Before your appointment, your functional nutritionist will ask for a health history and a food journal. She will then assess all of your symptoms – everything from dry skin and brittle nails to burping and bloating after meals. She’ll want to know whether you have headaches when you skip a meal, and whether you crave greasy, fatty, or sweet foods matters. Don’t be embarrassed to share if you poop “rocks,” “snakes,” or “pudding.” She will even be interested in the times you feel anxious, spacey, or depressed. In her book, all the body systems are interconnected, and she is looking at you as a whole person.
What Happens During Your Office Visit
After reviewing a graph she has printed based on your symptoms, she will ask to check a few reflex points, look at your pupils, or take a saliva pH. She may ask you to put some nutrients in your mouth, or take a standing blood pressure. Using clinical tests developed by doctors before labs tests were widely available, she may take your pulse or put a blood pressure cuff around your calf. Finally, she will counsel with you about your openness to dietary changes and supplement recommendations. Then, she will develop a personalized plan for you to follow that ensures life-giving nourishment.
How Functional Nutrition Helped Me
When I was just 33, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. At the time, nutrition science and epigenetics were largely undeveloped. The doctor said it was probably my genes. So, I would just have to take medication for the rest of my life. I wasn’t happy over that verdict of what I should do. Why was my health deteriorating at such an early age?
My search led to my becoming certified as a functional nutritionist. Along the way, I gained tools to stabilize my blood sugars and support my adrenal health. Also, I learned of my body’s own tendency to be deficient in B vitamins and my need for extra Vitamin D, based on my geographical location. Encouraged to develop my own recipes, I enjoyed an abundance of healing foods without deprivation. At last, I had the thrill of watching weight and my blood lipids normalize! Now, I no longer have Metabolic Syndrome!
The real difference was that the functional approach provided true healing from the bottom up. But the conventional approach was only like a band-aid.
Would you like to see this change in your life? Let’s talk about how I can help you!