I have always loved the combination of peppermint and chocolate – it is a classic. And mint chip ice cream? It’s like a Summer dream…well, except for the nightmarish amount of sugar it typically contains. And if you are dairy intolerant – the pain & discomfort that can follow.
Never fear – I have created a delicious, nutritious and easy superfood mint chip shake that rivals mint chip ice cream – but it has no sugar, no dairy, and is loaded with superfoods – yes, really!!
Also known as the horseradish tree and the drumstick tree, the moringa tree is native to North India – and it’s leaves & pods offer a number of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Moringa is an excellent source of iron, vitamin B6, protein, magnesium, vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C, and other important vitamins and minerals. It may help to reduce blood sugar, cholesterol, and chronic inflammation. There is not enough research to determine if moringa is safe during pregnancy – so therefore talk to your doctor first.
Did you know that peppermint can be a useful remedy for headaches and digestion issues? Peppermint has a mild numbing, cooling, and anti-spasmodic effect, and can even improve the flow of bile, and kill certain types of bacteria. Peppermint may help reduce bloating and gas, and indigestion. However, persons with reflux or GERD may wish to avoid using peppermint. Peppermint may also help to thin mucosal secretions and help to decongest stuffy noses. Applied to the temples (make sure to avoid the eyes!), peppermint may help relieve headaches in some individuals.
Please be very cautious with using peppermint essential oils – as they are very powerful and could burn if applied directly to the eyes or skin, or mouth. Peppermint oils should NOT be used on infants or small children, or taken internally with persons with GERD or reflux. Talk to your doctor before using peppermint oil if you are pregnant, nursing, or taking medications. If using peppermint topically – always dilute it with a carrier oil like coconut oil. If consuming peppermint oil internally, always make sure it is a certified therapeutic grade essential oil – and use only 1 or 2 drops diluted in your beverage or food. Learn more about doTERRA essential oils.
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.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
I love cauliflower and broccoli – my favorite way to make has usually been to cut it up into small florets, toss in avocado oil, season it, and roast it in the oven….that is, until I discovered how quick and easy it is to saute riced cauliflower and broccoli. This dish comes together in about 5 mins, and is delicious, satisfying, filling, and very nutritious!
Cauliflower and broccoli are members of the cruciferous family of vegetables which are high in sulfur compounds, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals – they support our cardiovascular, digestive, immune, inflammatory, and detoxification systems. Consuming cruciferous vegetables at least once a week has been associated with lower risk of developing certain types of cancer, and supports healthy cholesterol levels and heart health. Just one cup of broccoli has over 200% of the RDA for vitamin K, an important nutrient for bone building; it also has over 100% of the RDA for vitamin C.
You can ‘rice’ cauliflower and broccoli by grating it with a boxed grater; or you can roughly chop it and then pulse it in the food processor until “riced” – meaning it is broken down into rice sized pieces. But I recently discovered already riced organic cauliflower and broccoli in the freezer section of Sprouts – which just makes it super easy when you don’t have time to grate it or pull out the food processor. I think you can find it at Trader Joes too.
Warm saute pan on medium high, add oil and let it get hot. Add in your riced cauliflower and broccoli, season and saute for about 5 minutes, or until cooked through to your desired amount.
Serve! This dish can be a side dish, be added to salads or soups, and mixed with rice or pasta. Enjoy!!
If you know me – you know I am a fan of dark chocolate. I am kind of a chocolate snob actually – it has to be DARK, and high quality.
I am also a huge fan of coconut oil. Coconut oil is my favorite oil – it is high in medium chain fatty acids – which are boosting to the metabolism, and a good source of energy. Coconut oil does not require bile salts for digestion – so it is a good fat for people with gallbladder issues. Coconut oil is naturally antibacterial and antiviral, so it helps to prevent bacterial overgrowth while helping to lubricate the digestive tract. This makes it a useful remedy for constipation. There is even some evidence that coconut oil could potentially reduce the risk of developing dementia/Alzheimers (or reduce the symptom and progression of those with an early diagnosis). This is a very delicious way to get someone to eat their coconut oil.
I like to make my own chocolates using coconut oil – usually I use raw cacao, but this recipe is way easier – because instead of making it all from scratch, I just use chocolate chips and coconut oil.
This makes 1 batch/tray of mini chocolate squares – I used the square one of these silicon ice cube tray molds (this is nice as it comes with a cover). If using a larger mold like this heart shaped one, then double the recipe and cover with plastic wrap.
Occasional mild constipation can happen to anyone – often it is due to a stressful event, interruptions to your routine, or diet (maybe you were traveling, or you just went a little crazy with the cheese plate). But generally, as long as you get back to you normal routine or diet, or the stress subsides – the constipation will resolve and you will be feeling normal in a day or so. If you have ever had occasional constipation, you know the feeling – discomfort, bloating, feeling full, gassy and sluggish. Now imagine what it would be like to feel that way most of the time. Chronic constipation is hte #1 cause of kids’ belly pain, and a common reason to miss school and activities. In addition – being constipated can impede the body’s ability to detoxify. When constipation is ongoing or chronic, it generally is a signal that something is amiss somewhere in the digestion and elimination process – with the organs, the nerves, and anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract.
In some cases, constipation can become a medical emergency. According to this article by Dr. Mercola – Constipation Emergencies are on the Rise, “there was a 42 percent increase in ER visits for constipation in the US between 2006 and 2011.” If chronic constipation goes on for a long time, it could leads to a blockage, also known as fecal impaction.
Not everyone agrees on the definition of constipation – some experts say as long as you “go” 3 times a week, you are fine. But most natural & holistic health practitioners say anything less than 1 daily movement is constipation. You should look before you flush, because another way to identify constipation is by the quality of the stool – even if you are passing stool – if they are hard, little pebbles – it is considered constipation. (see below Bristol stool chart). Another consideration is when you are not completely emtpying the bowel – incomplete evacuations are another sign of constipation. Also – if someone has to strain every time they go in order to pass the stool – this is another sign of constipation. The ideal situation is to have at least one complete evacuation of the bowel daily with a type 3 or 4 bowel movement on the Bristol Stool chart – which is a smooth and easy to pass stool. Some people may pass more than 1 daily.
Chronic constipation can be caused by a long list of issues including:
For constipation sufferers – the tasteless and odorless over the counter medication Miralax seemed to offer an easy solution to the problem – just stir it into a glass of water or juice, and drink it down – problem solved, right? Not so fast…although doctors have been recommending it as a safe solution for constipation in kids for years, prescribing Miralax is not FDA approved for use in children, so giving it to kids is an “off-label” use. And giving it to anyone for longer than a week is also off label. Miralax’s label – says that it is for use in people age 17 and over, and not for more than 7 days (without a doctor’s orders).
The research on the long-term safety of propylene glycol (PEG) use in kids is limited at best. And there have been concerns regarding the safty of Miralax’s use in children for several years. According to the NY Times, “the Empire State Consumer Project, a New York consumer group, sent a citizen petition to the F.D.A. on behalf of parents concerned about the increase in so-called adverse events related to PEG that health professionals and consumers have reported to the F.D.A. over the past decade.” According to this NY Times article, tests conducted by the F.D.A. in 2008 on eight batches of Miralax, found tiny amounts of ethylene glycol (EG) and diethylene glycol (DEG) in all of the samples – which are ingredients in antifreeze. Despite being conducted in 2008, the results of the tests were not disclosed to the public. The article also said that taking Miralax for long periods of time could lead to developing “acidic blood.”
Since the start of 2017, a growing number of parents have come forward complaining of a myriad of psychological, behavorial, and neurological symptoms that they have been linked to the active ingredient propylene glycol (PEG) found in Miralax and some other laxatives – these side effect include tics, stuttering, anger/aggression, depression, anxiety, memory issues, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and more. There is a Facebook group called Parents Against Miralax that has grown from about 2,000 to over 18,000 members in just a few weeks time.
Many doctors are still recommending it as a safe option, while others are questioning the safety. “Every pediatric GI physician, I would guarantee you, has told a family this is a safe product,” said Dr. Kent C. Williams, a gastroenterologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Now, he worries, “it may not be true.” According to the NY Times, “Scrutiny for Laxatives as a Childhood Remedy.”
Many kids and families have been using Miralax without being told of the potential risks, and having never been offered any natural alternatives to try first. Now with the possible side effect concerns – a lot of parents are scrambling to find a safe & natural alternative to Miralax – that works.
The good news is there are lots of natural alternatives that are safe, effective, and offer lots of positive health benefits.
Note: Do not expect constipation to resolve overnight – take your time and implement changes very slowly and gradually to allow the body to adjust. Any major changes made to the diet or with supplements are best done on the weekend when the child is not rushing out of the house, and can be near a toilet in case they happen to get loose stools, and home relaxing in case there is any discomfort, gas, or bloating. Kids under the age of 4, or with a medical conditions (such as kidney disease), or currently taking medications – should speak to their pediatrician or specialist before implementing any of the below suggestion. The content of this article is not to be construed as medical advice. – all information provided in this article is general and not specific to individuals. Contact your doctor or specialist with any questions about how this information pertains to you, your child.
Studies show that most kids are not replenishing enough fluids each day, making them chronically dehydrated. Without proper hydration, the stools can become hard and difficult to pass (Type 1 and 2 on the Bristol chart). Overtime this situation can become chronic constipation. Just correcting hydration alone can potentially solve the constipation problem for certain kids!
When constipation is chronic, going on an allergy elimination diet is a very good idea. Undiagnosed food allergies or sensitivities can cause inflammation, digestive troubles, problems absorbing nutrients, and constipation. It is also important to discover a food sensitivity because they can lead to damage in the small intestine, and many other very serious health issues overtime. I generally recommend keeping a food journal for a few days before starting the elimination diet, during the elimination period, and after. Download this Food Mood Journal for free.
Almost any intolerance to a food could cause constipation, two of the most common culprits are dairy and gluten:
Test – Don’t want to do an elimation diet, or would rather just test? A food intolerance panel can be run to identify food intolerances as well – such as the ALCAT test.
Cutting back on sugary and processed or “enriched” foods will not only benefit digestion – but it will benefit weight, energy, and overall health too. Processed foods lack enzymes, fiber and nutrients. Diets that are highly processed and sugary not only can lead to constipation, but can also lead to inflammation in the gut and an overgrowth of candida, which is a yeast. Also – the more sweet foods a child eats, the less they will enjoy unsweetened foods like vegetables, so getting rid of the sugar for a little while helps to reset the taste buds and metabolism. High sugar consumption also raises our triglycerides, blood sugar, and increases our risk of many diseases. Read: 20 Reasons to Break up with Sugar to learn more.
Increasing foods that are naturally rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals like fruits and vegetables will help to get the digestion moving better. Some particularly good foods for constipation include: prunes and other dried fruits, pears, kiwis, blueberries, cooked beets, cooked sweet potatoes, cooked oatmeal, and (well hydrated) chia seeds.
If you want to get “things” moving – get moving!! Exercise is really important for overall health and digestion. Kids have more reasons than ever to be sedentary – lots of screentime, homework, etc. Kids who are not out being active can suffer from sluggish digestion. In addition to promoting regularity, exercise also benefits our mood, weight, energy, and sleep. So turn off the screens and get moving!
Healthy fats help to lubricate the colon and keep things moving. My favorite fat for constipation is coconut oil. It is antiviral, antibacterial – so it will help to improve the bacterial balance in the colon, and it also does not require bile salts for digstion – so those with a sluggish gallbladder will still be able to digest it well. It is also metabolism-boosting and easily converted into energy. Any adult that has tried a Bulletproof coffee (which has 1-2 Tablespoons of coconut oil, plus 1-2 Tablespoons of grass fed butter in it) can attest to the fact that eating a lot of coconut oil and butter can make you “go!” Other healthy fats that benefit digestion and metabolism include grass fed butter, flax oil (not for cooking), olive oil, and avocado oil.
Some ways to get coconut oil into the diet are – adding it to smoothies, stir into oatmeal, cook with it, and making these “coconut oil chocolates”:
It is important to make sure your child has enough time each morning to sit and relax on the potty before going off to school. Even if you have to wake them up earlier in the morning – make sure they have plenty of time after breakfast to sit on the potty. Morning is one of the most optimal times to have a bowel movement. Sometimes kids will “hold it” at school, traveling, or if they are out in public. Some teachers might restrict bathroom breaks, to limit disruptions to the school day. If your child suffers from urinary tract, constipation or digestive troubles; make sure to inform the teacher so he knows to not to restrict your child’s access to the bathroom. If the teacher does not agree, bring your issue to the principal, there is a disabilities act that prevents kids who have continence issues from being restricted from using the bathroom.
The modern toilet is not designed to put our bodies into the ideal position for moving our bowels. Raising the feet up onto a stool or a Squatty Potty can be very helpful in getting the anatomy in the right position to make a bowel movement. Especially little kids whose feet don’t even reach the ground – they need a little support. The Squatty Potty comes in two sizes, to fit the individual just right and get them into the right squatting position for optimal bowel movements. It also stores neatly under the toilet when not in use. If you don’t want to invest in a Squatty Potty – you could stack up some books, or use a little step stool – but once you do – you will see how great it is to get in the right position and you will want the Squatty Potty – because it can be washed clean, and fits perfectly next to the potty. As they say “try the stool for your stools!”
Too much calcium and not enough magnesium can lead to constipation (it also has been linked to increased risk of heart attack, due to calcifications of the arteries). As many as 70% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. This can result in constipation, headaches, sore muscles, nerve troubles, restless legs, nervousness, and even increased fractures. Taking magnesium before bedtime is helpful with constipation. For some kids, taking magnesium before school is also helpful – as magnesium is called “the calming mineral’ – so it can help them to be calm in school.
Seek out foods that are rich in magnesium – like dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. If you are craving chocolate, it could be your body telling you that you need magnesium, because cacao (the main ingredient in chocolate) is one of the highest known food sources for magnesium. Most people also will benefit from taking a magnesium supplements, such as Natural Calm (for ages 4 and up). Magnesium can also be absorbed via the skin by soaking in an epsom or Dead Sea salt bath – I particularly like this brand Dead Sea Warehouse‘s salt bath product – it is very high quality and affordable. Another option is using magnesium oils – which can be applied topically.
If your bowels are feeling sluggish, vitamin C supplements can be a wonderful way to get the bowels moving. Chewing one or two of these vitamin C gummies on an empty stomach in the morning, might just be what is needed to produce a bowel movement (BM). – they are 125 mg each. For older kids, you might want to find a capsule, powder, or liquid vitamin C with 500 mg./serving. Vitamin C (like magnesium) can be taken to bowel tolerance* (the amount needed to produce a BM). If the stool is loose*, just take less vitamin C. If the vitamin C bothers the tummy – look for a buffered brand, or take with food (it will have less of an effect of moving the bowels however if taken with food). If tummy upset occurs from taking vitamin C, 1 glass of water with a 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda mixed in might help reduce the acidity of the vitamin C. Learn more here: vitamin c for constipation.
* Taking too much magnesium or vitamin C can lead to diarrhea, so you want to gradually increase it over several days. If diarhea does occur – make sure to give your child an electrolyte replenisher and fluids – I like Scratch Labs electrolyte replenisher packets, or Nuun tablets. Make sure to back off and take less magnesium and vitamin C if this does occur.
Most Americans do not get nearly the amount of fiber they need each day. There are 2 types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble dissolves in water, creating a gel. Insoluble fiber passes through undigested, so it adds bulk. Adding too much fiber to the diet too quickly is not a good idea – it can cause discomfort, and can even make the constipation worse, especially if fluids are not increased along with the added fiber. So make sure to drink extra liquids as well when increasing dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber because it needs to soak up water in order to work. Adding in too much fiber, too fast, without enough fluids could not only cause discomfort, gas and bloating – it could even potentially cause a blockage – especially if there are already hard stools stuck in the colon. If a stool has not been produced within the past day, before adding in fiber to the diet – consider using an enema or suppository to make sure the colon is clean first – this will make a blockage less likely to develop from the added fiber. And remember to add the fiber in gradually.
Ideally before adding in any bulking fibers (insoluble fiber)… the bowels should have moved and be fairly cleaned out. If all of the above steps have been implemented and the bowels have not been moved. It is a good idea to do a thorough bowel “clean out.” Often, doctors will prescribe Miralax for this. But there are many other ways to achieve a clean out without Miralax. A glycerin or liquid pediatric suppository or an enema may be used at this point. If a suppository or enema is chosen, it is important for everyone to remain calm and not to appear embarrassed – the child often will mirror our behavior and attitude, and if they are tense – it can make it more uncomfortable. Using a little coconut oil as lubrication can make it significantly more comfortable. (Read: How to give a child an enema in 5 Steps).
Approximately how much fiber should my child get each day? It can vary from person to person – but a general guideline for kids ages 3-18 is to add the number 5 to your child’s age, and in general, that is the number of grams of fiber they need daily – so an average 11 year old, should have about 16 grams of fiber per day. A 6 year old needs about 11 grams. Recommednations for an average adult are to get about 25 grams each day. But again – this can very from person to person. Through experiementation – find what works for you and your child – and try to have a balance of soluble and insoluble fibers.
Some good fiber sources:
We need to balance out the bacteria in our gut – probiotics boosts the good bacteria, which is very important for healthy digestion, a balanced weight, and a strong immune system. Fermented and cultured foods and drinks such as kefir and yogurts can provide natural probiotics, or you can add a probiotic supplement to the daily routine. Prebiotics are also helpful – because they are food for the probiotics. Prebiotics are founnd in certain fibrous foods, and supplements.
There are instances when taking probiotics or prebiotics may not be a good idea – at least initially. If someone has Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), that means that there is bacteria growing in the small intestine, this can lead to bloating and distention when carbohydrates are eaten. If you suspect that your child may have SIBO ( gas, bloating after eating carbs), then you might want to seek out a SIBO specialist to have them evaluated and treated – they may or may not think probiotics are a good idea. Once the SIBO is resolved, probiotics may or may not be appropriate for repopulating the gut to prevent further dysbiosis. Some of the supplements mentioned above have probiotics and prebiotics
Read The Importance of Good Bacteria to learn more.
The body naturally produces hydrochloric acid (HcL) and enzymes to digest foods, which are needed to break food down for absorption and digestion. If we are low on stomach acid or enzymes, food may not get properly broken down for digestion, so it will be harder to pass through the digestive tract, and also the body will absorb less of the nutrients. If you suffer from acid reflux, you might think that you need to reduce the acid in your stomach. But usually, it means you do not have enough acid or enzymes.
Constipation can stem from issues with motility. When the migrating motor complex or the vagus nerve re not working optimally – this can lead to slow motility. If that is the case, stimulating the vagus nerve can help to get things moving again. Singing, vigorous gargling, gagging, and deep breathing can stimulate the vagus nerve. Or you can use a device called Nervana – which stimualtes the vagus nerve through the ear. In addition to improving motility, stimulating the vagus nerve can help with reducing stress and anxiety, and promoting a calm feeling and good sleep.
One of my favorite ways to sneak lots of good nutrition, fiber and hydration into a glass are smoothies. Especially good for picky eaters – smoothies are a great way to sneak in healthy ingredients!
Orange Dream Smoothie:
Makes one 8 oz. smoothie
Essential oils can be very helpful for dealing with the discomfort of constipation and helping resolve digestion issues. I like a product called Digest Zen from DoTerra. Peppermint essential oil is also very helpful when there is bloating or discomfort. But please be aware that essential oils are very powerful – even one drop is powerful – so always be sure to keep them out of young children’s reach. When using topically, always use a carrier oil (coconut works wonderfully). You can put a tablespoon of coconut oil into a little container – and add a few drops of essential oil like Dgest Zen – and then rub that on the belly as needed. You could also order or make your own DigestZen rollerball that has the carrier oil in it. Another topical remedy to consider is castor oil. Just rub a little castor oil on the right side of the abdomen (this is the liver area) before bedtime.
Realize that digestion issues may take a while to resolve, and it might be a good idea to slowly ease into the changes. If the constipation and digestion issues continue to persist, it might be prudent to schedule an appointment with a holistic or integrative practitioner to see if there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed – such as an infection, parasites, SIBO, or another issue.
And just remember that if allowed to go on for a long time or get severe, constipation can become a medical emergency. According to this article by Dr. Mercola – Constipation Emergencies are on the Rise, “there was a 42 percent increase in ER visits for constipation in the US between 2006 and 2011.” If chronic constipation goes on for a long time, it could leads to a blockage, also known as fecal impaction. Or in rare very severe cases – constipation that has gone on too long – could lead to sepsis, a very dangerous infection. So it is important to not allow a child to go more than a a few days without eliminating – you may need to use an enema or a glycerin suppository to prevent a blockage if a child has gone more than a couple days without having a BM, and is getting very uncomfortable, is not eating well, and is not able to produce a stool on his/her own. If this is happening – please seek medical attention right away/have your child evalated by a gastroenterologist or pediatrician.
* Please note: the content in this article is for children ages 4 and up, and without any kidney disorder. This content is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided in this article is general and not specific to individuals. Persons experiencing problems or with questions about their health or medications, should consult their medical professional. Persons should carefully read the labels of all foods and supplements, and those who are taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before taking the above foods, herbs, vitamins or supplements to be sure there are no interactions. Linked articles are provided for further resources and information and should not be construed as medical advice.
Drug for Adults Is Popular as Children’s Remedy – Previous title for this article was: “Miralax – a popular cure but never approved for children”
Have you heard of resistant starch? Resistant starch is sometimes called the “Skinny Starch” because it can improve digestion, stabilize insulin and blood sugar, provid longer lasting energy, improved digestion and gut bacteria – all of which could potentially mean flatter bellies and weight loss.
Resistant Starch is a type of carbohydrate that “resists” digestion, meaning it passes through the stomach and the small intestine relatively unchanged. When it reaches the colon, it serves as a prebiotic fiber. A pre-biotic is different than a pro-biotic. A pre-biotic feeds the probiotic (good) bacteria. So you want both – in order to keep the good bacteria (probiotics) in your colon happy – you need to regularly feed them (prebiotics).
Certain foods contain resistant starch naturally such as plant-based foods with a cellular structure that offers some resistance to digestion – like legumes, tiger nuts, and whole grains. Certain kinds of starch are naturally resistant to digestion in their raw or unriped state – like green bananas, raw potatoes, and green plantains. Some starches become resistant to digestion after they are cooked then cooled – such as potatoes, rice, or pasta. Note: if you reheat these foods they will lose some of the resistant starch, but will also retain some. There are also man made resistant starches, called “superstarch” – which is a food that has been modified/changed in order to be more resistant to digestion.
When resistant starch reaches the colon – it creates a short chain fatty acid chemical called butyrate – which changes the pH of the colon and has been shown to reduce inflammation, improve intestinal permeability, improve digestion, elimination and the metabolism. It also makes the colon a less hospitable environment for bad bacteria and even for colon cancers to develop. So regularly consuming resistant starch could potentially reduce our risk for colon cancer – the 4th most common type of cancer. (Read more)
Mark my words – resistant starch is pretty cool – I would even call it a “metabolism hack.”
But before you run out and start to load up on resistant starch – realize that like any fiber – especially a prebiotic one – you want to incorporate it slowly, or it could potentially cause digestive upset. So start with a teaspoon or less at first to see how you do first.
One of the best sources of resistant starch in my opinion comes from a small tuber called a tiger nut. You can eat the nuts whole, or use tiger nut flour. I buy Tiger Nut Flour from Organic Gemini. I add a Tablespoon of Tiger Nut flour to my smoothie every morning.
Another benefit of resistant starch is that it can also help some people sleep – so this Tiger Nut & Cashew Horchata drink I created could be a nice thing to have before bedtime.
I also like to make raw desserts with tiger nut flour – like this delicious Skinny Starch Raspberry Tart recipe.
To learn more about resistant starch and get a recipe book (recipes include Cookie Dough Balls and Skinny Thin Mints!), sign up for my online Course – All About Resistant Starch.
If you struggle with anxiety and stress, you are not alone. One of the most common complaints that I hear from clients – kids and adults alike – is feelings of anxiety.
We are all under so much pressure day in and day out, and running from one thing to the next – it is easy to feel like a hamster running on those hamster wheels all day long!! And with to do lists a mile long, presents to buy, travel and parties, bills piling up…the stress & anxiety levels can definitely go up during the holidays.
Excess stress can lead to elevated blood pressure, and overtime it can also cause elevated cholesterol levels, weight gain, hormone imbalances, digestion issues, mood imbalances, blood sugar issues, and can even be a trigger for diseases. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, showed a 4.2 % increase in heart-related deaths between December 25th and January 7th, some of which could be attributed to elevated stress levels – read more.
But fortunately, there are several natural and healthy ways to deal with and reduce anxiety and stress all year long.
I love a good cup of Joe, but if you are trying to reduce your stress levels – that might not be the best way to start your day because it can amp you up too much and make you jittery and anxious. You might be thinking – “But, Sara! I need my caffeine to get going in the morning!” The perfect solution is the switch your morning cup of coffee for a cup of matcha tea. Matcha tea has just enough caffeine to give you a nice energy boost, without making you jittery. And the bonus – matcha tea also has a compound called L-Theanine – which is an amino acid that helps to promote a calm focused feeling. L-Theanine is such a powerful way to reduce anxiety and promote calm feelings, that it is sometimes called “Nature’s Xanax“. It does this by enhancing the brain’s alpha waves – which creates a deep feeling of relaxation without any sedation or drowsiness. L-theanine may also help to clear excess free glutamates from the brain, which may contribute to anxiety (free glutamates are found in processed foods, especially those which contain monosodium glutamate – so I always tell clients with anxious kids to skip the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Doritos – and any other foods which contain MSG)! If you want the benefit of the L-theanine without the caffeine – you can take an L-theanine supplement too – which is nice to do in the evening to calm down before bedtime. L-Theanine does not contain caffeine, so you can take it any time of day. Although it won’t make you feel sleepy, the calm feeling L-theanine provides, can enhance sleep at night. A 2004 Australian study found L-Theanine to be more effective at inducing relaxation than Xanax!
I find that L-Theanine can even be an effective replacement a glass of wine for taking the ‘edge off’, it can also help to lower blood sugar, and ward off sugar cravings too.
Magnesium is a mineral, a very important mineral at that – it is responsible for over 350 biochemical processes in the body – from glucose regulation to ATP production, bone & heart health, hormones, and much more. Most people are already deficient in magnesium – and stress only makes us more depleted. Magnesium is often called “the calming mineral, or the “chill pill” – so if we are deficient, it is no wonder we could be feeling anxious. To increase your magnesium, you could eat more magnesium rich foods like nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and….chocolate!! But go for the dark chocolate, because it is raw cacao where the magnesium is found, and dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate. You can also take a magnesium supplement – just know that not all types of magnesium are created equal – some are poorly absorbed, and some can have stool softening effects. So it is important to choose the right form of magnesium – I avoid the oxide form, which is poorly absorbed, and has a laxative effect. I prefer these forms of magnesium: malate, glycinate, orotate, and citrate (citrate is highly bioavailable, but it can also cause loose stools, so start with a low dose like 150 mg). Magensium can also be absorbed through the skin, so soaking in a bath with magnesium-rich epsom salts can boost your magnesium levels. Or you can spray a magnesium oil on your skin too. When I am under stress, I find that increasing my magnesium supplements can help me feel a lot calmer. This is the magnesium supplement that we take at our house: Designs for Health Magnesium Malate.
Believe it or not, essential oils can have a very powerful effect on our mood. I like to diffuse them, use them topically, and I even will put a couple drops of lavendar into my foot soak and onto my pillow for a calming effect at night. Interested in learning more about essential oils? Contact email@example.com
Whenever someone tells me they have anxiety – I ask how their digestion is, because believe it or not – many cases of anxiety begin in the gut. Our gut has actually been called our second brain! So addressing gut issues is a great tool for dealing with anxiety. One thing I like to recommend is trying to add a high quality probiotic. I usually recommend a specific strain – called Bacilius coagulans – because it is it is a soil based probiotic – which means it helps to “seed” your gut with good bacteria and crowd out the bad. It is also generally very well tolerated and doesn’t tend to cause bloating. So that is my favorite strain, and it is not the most common one either. You can also eat fermented foods and drinks too – that will help to tip the balance of good bacteria back in your favor too. I have heard that just doing this has helped people reduce their anxiety levels. This is the probiotic I take and recommend: Pure Prescriptions’ Digestive Defense.
Our gut is connected to our brain via something called the Vagus Nerve. The vagus nerve plays a critical role in our parasympathetic nervous system – the side of our nervous system that is responsible for relaxation, rest, and recovery. When the sympathetic nervous system is turned on all the time – we are stuck in a stress response – this can lead to anxiety, poorly controlled stress, and can cause our digestion and hormones to get out of balance. When there are problems with the vagus nerve, it can lead to all kinds of issues – ranging from anxiety to focus, and even digestion issues like slow motility. When we have out of control stress levels for long periods of time, our vagus nerve can get weak. In order to get it working again and doing its’ job to calm us down, we need to stimuate it. One way to stimulate the vagus nerve is by gargling – very vigorously several times a day. Singing loudly can also stimulate the vagus nerve, and so can the gag reflex- although some people may not wish to gag repeatedly every day. If those things don’t sound appealing to you – you might want to consider the Nervana device. I recently found and started using this amazing device called Nervana – it looks like a music player – but really what it is doing is stimulating the vagus nerve. Kind of like a workout for the vagus nerve!! I have been using it twice a day, and I have found that my digestion and mood have definitely benefitted.
I could call this the “Sleepy time” drink because resistant starch (found in tiger nut flour) can support healthy sleep and stable blood sugar levels. So this would be a great bedtime snack – because it could help you get a good night’s rest! But it is also great during the day because resistant starch helps to provide long lasting energy too.
Put the liquid into the blender, add the cashew butter and blend it thoroughly to make into a milk. Add the Tiger Nut flour (and protein powder if using) and let it sit for a couple minutes to soak. Then add the vanilla, cinnamon, and pinch of salt – blend well. Add a cube or two of ice if you wish to chill it, blend again.
Pour into a glass and serve. Give this a try before bedtime and see if you don’t sleep like a baby!!
In addition to improving sleep, and energy – resistant starch can help us feel more satisfied and full, it can also benefit digestion, even potentially lowering the risk of colon cancer! To learn more about the benefits of resistant starch, and get some more recipes – sign up for my eCourse: All About Resistant Starch.
It’s official. I’m obsessed with this recipe. I seriously daydream about it.
Now, if we are being honest here, there are no actual “noodles” in this recipe…but when you taste it, you won’t care.
I almost called this recipe Spaghetti Squash Garlic “Bread“, because this recipe tastes just like garlic bread – well, without the actual bread part. But since spaghetti squash is kind of like spaghetti, I thought calling it garlic ‘noodles‘ was less of a stretch than garlic bread in this case.
Bonus – this recipe is super simple, it is great as a side or a main course, and it is also good leftover!
And did I mention…? It tastes like garlic bread!! Yeah, I think I probably already did mention that…
For someone who has been gluten free for a long time, getting to have garlic bread without the bread is the bomb.com!!
Two other great ways to top spaghetti squash are marinara sauce and pesto.
It’s delicious and sweet, it makes us happy, and gives us a little burst of energy.
We celebrate with it, and it is there for us whenever we need it.
At first glimpse, it seems like everything we could want in a relationship.
Sugar hides behind the “harmless empty calories” myth. Hey, I used to believe it too.
Well, one part is true – sugar is definitely empty calories. But the part that is the lie is that sugar is “harmless.”
Now don’t get me wrong – a little natural sweetness for someone with a healthy metabolism is okay– a square or two of (70% or higher) dark chocolate, a deliciously rich and creamy cacao avocado pudding…
But the problem with sugar is most of us have a hard time getting just a little bit….
Sugar is hiding in over 75% of all packaged foods, so it is sneaking into our diets – so much so, that we often have no idea how much sugar we are getting every day.
Sugar is highly addictive – the more we eat, the more we want.
The energy sugar delivers is short-lived – it is followed by a crash – so we reach for more of the sweet stuff to get another boost. I call that cycle ‘the sugar rollercoaster” – and the longer we are on that ride, the worst it is for our health.
Woefully, the real truth is that excess sugar has a dark side, a very serious dark side. Not only is excess sugar the #1 reason for a sluggish metabolism and stubborn weight gain, it is making billions of people sick….including our children.
Chronically elevated blood sugar raises the risk of almost every major disease. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons you might want to consider a “break up”….
Especially weight gain in the midsection. When we say we want to “lose weight” what we really mean is that we want to lose fat. But when we are eating too much sugar – our metabolism is in what I call “sugar-burning mode” which means it is running on sugars – and storing the extra as fat (adipose tissue). So when the metabolism is in sugar burning mode – it is not burning fat, it is storing it. This is referred to as “insulin resistance” and leads to stubborn weight gain – and a host of other issues.
Sweet foods and drinks stimulate our sweet tooth – so the more sweets we eat (even artificial sweetened foods and drinks), the more we want. So eating lots of sugar and simple carbs just makes us hungrier. Studies show that when meals are consumed with sugary drinks, more calories are consumed. Poor blood sugar regulation can lead to big swings – causing dangerous highs and lows – the drops in blood sugar can make you feel angry when you are hungry – sometimes called “hangry.”
Studies show that sugar lowers the white blood cell count and therefore our immune system. So eating sugar and simple carbs all the time means our immune system is running low all the time.
Like any other addictive drug, the sugar rollercoaster has a powerful effect on our mood and brain chemistry. When our blood sugar is high, it gives us energy and makes us feel happy. But when it drops, it can make us feel tired, sad and low. So we reach for more of what gave us that boost – that puts us on a rollercoaster ride that causes our mood to be very unstable. Over time, these sugar highs and lows can lead to more serious mood disorders. Sugar also causes an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria, which is tied to anxiety and other issues. Depressed Immune System: A 1973 study out of Loma Linda University found that consuming a glucose solution lowered the effectiveness of white blood cells to fight infection.
Sugar and simple carbs does not supply lasting energy – it spikes our blood sugar, which is then followed by a crash. When we crash, we are going to be looking for another energy boost hungry. So what do we reach for to get energy again – more sugar or simple carbs because it gives us a quick boost! I call that cycle “The Sugar Rollercoaster, and just like an actual roller coaster – the longer we are on that ride, the more likely we are to get sick.
The hallmark of most chronic diseases – is chronic and systemic inflammation. A diet high in sugars raises our inflammation, and this can raise our risk of many diseases.
Sugars feeds yeast and fungus. So diets high in sugar can sometimes lead to chronic overgrowth of yeast, bacteria or fungus (often this will happen after a course of antibiotics that wipes out the good bacteria.) Other issues in the gut – including bacterial overgrowth, dysbiosis, leaky gut can also be linked to excess sugar intake.
One of the most obvious things we are taught from a very young age about sugar – is that too much of it is not good for our teeth. The dentist warns our kids about it around Halloween time. But Halloween is not the only time of year that we eat too much sugar. The average person gets at least 3 times the added sugars every single day!
When we spike our blood sugar over and over, our body eventually becomes less effective at lowering it. This can develop into Insulin Resistance, which is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes (and possibly Type 3, see Alzheimer’s disease below). Insulin resistance makes our body less able to process sugars – which can lead to fatigue, hunger, and weight gain. But the tricky thing is that insulin resistance often has no obvious symptoms. Which is why many people have no idea that they have it. Insulin resistance can lead to pre-diabetes, and if not addressed – eventually diabetes. Poorly managed diabetes can lead to serious health issues like nerve pain & damage, kidney failure, loss of limbs, and blindness. Do you remember that Type 2 Diabetes used to be called Adult-onset until a few year ago? They had to rename it – because kids were getting it. Sugar is harming the health of the majority of our youth – and setting them up for a lifetime of health issues.
According to this article on Dr. Chris Kresser’s website – “metabolic syndrome could more simply be called “excess carbohydrate disease”. In fact, some researchers have gone as far as defining metabolic syndrome as “those physiologic markers that respond to reduction in dietary carbohydrate.” The American Heart Association published a statement in Circulation, that excess sugar consumption increases our risk of heart attack and stroke. Having impaired blood glucose tolerance was found to increase the risk of stroke by 50%. Even a fasting glucose over 85 mg/dl (considered a “lab normal” level) was associated with an increased risk of cardiac mortality. The worst offender for heart health? Sodas. Studies have found that men who drink 1 soda a day increase heart disease risk factors by 20%. And before you pick up a diet soda – realize that drinking diet sodas are linked to a 44% increased risk of heart disease.
Ninety years ago Nobel Laureate Dr. Otto Warburg discovered that sugar fuels cancer cells. Since then various studies have demonstrated a potent link between sugar and cancer, including that malignant cells die when starved of glucose. Sugar molecules are present in high numbers near cancer cells, in fact – that is one way to test for cancer – you take a radioactive glucose solution, and using a a PET scan – they can see that areas that are cancerous take up more of the solution than non-cancerous areas. But a 2013 University of Copenhagen study found that sugar was not just present in cancer cells – but that it aided the growth of malignant cells. Researchers out of the University of Wurzburg in Germany, concluded that “significantly reducing the intake of dietary carbs could suppress or at least delay the emergence of cancer, and the proliferation of existing tumor cells could be slowed down.” According to the study, “many cancer patients exhibit an altered glucose metabolism characterized by insulin resistance and may profit from an increased protein and fat intake.” There is currently promising research underway at the Salk Institute in La Jolla led by Dr. Reuben Shaw, PhD. to study the link between diabetes, sugar metabolism, and cancer.
A recent study found that drinking sodas caused elevated levels of protein in our urine, which can be an indicator of kidney problems. According to a researcher with the study: “There is no safe amount of soda. If you look at the recommended amounts of sugar we can safely consume every day, one can of soda exceeds the maximum level.” This is one example that shoots a big hole in the age-old adage “everything in moderation.”
Research is revealing that diets high in sugar (particularly fructose), strains the liver, and is contributing to the development of non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) . The American Liver Foundation estimates that one quarter of Americans have NAFLD, but since there is often no symptoms, these estimates could be too low. Fructose, one form of sugar – is processed differently than glucose. It does not require insulin to get into the cells. It bypasses the pancreas (which releases the insulin) and instead goes directly to the liver to be processed. So because fructose does not spike our bloodsugar like other sugars do, it was originally thought to be a healthier option – because it is lower glycemic. And when taken in small amounts by healthy people – there could be some truth to this. However – because our liver only has a limited capacity to handle fructose and sugar – and we are eating loads of fructose (often as high fructose corn syrup), we are overwhelming our livers – causing them to get fatty. Dr. Hyman refers to fatty livers being like “fois gras.” Perhaps the most disturbing part of this is that an estimated one in 10 kids has NAFLD, and 40% of obese kids having it.
Scientific studies reveal that elevated blood sugar and oxidative stress are contributing factors in the development of osteoporosis (Clarke 2010, Confavreux 2009, Lieben 2009; Zhou 2011). Advanced glycation end products (AGE’s), the by-products of high blood sugar were shown to impair bone mineralization. AGE’s also activate a receptor called RAGE, which diverts calcium from the bone, into vascular smooth muscle cells, which can lead to hardening of the arteries/ heart disease. (Study by: Tanikawa 2009; Franke 2007; Hein 2006; Zhou 2011).
A study conducted at the University of British Columbia found that a diet high in sugars, especially fructose, could interrupt our sex hormones, leading to fertility issues, PCOS, and endometriosis. One reason sugar can interrupt hormone imbalance is in part the strain that is put on the liver to metabolize the fructose. The liver is very important for detoxing hormones. Another way that excess sugar affects hormones is through aromatization – which is the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Diets high in sugar and simple carbs can increase aromatization – leading to estrogen dominance conditions in men and women.
We all know that too much sun damage can make our skin look older, and smoking is a definite no no if we don’t want to look wrinkled and have lackluster skin. But one lesson I really wish I had gotten when I was in my teens or 20s to help keep your skin looking baby soft? Skip the sugar. Sugar creates something called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs), which damages the collagen and elastin in our skin, and causes our skin to sag and look more wrinkled. When there is sugar in our bloodsteam, they attach to proteins to form molecules that are called Advanced glycation end products (appropriately the acronym is AGEs). The more sugar you eat, the more of these AGEs develop. AGEs are known to damage the collagen and elastin proteins in the skin, which is what gives the skin it’s elasticity, and volume, and helps to prevent wrinkles. Sugar affects our skin in 3 ways: When AGEs come into contact with collagen it changes the normally elastic and fluffy collagen and makes it brittle and dry, and that is what leads to sagging and wrinkling of the skin. There are 3 types of collagen – I, II, and III. The strongest and most resilient type is III. Sugar changes type III collagen into type I, which is more instable. Sugar interferes with the delivery of antioxidants in the body, so it can leave the skin more vulnerable to damage from the sun. “As AGEs accumulate, they damage adjacent proteins in a domino-like fashion,” explains Fredric Brandt, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Miami and New York City and author of 10 Minutes 10 Years. The good news? Although some of the wrinkles are here to stay, a little bit of the damage caused by sugar can be reversed when you give sugar the ole’ heave-ho! I have experienced this myself personally. When I gave up sugar a few years ago, I remember noticing some pretty remarkable improvements in the quality of my skin. Not enough that anyone thought I went out and got plastic surgery or anything. But enough that I noticed improvement.
Insulin resistance can lead to lower levels of insulin in the brain, which over time could lead to memory problems, dementia, and Alzhimer’s or Type 3 Diabetes. According to Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the New York Times best-seller, Grain Brain – “sugar, carbs, and wheat are the brain’s silent killers.” A recent study out of UCLA, indicates that added sugars affect memory and brain function – with researchers coming to the rather bold conclusion that “sugar makes you dumber.” Fortunately, the study also revealed a magic bullet that can make your brain work smarter, even reversing some of the negative effects of sugar…omega 3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish, fish oils, nuts, and some seeds like hemp and chia). High sugar diets seem to be linked to poor learning, memory, and recall. But there is mounting evidence that it is also linked to more serious brain conditions – like Alzheimers. According to a study published in August 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine, “even subtle elevations of fasting blood sugar translates to dramatically increased risk for dementia.” Many researchers are calling Alzheimer’s disease “Type 3 Diabetes,” because they are finding plaques in the brain that look very much like the diabetic plaques. Learn more in this article from Psychology Today.
Poor blood sugar regulation can cause your blood sugar to dip in the middle of the night, causing you to wake up. Some people will also feel shaky – and will need to go get something to eat to stabilize their blood sugar in the middle of the night. Some people with more advanced blood sugar dysegulation might find that they need to get up and go to the bathroom several times at night. This could be a signal that the kidneys are working overtime due to elevated blood sugar levels.
According to thyroid expert Dr. Izabella Wentz, poor blood sugar regulation can cause thyroid antibodies to spike, and can also weaken the adrenals (which work in conjunction with the thyroid). She says that researchers from Polland have found that up to 50% of Hashimotos sufferers have impaired carbohydrate metabolism. According to Dr. Chris Kresser, “studies have shown that the repeated insulin surges common in insulin resistance increase the destruction of the thyroid gland in people with autoimmune thyroid disease. As the thyroid gland is destroyed, thyroid hormone production falls.“
Do you get tingling feelings, numbness, pain, or burning feelings in your extremeties? This could be a sign of chronically elevated blood sugar levels. According to pain management specialist Robert Bolash, MD. ““High blood sugar is toxic to your nerves. When a nerve is damaged, you may feel tingling, pins and needles, burning or sharp, stabbing pain.” According to the Cleveland Clinic, the bad news about daibetic neuropathy is that once you have it, it is very hard to reverse. So prevention is key – and the way that is done is by keeping blood sugar levels below diabetic levels. Neuropathy not only can lead to debilitating pain, but it also can cause dangerous infections. If you are experiencing nerve pain, tingling, numbness, or burning – along with having your blood sugar levels evaluated, make sure to rule out a B12 deficiency as well – as that can cause neuropathy, and could lead to permanent nerve damage if untreated.
Because of the increased risk of heart disease from excess sugars, the American Heart Association has come up with recommended limits for added sugar for women & men:
Keep in mind – one 12 oz. soda has on average 10 teaspoons of sugar.
The type of sugar we eat also matters. Fruit sugar is naturally occurring sugar and comes paired with fiber, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins – we can’t say that for a soda or a Slurpee. So sugar from whole fruit is better than processed added sugars (which are empty calories). But we can even overdo natural sugars like maple syrup, honey, dried fruit, and such. And when there is insulin resistance, it is good to limit all sugars for a short time to reset the insulin response.
One of the best things you can do for your health is to take back control from sugar!
If you are getting too much sugar – you are not alone. Most people are getting at least 3 times too much sugar in their daily diets – that doesn’t even take into account all the flour and simple carbs.
The biggest issues that most of us have – is that sugar is highly addictive (as addictive as a drug), and we are eating it often without even realizing it – because it is hiding in most packaged and processed foods.
Chapter One in my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan provides numerous tips for “Breaking up with Sugar” – including some surprising foods that spike the blood sugar, as well as nutritional tips and supplements that help to balance blood sugar, some good alternatives, and more.
You will get actionable tips to break old habits and form new ones, a support network, recipes (yes, they are delicious – I am a foodie – I don’t do bland), and the best of all….your tastebuds can even change!! Mine did!!
I used to LOVE my sugar and simple carbs – I was a bonafide sugar junkie for years. But since breaking up with sugar about 6 years ago – the idea of eating a super sweet caramel sundae no longer appeals to me at all!! Ick! I’d rather have a square of 70% or higher dark chocolate instead now (yes, you can have some sweetness in your life – even if you break up with sugar!!).
Just remember that nutrition and lifestyle changes can be very powerful tools to help you change your health and reduce your risk of future diseases.
Do you like ginger? Ginger root is warming and calming to the digestive tract. It can help to reduce gas and indigestion, and can even help to relieve nausea and motion sickness. It has potent anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, potentially even offering relief to arthritis and asthma sufferers.
Research published on September, 2015 found a compound in ginger to be 10,000x more potent than chemo against cancer cells, read more here.
I have been literally obsessed with ginger lately – it is featured in my Green Lemonade recipe, and it is the star of this fresh Ginger Lemonade – a wonderful way to include ginger in your life!
Ginger Lemonade Ingredients:
*avoid sugar made with sugar beets – as that is typically GMO.
Ginger Cucumber ‘Spa’ Water:
This water supports hydration, digestion and is anti-flammatory.
Put all of the ingredients into a large jar – allow the flavors to come together for a couple hours. Strain as you pour into a glass. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Learn more about Ginger:
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