Immune System Superstar – Vitamin D!

October 13, 2014
Sunshine

I don’t think that Vitamin D gets enough credit for how important it is for our immune system to properly work, and in the fight against the flu and other viruses.  Optimizing your vitamin D is perhaps is the #1 step to take to prevent the flu!!!  Studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D could increase your risk of getting influenza.  An estimated 70% of the population is deficient in vitamin D, and because the sun is the best source – Winter and Spring tend to be when it dips the lowest (it should come as no surprise that is when colds and flu spike too!).  Vitamin D is very important for cancer prevention, and also shows some promise for asthma symptoms and several skin conditions too.

Vitamin D is very important for the immune system – without sufficient Vit D, our T cells (important immune cells) can’t be activated properly.  This is important for fighting the flu, and also for prevention of cancer – it is estimated that 75% of breast cancers could be prevented simply by optimizing vitamin D levels.  Vitamin D also is found to be effective in preventing and treating skin conditions like eczema, psoriosis, and even recurring infections like Staph, and MRSA as well.  Other signs of deficiency can be muscle aches and pains, fractures, depression, blood sugar issues, and more.

According to studies optimal Vitamin D could also benefit asthma sufferers. Asthma makes kids particularly susceptible to getting more serious complications of flu and Enterovirus. 

How to get it?  Sunshine is your best source – which is why it is called the sunshine vitamin.  But you can also supplement – make sure your supplement has the D3 form (cholecalciferol), which is better absorbed than D2 (ergocalciferol, which is a cheaper form, and also the kind added to milk).

How much to supplement?  It depends.  The right amount will depend on your blood levels of vitamin D, so it is a good idea to have your vitamin D levels checked this time of year. Ideal blood levels are between 40-65 ng/dl.  If your levels are really low, your doctor might prescribe a high dose to quickly boost your levels. But generally, adults can very safely take 2,000- 2,500 IU daily, and studies show that 1,200 IU for kids ages 6-15 benefits the immune system.  The RDA is 600 IU for kids, and 800 IU for adults, but many physicians and experts feel that those amounts are not high enough to get levels to where they need to be.  Talk to your doctor or practitioner about getting your vitamin D checked, or ask how many IU that they recommend that you/your family supplements.  Also – magnesium is needed for absorption, so make sure you are getting plenty of leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, raw cacao, nuts, or taking magnesium supplements (avoid the oxide form which is poorly absorbed).

Recommended reading:

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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The Amazing Coconut!

July 28, 2014
Coconut Oil
Categories: Antioxidants, Digestion


In Sanskrit, coconut trees are referred to as “Kalpa Vriksha” which means: “The tree that gives all that is necessary for life.”

This is no exaggeration, because the coconut supplies water, oil, and it’s flesh can be made into many different products from coconut milk to coconut flour, which is popular with the Paleo crowd because it is versatile, grain-free and high in fiber and nutrients.  The coconut really is one of the most amazing superfoods ever.

Coconuts are technically what is called a “drupe,” which is a type of fruit.

A young coconut has a smooth green exterior, but usually when you find it in the store, that will have been removed, and it will look white.  As the coconut ages, the exterior will become more brown and hairy. The flesh becomes more dense and nutritious as the coconut ages, because it soaks up more of the minerals from the water.  So if you want to drink the water, make sure to get the young coconuts, because there will be more of water, and it will have more nutrients.  The flesh of the young coconut is softer than the mature coconuts.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 11.34.42 AMI recently discovered this really cool tool called the Coco Jack, which makes opening a young coconut a breeze (and it is fun to get a little bit of your aggressions out too). Check this video out to see how easy it is to use! It also has a cool tool that you can use to scoop out the flesh too.  My 12 year old son is a coconut water snob – he only likes to drink it straight out of the coconut, and he is an expert at using the Coco Jack!

20140701_products_ccw_812x661If you can’t get your hands on a young coconut, try Harmless Harvest raw coconut water – it is totally raw, so it is not pasteurized, which means it retains all the natural nutrients and tastes just like it came right from the fresh coconut – because it did!! Because it is raw, you will need to refrigerate it, and you will find it in the refrigerator section of the grocery store.

There are many different products that are made out of coconuts.  One of the most amazing foods for our metabolism, is coconut oil, which is made by extracting the oil from the flesh.  I like to put it in my tea or coffee every morning to stimulate my metabolism and energy. When choosing a coconut oil, make sure to look for quality unrefined, organic cold pressed virgin oils.  If you are planning to cook it at a very high heat, you can use refined coconut oil.  Read Cuckoo for Coconut Oil to learn more about the health benefits and uses of coconut oil.

Some of my other favorite coconut products:

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Cinnamon Apple Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie

June 10, 2014
smoothie

One of the most interesting things about sweet potatoes, is that despite having “sweet” in their name, and tasting sweet, they are low glycemic.  Low glycemic foods gradually raise your bloodsugar. Sweet potatoes spike your bloodsugar significantly less than a regular white potato!

They are a nearly perfect food with high fiber, rich in vitamins like beta carotene (which gives it’s flesh the rich orange color), and have been shown to aid in recovery for athletes. Read 15 Superfoods for Peak Performance to learn about how sweet potatoes and other foods are good for performance and recovery.

I actually prefer yams over sweet potatoes, because they are darker in color, which means richer in vitamins and nutrients (sweet potatoes and yams are often used interchangeably and confused). So this recipe should really be called yam pie – but that does not sound as good.

Last night we had roasted sweet potatoes and I sprinkled on some cinnamon and swirled in some applesauce into them.  It was so good – it tasted like a cross between apple and pumpkin pie.   So today I decided to recreate that yumminess with a Cinnamon Apple Sweet Potato Pie smoothie!

Cinnamon Apple Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup cooked sweet potato/or yam (I prefer using roasted) – you could also use pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup coconut water
  • 2 Tablespoons chia seeds
  • 6 raw cashews (ideally soak for 2-6 hours, then drain) – you could use 1-2 Tablespoons hemp hearts, or a scoop of vanilla Warrior Blend protein powder instead – this adds creaminess
  • 2-3 Tablespoons organic applesauce (unsweetened)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon* (or more if you prefer – I do!)
  • 1 teaspoon of coconut oil, or raw coconut meat (supports energy & metabolism)
  • dash of pink Himalayan salt (I add this to all my smoothies – brings out the sweetness, flavors, boosts the trace minerals, supports the adrenals).
  • Splash of pure vanilla extract.
  • Ice as needed to thicken

Directions:

  1. Put the water and coconut water into the blender, add the chia seeds and let them soak for 3-5 mins.
  2. Then add in the rest of the ingredients – blend.
  3. Add ice as desired to thicken.
  4. Taste and adjust.
  5. Serve & enjoy!

Whip this up before heading to the gym, because it is chock full of superfoods for peak performance!!

* Cinnamon is a wonderful spice for supporting healthy blood sugar levels. The more common form of cinnamon sold in the United States is cassia cinnamon. Cassia has coumarin, a compound that is toxic to the liver in high doses. Although less common in the U.S., Ceylon type of cinnamon is considered “true” cinnamon, and it does not contain coumarin.  It might be a little more expensive, but I find Ceylon to be milder, a little sweeter, and more complex – definitely the best cinnamon choice!

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Raw Cacao – Superfood for Athletes, Heart Health & More

January 29, 2014
rew-cacao
Categories: Antioxidants

First domesticated by the Mayans over 2,000 years ago, cacao is one of the most nutritionally complex foods on earth.

Cacao is the main ingredient in dark chocolate.  The word “chocolate” comes from the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans.

The word cacao means “food of the gods.”  It is aptly named, as cacao offers a myriad of health benefits.  Raw cacao has historically been used as medicine, and was so revered, that the beans were used as currency.  Although, not typically considered a sports performance food, raw cacao is definitely one superfood that athletes should consider adding to their regimen, because it delivers on so many levels.

Cacao vs. Cocoa

Raw cacao powder is made by cold-pressing the whole beans, which keeps all the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and more unharmed.  Because cocoa powder is heated and processed, it does not retain as many nutrients as the raw cacao has.  So the raw cacao is superior nutritionally over cocoa.  I like the brand Sunfood.  They offer cacao powder, whole beans, paste, and nibs – which tastes nutty and chocolate (delicious as a topping – like in this Pumpkin Cacao Chip Smoothie)! When choosing chocolates, look for the highest percentage of cacao, which means it contains more of the cacao, and less sugar – if you can find chocolate made with raw cacao, even better.

Antioxidants:

Raw cacao has an oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) score of 95,500 per 100 grams, making it one of the best sources of antioxidants, which is helpful in preventing and repairing free radical damage. Exercising increases the formation of free radicals, so a diet high in antioxidants is important for athletes.  There is also evidence that diets high in antioxidants could offer protection against many different diseases.

Magnesium:

Cacao is also one of the best food-known sources of magnesium, which has been shown in studies to be very important for athletes and heart health. Magnesium is required for over 300 enzymatic reactions, including the synthesis of fat, protein and nucleic acids, muscular contraction and relaxation, cardiac health and bone building. Magnesium improves blood flow and plays a key role in the metabolism of adenosine triphoshate (ATP), critical for aerobic and anaerobic functions.

Low magnesium levels raise our risk of heart attack and stroke, and could be to blame in cases of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.  It if estimated that most Americans do not get sufficient magnesium levels, and athletes could have more serious deficiencies since exercising further depletes levels.  The following symptoms can be an indicator of low magnesium levels: muscle cramping, migraines or headaches, restless leg syndrome, twitching, heart disease, and anxiety.  If you do choose to supplement instead of eating raw cacao – look for the citrate, orotate, or malate forms of magnesium (not oxide which is poorly absorbed). If the magnesium causes loose stools, make sure to reduce the dose.

Because of the antioxidant capacity and magnesium levels, it should come as no surprise that a recent study published in the Journal of Physiology found that cacao may help bolster exercise endurance.  Cacao is also rich in other important nutrients for athletes including potassium, iron and more.  Cacao offers a long list of health benefits including reducing heart attack and stroke, lowering blood pressure, boosting mood and brain function, lowering stress, relaxing muscles, boosting our skin’s internal SPF, and much more.

Try this Choco-Banana Super Smoothie – which contains raw cacao and 5 other Superfoods!!  Don’t have time to make that?  grab a delicious dairy-raw raw cacao Rau drink to go!!

Boosts Blood Flow to Heart, Brain, and Ahem…Other Organs

Raw cacao is also a food to consider in the fight against heart disease and Alzheimers – cacao has been shown in studies to improve blood flow to all organs in the body.  It also has been found in studies to reduce dementia, and even improve the brain’s ability to perform math problems.  Cacao has a protective effects on endothelial function, important for heart health.  So having a square of dark chocolate or a couple of tablespoons of raw cacao daily is actually very good for you, and could even help to prevent heart attack and stroke.   Plus, unlike Viagra, which improves blood flow to one region, the flavinols in cacao improve blood flow throughout the body – including to the same organ that Viagra targets!  In addition, cacao contains a compound called threobromine, which has powerful mood-enhancing qualities, and also is a mild diuretic. Dogs can not metabolize theobromine, which is why it can be toxic to dogs.

Read Sara’s article 15 Superfoods for Peak Performance to learn more about how athletes can benefit from other superfoods.  Also sign up to download Sara’s free Cooking with Superfoods eBook to get some superfood recipes.   Sara offers nutritional counseling, and also eCourses – Sara’s popular 1 week Break up with Sugar Program eCourse is coming up on Feb 5th – it is an online program that you can take in 1 week, or at your own pace.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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15 Superfoods for Peak Performance

January 21, 2014
bigstock-chia-seeds-in-a-rustic-oval-wo-40769023

The other day I drove into a Rancho Santa Fe gas station, and just as I was about to jump out to go pump my gas, the nice attendant came up and asked me “I’d be happy to pump your gas for you.  Premium fuel today?”  Yes, please, I respond and get back in the drivers seat. “Wow, they have good service at this gas station,” I say to my son. I glance back at the pump and notice that they also have 100 octane fuel, I had never seen that before, and boy is it expensive – over $6 a gallon!  I think to myself, that must be the super premium fuel for all those Ferrari’s and other high performance cars that you see zipping around Rancho Santa Fe all the time.  It stands to reason that the higher performance car you have, the higher quality of fuel it needs.

That stop at the Rancho Santa Fe gas station got me thinking about sports nutrition.  Athletes are kind of like high performance cars.  Just as we expect sports cars to perform better than an average car, athletes put higher demands on their body and seek superior performance.  Putting the wrong gas into a Ferrari can mean lower performance, and overtime could land it in the shop for repairs or even create damage to the motor/inner workings.  The same is true for young athletes – if they are choosing lots of junk food, they might not end up with optimal performance, or over time could end up with chronic inflammation and be plagued with injuries.

Endurance and elite athletes burn a significant amount of calories, so they can and need to regularly eat a lot of calories to replenish their energy reserves.  But just because they can polish off a box of donuts or a large soda and a couple 20 piece nuggets and still not gain weight, does not mean that they should.  Just like a Ferrari, athletes should consider putting in the best possible fuel if they want peak performance.

Because of the extra demands they put on their bodies, it is important for athletes to consume a diet rich in plant-based foods, high quality (ideally grass-fed) protein sources, plenty of healthy fats, and limit nutrient-deficient and inflammation-causing foods (foods that contain a lot of sugar, trans fats, or too many omega 6 fats – found in vegetable oils, soy oils, etc).

One of the best foods an athlete can add to their training regime are superfoods.  Superfoods are highly nutrient dense foods that provide an abundance of nutrition and can potentially improve performance and overall health…kind of like “super premium” fuel.

At the top of my list of functional foods for athletes are these 15 superfoods.

15 Superfoods for Peak Performance:

  1. Chia Seeds – Without a doubt, chia seeds are my number one recommendation for athletes. An ancient Aztec superfood, chia seeds gave the Aztec warriors the long-lasting energy and endurance they needed to go into battle.  Chia seeds are an essential addition to the athletes’ diet, boosting endurance, energy, hydration, focus/attention, and reducing inflammation.  Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids, and are also high in fiber, protein, and have a number of minerals including calcium, magnesium, and potassium – all important for athletes.  Omega 3s are proven brain and mood food, which can help athletes with focus and attention – to keep their head in the game. Omega 3s are shown to lower inflammation – which is helpful to reduce inflammation – critical for recovery and injury prevention.  Unlike flax, chia is rich in antioxidants, which means it will not go rancid after grinding, and helps to prevent free radical damage.  Chia seed are uniquely hydrophillic, so when they come in contact with water, they form a gel-like substance.  This chia gel slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, helping to level out bloodsugar and maintain energy/endurance.  Chia gel also holds on to water, which helps to maintain hydration – very important for an athlete  Always make sure to consume chia seeds with plenty of water or liquids to prevent dehydration, I like to soak the chia seeds for about 5 minutes before consuming to ensure they are hydrated.
  2. Raw Cacao – Exercising increases the formation of free radicals, so a diet high in antioxidants is important for athletes.  One of the most nutritionally complex foods on earth, cacao has an oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) score of 95,500 per 100 grams, making it one of the best sources of antioxidants, which is helpful in preventing free radical damage. But perhaps what is even more important for athletes is that cacao is one of the best food sources of magnesium. Magnesium is required for over 300 enzymatic reactions, including the synthesis of fat, protein and nucleic acids, muscular contraction and relaxation, cardiac health and bone building. Magnesium improves blood flow and plays a key role in the metabolism of adenosine triphoshate (ATP), critical for aerobic and anaerobic functions. Cacao is also rich in potassium, iron, polyphenols, flavanols, theobromine, and proanthocyanidins.  Cacao offers a long list of health benefits including reducing heart attack and stroke, lowering blood pressure, boosting mood and brain function, lowering stress, relaxing muscles, boosting our skin’s internal SPF, and much more.  A recent Journal of Physiology study suggests that antioxidants in cacao may help bolster exercise endurance. Try this Choco-Banana Super Smoothie – which contains 5 Superfoods for Performance (chia seeds, cacao, coconut water, pink Himalayan salt, and banana).
  3. Coconut water – often referred to as nature’s Gatorade, coconut water is an excellent hydration tool, naturally rich in electrolytes and also a source of natural quick energy.  When athletes sweat, they lose fluids and electroytes, coconut water helps to replenish the lost fluids, electrolytes, and also provides a natural source of carbohydrate to replenish lost glycogen (energy) stores.
  4. Himalayan Sea Salt – along with fluids, athletes lose sodium and other minerals when they exercise and sweat, which need to be replenished.  High quality air dried sea salts or pink Himalayan salts contain beneficial minerals and trace minerals that are missing from table salts.  Table salts also contain anti-clumping additives which are not in natural sea salts.  I recommend that athletes use only the highest quality salts when they are making foods at home – put a pinch of Himalayan salt into smoothies (it brings out the sweetness and flavors too!), and always cook with high quality salts, which along with the sodium contain a number of important minerals that the body needs.  Sometimes when we crave salty foods, our bodies are seeking minerals – which are lacking in processed and packaged foods.
  5. Bananas – are a an excellent complex carbohydrate to consume 30 minutes before a race, one banana contains approximately 467mg of potassium, an energy-supplying electrolyte which provides protection to the cardiovascular system. Green tipped bananas contain a prebiotic which aids in digestion and the body’s ability to absorb calcium.  High in vitamin B6, bananas help to support sleep, neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), and white blood cell formation. Bananas are also known for minimizing muscle cramping.  Slice them and top cereals, oatmeal, or add them to smoothies.
  6. Coconut Oil – might seem like an odd food to include in a list of superfoods for athletes.  But it is a very unique fat that can offer athletes a lot of benefits.  First, it is a medium chain fatty acid, which is more readily converted to energy by the body, so it is also less likely to be stored as fat.  Coconut oil is more easily digested, it is less likely to cause stomach upset than other fats. Coconut oil is also a natural antiviral and antibacterial, which supports a healthy immune system.  It can be used topically as well to help with skin irritation and dryness. I recommend adding a teaspoon of coconut oil to your morning smoothie, or oatmeal.
  7. Sweet Potatoes – Despite their naturally sweet taste, sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index which means they can be absorbed and used gradually, preventing the blood sugar from spiking and crashing. Sweet potatoes have been shown to improve blood sugar, even in Type 2 Diabetics. One of the best sources of beta-carotene, sweet potatoes raise our blood levels of vitamin A, which is a fat soluble vitamin and is best absorbed when eaten with some dietary fat, so don’t be afraid to put a little grass-fed butter on them!  That will help you absorb the nutrients!  Sweet potatoes are a good carbohydrate source for athletes and also helpful in preventing inflammation, which aids in recovery.
  8. Teff – The word teff means ‘lost,’ a reference to the fact that the grains are so small that if you dropped them, they will be nearly impossible to find. An ancient North African cereal grass, teff has an good balance of B vitamins, amino acids/protein, calcium, zinc, and is an excellent source of iron to help prevent anemia. Teff has as much protein as an egg, is gluten free, and has a nutty, molasses-like flavor.
  9. Berries – Eating foods high in antioxidants is critical for athletes, who can suffer up to 200 times the free radical damage compared to their less active counterparts.  Scientists have found that a diet rich in antioxidants may help with exercise recovery by reducing muscular damage. Blueberries, acai, pomegrante, and goji berries are all good sources of antioxidants.  Berries are also a good source of fiber.  Snack on them, or toss them into a smoothie or on top of your cereal.  Dried berries are a good addition to trail mixes.
  10. Almonds – a good source of vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, riboflavin, monounsaturated fats and protein; almonds are nutritional powerhouses.  A small handful of almonds a few times a week can be helpful in lowering cholesterol, and preventing heart disease.  Almonds are useful in nervous system and muscle recovery. Other tree nuts are also beneficial, such as cashews, walnuts and Brazil nuts.
  11. Kale – High in nutrients like vitamin K, magnesium, vitamin C, calcium, folate, zinc and iron, kale is one of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet. Sneak some into your smoothie, or chop it up and add it to soups, or omelettes – kale packs a big punch.
  12. Quinoa – Often considered a grain, quinoa is not a grain, but a seed.  Naturally gluten free, quinoa is a good replacement for grains.  It contains high levels of both carbohydrates and protein, with all nine essential amino acids, which are critical to many biochemical functions. Quinoa has a rich history as a sports nutrition tool. The Incas used it to increase the stamina of their warriors, helping them to run long distances at high altitudes. Quinoa is a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium and calcium.
  13. Raisins – offer a quick source of concentrated energy, and are also a good source of potassium and magnesium, which helps to balance our body’s pH, and also is important for athletes to replenish when they work out and sweat.  Raisins also contain calcium, and a substance called boron, both of which are important in building strong bones.  Athletes need to make sure they are getting plenty of bone-building nutrients to prevent stress fractures and breaks.  Raisins also contain fiber, which helps promote good digestion.
  14. Hemp Seeds – an excellent vegan source of easily digested protein, hemp seeds contain all 10 essential amino acids. Just 3 Tablespoons of Hemp Seeds = 11 grams of protein. Hemp seeds provides an array of minerals including zinc, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. Hemp seeds contain a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, hemp seeds contain an especially beneficial type of omega-6 fat called GLA (gamma linolenic acid), which supports anti-inflammatory hormones and facilitates fat-burning.
  15. Avocados – are full of healthy fats that help to reduce our inflammation, boost the absorption of certain vitamins (fat-soluble ones), and are actually a high fiber food. Avocados are a good source of carotenoids, vitamin K, vitamins B5 & B6, vitamin c, folate and potassium. Avocados promote bone and heart health, and help manage blood sugar.  Adding avocados to smoothies can make them light and fluffy and boost the fiber, vitamin content, and help to keep you satisfied longer.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Are You Wasting Your Money on Green Juices?

December 5, 2013
green-juices
Categories: Antioxidants

It’s the hottest new accessory – everyone seems to be carrying a bottle of fresh pressed bright green juice nowadays. Press it yourself, grab it to go from your grocery store, or pop into the new juice bar that has popped up near you.

A medium sized juice can contain a couple pounds of plant-based foods per bottle, so cold-pressed green juices are certainly nutritional powerhouses with loads of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And because so many plants are concentrated in that little bottle – many people are smart to go organic to avoid a pesticide hit.  So what could be a more perfect way to get more plant-based foods into our daily diets than a bottle of organic green juice?  But what if I told you that you might as well as be dumping some of that $9 bottle of organic green juice right down the drain?

Now wait a second, don’t get me wrong – I love an energizing and delicious green juice as much as the next girl.  But the thing is – a good amount of the vitamins in that bottle are the fat-soluble kind. You see, it is not what we eat (or drink), it is what we absorb.  And in order to absorb fat soluble vitamins, there needs to be fat present. So if you are not consuming your green juice with a little bit of healthy fat, you might not be effectively absorbing all those wonderful nutrients that have been so carefully cold pressed into that bottle for you.

So what is a green-juice loving gal or guy to do?  No, I am not suggesting that you give up your green juice habit. Just serve up a little healthy fat* on the side if you want to maximize your absorption of those vitamins.  *Note: healthy fats (I am not suggesting a doughnut on the side!). You could soak some chia seeds in your juice, or toss back a handful of nuts with it. If you are juicing at home, you could put a teaspoon of avocado or medium chain coconut oil into it, or just take your daily fish oil supplement with it.  A little bit of fat will go a long way to help you absorb those fat-soluble vitamins.

If you don’t have fat with your greens every single time – don’t worry – our bodies only need a small amount of the fat soluble vitamins, and they also store them in the liver for later use (unlike the water soluble vitamins that need to be replenished more frequently).

Just remember – healthy fat is your friend. In addition to helping us absorb vitamins, it stabilizes our blood sugar, helps to control hunger hormones, and much more. So go get your green juice on – just try to maximize it’s benefits with a little healthy fat whenever possible, your blood sugar will thank you later too!

Learn more about healthy fat in Sara’s eCourses.  And get Sara’s green lemonade and some other superfood recipes in Sara’s free Cooking with Superfoods ebooklet (just remember to add your favorite form of fat)!

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Hydrating Foods to Beat the Heat

August 5, 2013
watermelon
As the thermostat goes up, so does the body’s requirement for fluids.  Dehydration can occur when the body loses fluids, does not take in enough – or a combination of the two.  When the body loses a significant enough amount of fluids, lost electrolytes should also be replenished along with the lost water.  Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge and are important for the proper functioning of nerves, muscles, and to maintain proper fluid levels in the blood and cells. The minerals sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chlorine and phosphate are all electrolytes.

 

According to some recent studies, certain plant-based foods hydrate better than plain ole’ water, because in addition to their high water content, they come paired with natural electrolytes, minerals, and vitamins.  So eating plenty of plant based foods, or having a glass of freshly pressed organic juice is a great way to rehydrate the body on a hot day.

 

Move over Gatorade, and make room for these naturally hydrating foods:

 

  • Watermelon: Over 90% water, watermelons also contain many of the things the body loses with sweating – including natural sugars, calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium.  Rich in beta carotene, vitamin C and lycopene, watermelon is also helpful in protecting the body from free radical damage that comes with exercise and sun exposure. Lycopene was even shown to provide the body with a little bit of internal sunscreen (read more: Eat Your Sunscreen).
  • Celery: Crunching on celery sticks on a hot day can help to return lost sodium and potassium to the body.  Sodium gets a bad rap, but the body needs organic sodium – which is found in foods like celery, coconut, and high quality natural salts like pink Himalayan. Sodium works in conjunction with potassium to regulate fluids and nutrients in cells and is important for maintaining mineral balances, digestion, metabolism, nerve function, and more.  I also love to add a few celery stalks to my fresh pressed juice too!
  • Grapes: An excellent source of potassium and manganese, grapes can help us stay cool and hydrated. They also contain resveratrol – a nutrient associated with anti-aging, anti-inflammation, and many other benefits, so grapes can help keep us looking and feeling young.  There is almost nothing more refreshing than a handful of grapes on a hot summer day, except maybe frozen grapes!  Pop some grapes into the freezer – they are kind of like nature’s popsicle.
  • Cucumber: Another high water content vegetable, cucumbers are also a good source of vitamin C, and an anti-inflammatory compound called caffeic acid, which is why putting cucumber slices on your eyes can help reduce puffiness.  Cucumbers are a refreshing addition to a salad and are great in a fresh pressed juice.
  • Coconut water: Referred to as “nature’s Gatorade,” coconut water supports hydration with 5 different electrolytes – sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium.  Coconut water so closely matches the profile of human blood, that it has been used as intravenous fluid in a pinch.  In addition to it’s hydrating properties, coconut water is a good recovery tool for athletes because it also contains natural sugars to help to replenish lost glycogen stores.

Some other foods, that despite not being high in water content, when paired with fluids, can help to rehydrate (and even prehydrate) the body as well:

  • Avocado: One regular avocado contains almost twice as much potassium as a banana! Avocados also contain phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and zinc – which is important for carbohydrate and protein metabolism.  Avocados are rich in vitamins B, C, E & K, and are also surprisingly high in fiber – with 1/2 an avocado containing almost 7 grams!  The healthy fats in avocados can help us to feel satisfied, provide us with lasting energy, and are a great addition to a salad because they boost the body’s ability to absorb fat soluble vitamins.
  • Chia Seeds:  Chia seeds are not high in water content, but they are a great hydration tool because they are uniquely hydrophilic – meaning each little seed can absorb approximately 10-12 times of it’s own weight in water.  When chia seeds come into contact with fluids, it soaks them up and creates a gel. Chia gel can prolong hydration by retaining electrolytes in body fluids, making it an excellent tool for hydration.  Always make sure to take chia seeds with plenty of water, or they will soak up fluids internally, potentially increasing dehydration.  A great addition to a smoothie, athletes can use chia gel to pre-hydrate before their workout or competition.  Read Pre-hydrate with Chia to learn more.
  • Sea vegetables: Not your typical sports nutrition food, seaweed and other sea vegetables should be in more athletes’ bags!  Containing virtually all the minerals found in the ocean, when taken with water, seaweed is an excellent hydration tool for replenishing lost minerals from sweating.  Seaweed are rich in calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vanadium, and zinc.  Perhaps best known for their iodine content – sea vegetables like kelp can be useful for boosting the function of the thyroid gland.
On hot Summer days, I love to start my day with a hydrating smoothie or chia pudding, and then refuel later with a refreshing and energizing fresh pressed juice.  Find my healthy chia pudding and “green lemonade” recipes in my free Cooking with Superfoods ebook.
Watch this segment on Hydrating Foods on Fox 5 San Diego, August 2013.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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The Amazing Artichoke!

May 6, 2013
bigstock-Artichoke-91296

Artichokes do not get the credit that they deserve as a superfood.  But their antioxidant capacity puts them in the top four vegetables and seventh overall according to a study conducted by the  U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The Artichoke, also known as cynara, is a member of the thistle family, a group of flowering plants that have sharp leaves (and also Winne the Pooh’s friend Eeyore’s favorite food!). The edible part of the plant is the flower base which if allowed to blossom, can create a beautiful huge purple flower.  

A wonderful spring vegetable that are packed with phytonutrients, artichokes were prized in Ancient Roman times as an aphrodisiac. A wonderful natural remedy for elevated cholesterol, the artichoke doesn’t just lower cholesterol, it optimizes it – lowering LDL levels, and raising HDL levels. A double-blind placebo controlled German study found 1,800 mg of artichoke extract to lower LDL by 22.9% in just 6 weeks (compared to 6% in the placebo group), read more!  Artichoke is also supportive of liver detoxification, which is important for healthy cholesterol levels, hormone regulation, and much more. 

Although most people’s favorite part of the artichoke is the heart, the leaves contain the vast majority of the cynarin, which offers the powerful health benefits.  You can buy the extract, or artichoke supplements, but one of the best ways to extract the nutrition is to make organic artichoke tea.

Artichoke tea:
The green liquid left in the pot that most people throw away after you cook an artichoke is basically artichoke tea!

  1. I always start with an organic artichoke, because I don’t want to be drinking pesticide tea. Non-organic artichokes are heavily sprayed with pesticides.
  2. Rinse the artichoke off well to get rid of any dirt or critters, and cut off the very bottom of the stem.
  3. Slice it lengthwise down the middle into 2 parts, put them into a large pot of fresh clean filtered water, and bring it to a boil.  Optional – you could add a quarter sized slice of peeled fresh ginger root, and even a peeled turmeric root.
  4. Once it reaches boiling, lower the temperature and cook for about 20 mins on a very low simmer.
  5. Turn off the stove, and remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool for about 20-30 mins. Take out the artichoke – and eat it.  I like to save some of the leaves, see below.  The leftover water is your tea.
  6. Now you have artichoke tea!  It can be consumed warm or cool.  Add a touch of your favorite natural sweetener if you like it sweetened.  I also like to add in fresh squeeezed lemon juice too.
  7. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 3 days (before you put it into the refrigerator, make sure it has cooled to room temperature first).

Note: if your tea is a drab brownish green color, you might have overcooked it.  Sometimes, the tea will start out a lightish green and will brighten in the refrigerator over a few hours.
Artichoke tea supports the liver to cleanse by enhancing the excretion of unwanted toxins in bile. When the liver is better supported, it can help to improve hormone regulation, and improve the quality of the skin:

  • Drinking 1-2 cups of artichoke tea daily is a nice remedy to try for the treatment and prevention of acne.
  • After you cook your artichoke, store the leaves in the refrigerator.  You can cut them into little half moon slices, which you can put under the eyes to help to reduce inflammation – similar to how you might use a cucumber.  They will last about 4 days in the refrigerator. Note: You can store them in the freezer to make them last longer – but make sure to completely thaw them out before putting them on the tender skin under the eye first.

The above recipe is from Sara’s Perfect Metabolism book, which is coming out in 2015.  She also offers 2 Perfect Metabolism eCourses, which are self-paced online classes.

Note:  Persons taking prescription medications or with an existing health condition should consult a doctor before taking the above foods, herbs, vitamins or supplements to be sure there are no interactions.  Do not stop taking your prescription medications without consulting your doctor.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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The Healthiest Hot Chocolate – Ever!!

December 4, 2012
Greens Chocolate 9.52oz (72dpi)

When there is a bit of a chill in the air, curling up on the couch with a nice cup of hot chocolate is a delicious way to warm up.  My kids love hot chocolate – but I don’t love the kind made with those hot chocolate packets – each cup contains 20 grams of sugar (5 teaspoons!) and a bunch of other no-so-healthy ingredients we try to avoid. Here is the ingredients list from a popular brand:

SUGAR, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, VEGETABLE OIL (PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COCONUT OR PALM KERNEL AND HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN), DAIRY PRODUCT SOLIDS, COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI, AND LESS THAN 2% OF CELLULOSE GUM, NONFAT MILK, SALT, SODIUM CASEINATE, SODIUM CITRATE, DIPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM ALUMINOSILICATE, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, GUAR GUM, ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS.

Then I found the perfect solution – delicious and healthy hot chocolate – thanks to Barleans Chocolate Greens!  First of all, these greens are like no other – they do not taste “greenish” or look at all green – so they are great for kids, especially picky ones. They are not grainy at all either – they stir in totally smooth into your liquid.  Each serving contains more than 5 servings of vegetables, probiotics, superfood greens, and much more!  So when I read that it makes a yummy hot chocolate – we decided to give it a try – and it definitely makes a delicious and super healthy cup of hot chocolate (or chocolate milk, or chocolate smoothie)!

I wasn’t expecting my daughter to like it, who is a mostly reformed, but still a little bit of picky eater, and definitely a supertaster – so when she gave it the thumbs up, I was totally elated.

There are a couple ways to make it:

  1. Just warm 8 oz. of milk in a saucepan on the stove (whole organic works great, or 1/4 cup of So Delicious coconut creamer mixed with 3/4 cup of another type of non-dairy milk is also a winner.  When the milk is nice and warm (not boiling), remove from heat, and add a scoop of Barleans Chocolate Silk Greens, stir well to combine.  Taste it before serving – my kids like it best with just a little bit of clear Natures Agave nectar added too (approx 1/2 – 1 teaspoon).
  2. You can also do this in your Vitamix if you have one – no stove required.  Just put the milk in the Vitamix, turn on high and let run for about 5-7 minutes, then add the greens at the end – turn back on to incorporate, and serve.

Pour your hot chocolate into a mug, and serve.  Optional – you could even use a mini organic

candy cane to stir – it will give it a nice minty taste.  Or top with some Elyon gluten free mini marshmallows, available at Whole Foods markets.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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The Clear Skin Diet

November 4, 2012
bigstock-Natural-homemade-vegetables-f-29425964-300x249
Categories: Antioxidants

So often when we want healthy clear skin, we run to the drugstore or beauty section of the department store for products to put on top of our skin.  Using good quality skincare products is important, but as a nutritionist – I also look to treat the skin from the inside out.

Our skin can be a reflection of the overall health of our internal systems.  Studies indicate that certain dietary factors may trigger acne and other skin problems. A study conducted by Glamour magazine found that pimples could be reduced by as much as 62% just by changing what you eat.  In addition to choosing the right topical products, looking deeper at what is causing the imbalance is a smart approach to healing the skin.

5 Tips to improve our skin from the inside out:

1. Optimize Digestion

Our overall health is connected to how well we are digesting our foods.  If we have digestive issues, we might not be properly absorbing our nutrients, which could possibly lead to mineral and vitamin deficiencies, and interfere with the removal of toxins; all of which can add up to breakouts and other skin issues.  To improve our digestion we need to do 4 things:

  • Boost the good bacteria – acne is caused by bacteria – and we can balance our bacteria in our bodies by increasing our healthy bacteria with probiotics.  Our digestive system has billions of bacteria – we want to make sure that the healthy bacteria do not get outnumbered by the unhealthy ones.  Taking a probiotic supplement and eating fermented foods and drinks all can help to boost our healthy disease-fighting bacteria.  One common treatment for acne is antibiotics – which kill all bacteria (including the good ones).  So taking a probiotic can help to repopulate all the good bacteria in the system.  Probiotics also boost our immune system, which is helpful during cold and flu season.
  • Boost our digestive fire, or “ami” as they refer to it in Ayurvedic medicine.  We can improve our digestive fire by eating more  enzyme-rich foods (such as fresh raw fruits and vegetables), and another option is to take digestive enzyme supplements with meals.  Digestive enzymes give our digestive system a hand in digesting the foods that we eat.
  • Removing foods that we are sensitive to can help to boost our digestion and clear up our skin.  We we eat things that we are sensitive to, it interferes with our digestion and absorption of nutrients.  Two of the biggest culprits are dairy and gluten with regards to acne and other skin issues.  Try removing dairy for 2-3 weeks and see if there is an improvement in the skin. Many acne suffers get relief just from removing the dairy.
  • Get plenty of nutritious fiber.  Fiber helps to keep things moving in the digestive tract, and helps to sweep out toxins.  Choose sprouted grains and seeds like chia seeds to boost digestion and absorption.  Unsprouted grains contain phytic acid which can interfere with mineral absorption (one reason why people who eat a lot of carbs could be minerally depleted).

2. Balance our pH.

An acidic pH in the body has been linked to many different conditions including fatigue, poor digestion, osteoporosis, and inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Some research has also revealed that one of acne’s main triggers could be a pH imbalance.  Eating more alkaline foods such as leafy greens, lemons, cucumbers, parsley, and celery can help to balance out our pH to be less acidic.  It is also important to eat less acid-forming foods such as dairy, sweets, alcohol, coffee/caffeine, and too much protein.  Improving our bodies pH will not only improve the skin, but also our overall health.

3. Eat the right kinds of fats.

Not all fats are created equal when it comes to our skin and our health.  Redness and swelling in the skin can be an indication that the body is inflamed – so either we are eating something that we are sensitive to, or we are getting too many pro-inflammatory fats. Trans fats and oils (such as those found in fried and packaged foods) promote inflammation in the body. Although certain fats can cause inflammation and other skin issues, a low fat diet is not necessarily the right answer either. In addition to minimizing the trans fats and vegetable oils, getting plenty of the right kinds of healthy fats can help to prevent acne and inflammatory skin issues like rosacea.   Healthy fats include olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, and omega 3 rich seeds such as hemp, flax, and chia seeds.  Also fatty fish like salmon and fish oil are high in omega 3 rich fats and will help to reduce inflammation.

4. Detoxify:

As our body’s largest organ, our skin is an important part of our overall detoxifying system – which also includes the liver, kidneys and lungs.  The body need to process and remove toxins, and if we are bringing in more toxins than our body can remove – then we could be creating a toxic load on our organs.  Increase the intake of sticky fiber like chia seeds to help usher out the toxins from the body, and reduce the intake of the following foods – can all help to reduce the toxic load:

  • Processed foods that contain chemicals, preservatives, and lack natural minerals & enzymes (cookies, chips, crackers, diet sodas and foods, processed meats, cereals and breads).
  • Foods that contribute to an imbalance of bacteria – creating an overgrowth of yeast or bad bacteria.  (especially sugary foods, simple carbs – such as breads, crackers).  I wish someone told me in my 20s and 30s that eating sugar ages you.  It also can contribute to acne – primarily because of the hormone insulin.  When our insulin is out of whack, it creates a cascade of hormonal issues – which can result in acne and skin problems.   Cut the sugar and processed carbs out of your diet, and you can watch your face get a mini-facelift.  And your energy will improve too.

5. Boost key vitamins & minerals: 

Eating a diet of processed foods will be lacking in vitamins and minerals.  But even diets that contain fruits and vegetables and whole grains can also be lacking in key vitamins and minerals – because our soil is becoming minerally-deficient.  Choosing organic produce is a smart way to increase our vitamins and minerals, and also taking high quality supplements can help.  Some key vitamins and minerals that are known to help skin:

  • Vitamin A – reduces sebum production and strengthens the skin’s surface. Note: because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, it is important to not take too high a dose of vitamin A, obtain from food sources, or the beta carotene form is preferred.  Check with your doctor. Food sources: sweet potatoes, spinach, and broccoli.
  • B Vitamins – especially  B5 (pantothenic acid). According to a study published in 1995 by Dr. Lit-Hung Leung, high doses of vitamin B5 resolved acne and decreased pore size. It is recommended to take the full complex of B Vitamins together. Food sources: meat, sunflower seeds, broccoli, squash, mushrooms, avocado.
  • Vitamin C – is important for tissue growth, repair, and collagen production.  It also is important in free radical damage prevention, and for speeding healing.  Food sources: red peppers, oranges, strawberries, broccoli.
  • Zinc – Aids in the regulation of the activity of your oil glands, boosts collagen production, helps with wound healing, and helps to prevent free radical damage and prevent scarring.  But zinc is a heavy metal, and can interfere with the absorption of other minerals, so it should not be consumed in too much excess.  Taking a zinc status test is one way to determine if your zinc levels are appropriate.  Sources: oysters, cashews, tahini/sesame seeds, cacao, hemp.

The good thing about taking a foods-based approach to skin care is that it also offers a wide range of other health benefits – from disease prevention to improved digestion and more.  The above list is just a general guide/starting point for a healthy skin diet, there are a number of other foods and supplements that can benefit the skin.  Check with your practitioner for advice regarding your specific situation.

The content of this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons experiencing problems or with questions about their health or medications, should consult their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications or herbs should consult a doctor before taking the above foods, herbs, vitamins or supplements to be sure there are no interactions.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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