Have you heard of “skinny starch”? It is also called “resistant starch” – because it resists digestion. What that means is that it moves slowly through the digestive tract – so it helps to keep your blood sugar more stable, it is a prebiotic – meaning that it serves as “food” for the good bacteria in our colon. It is called the “skinny starch” because it can improve digestion, blood sugar, energy, and gut bacteria – all of which could potentially mean flatter bellies and weight loss. But before you run out and eat a lot of skinny starch – realize that like any fiber – especially a prebiotic one – you want to begin to incorporate it slowly, or it could potentially cause digestive upset.
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 I like to add tiger nut flour to my daily smoothie. Resistant starch can also help you sleep – so this Tiger Nut & Cashew Horchata drink is a nice thing to have before bedtime. I also like to add tiger nut flour to desserts – like this raspberry tart!
“Sugar Cookie” Crust:
Put all the ingredients into a food processor, process until still crumbly, but starting to come together.
lightly grease a tart pan, and press the crust into it (I like to use my fingers to spread it around, then a flat bottom measuring cup to get it even. Press it so it comes up about halfway up the sides of the tart pan.
Put into freezer for about 20-30 mins.
Put all of the above into the Vitamix, and blend until combined.
Take crust out of freezer, and pour filling onto the crust – spread with a spatula or spoon. Return to freezer to set – at least 2 hours, up to a day ahead. Remove from freezer before you want to serve, add the raspberries, and whipped cream if you like (see below).
Coconut Whipped Cream (optional)
Put the coconut milk in refrigerator the day before you want to make the cream. Open the bottom of the can, and pour off the coconut water (reserve for smoothies, or another recipe).
Scoop out the coconut cream and put it into a bowl with the other ingredients, using a electric mixer – whip it up. Taste and adjust. Spoon onto slices before serving.
Want to learn more about Resistant Starch and get more delicious recipes – including “skinny starch” chocolate nut butter cups and cookie dough balls? Take my Resistant Starch eCourse!
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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.
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.
Can crepes change your life? These crepes are so easy, delicious, and versatile. So yes – I think these crepes just might!
I can whip them up in a few minutes, and then I have some on hand to use as a wrap, they make a nice after school snack for the kids, and are great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!
Commonly thought of as a grass/grain, buckwheat is actually a fruit seed which is related to rhubarb, and is gluten free.
The nutritional benefits of buckwheat include: manganese, magnesium, copper, B6, pantothenic acid, niacin, folate, thiamin, choline, D-chiro inositol, which can support healthy blood sugar, and bioflavinoids which supports healthy blood vessels.
This recipe is one of the many recipes in The Metabolism Summit Cookbook – one of the free gifts you get when you purchase The Metabolism Summit package!! Join me Feb 1-8th for this free event. Register here!!
It is an interesting story. I write extensively about the history behind the “Low Fat Myth” in Chapter Two (“Fix Your Fats”) of my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan. I also I highly recommend this fascinating must-watch documentary featuring a number of doctors and experts that discusses these “dietary villains” – The Heart of the Matter – this is part 1 (approx. 30 mins long).
The long-standing recommendation to limit the amount of dietary cholesterol has just recently been officially lifted from the nutritional guidelines. This is huge, and has been a long time coming. Despite being told that there was good scientific evidence to back it up – the scientific studies actually did not show a causative link between dietary cholesterol and heart attack! One study looked at 130,000 people and found that nearly 3/4 of patients hospitalized for heart attack had what was considered to be normal cholesterol numbers. In fact, research shows that in the elderly population (over age 81) – lower cholesterol levels actually raised the risk of mortality, and equated to lower memory scores.
Dr. Mark Houston, author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell you About Heart Disease says that “elevated cholesterol is not a sure sign of heart disease, any more than low levels are a sure sign of heart health.” Dr. Houston says in his book that heart disease begins with endothelial damage or dysfunction, which progresses through 7 different pathways (inflammation, oxidative stress, autoimmunity, dyslipidemia, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and obesity). The good news? Many of the above pathways can be affected by nutritional and lifestyle factors. I highly recommend Dr. Houston’s book if you want to understand how to get control of your heart health naturally.
Experts are also calling into the question the recommendations on saturated fats – because like cholesterol, there is a lack of scientific evidence linking saturated fats to heart disease. But the push to remove the saturated fat limit is still being met with a lot of resistance, so it will likely not be changed in the official nutritional recommendations until the next time they are changed – which is in 5 years. Don’t believe me about saturated fats not being bad for you? Read this Time Magazine piece titled “We Were Wrong About Saturated Fats.” (Notice that is Ancel Keys on the left hand cover).
Another exciting development that happened recently – is the FDA finally took a stronger stand against trans fats. Back in 2013, they removed the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) classification, because of the link between trans fats and coronary artery plaque formation. And just last month they took it a big step further – they banned the use of trans fats in foods entirely. This is great news, but since there is a 3 year grace period for compliance – we all need to be aware of all the places trans fats are hiding in the meantime. Basically – the majority of trans fats in our diets come from “convenience foods.”
Trans fats are liquid fats that have been altered by partially hydrogenation, making them solid/more stable at room temperature. Trans fats extend the shelf-life of a product, so that is why manufacturers love them. An interesting historical note is that Crisco – which is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil – was brought to market in 1911. Check out this Illustrated History of heart disease for other interesting facts and historical notes (from 1825-2015).
Just because a label says “no trans fats” does not mean it doesn’t contain them. That is a label loophole, and just means that there is less than half a gram of trans fats per serving. Just know, if it says “partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredient list – it has trans fats.
There is a lot of really exciting research that has been happening about the human microbiome (the bacterial cells in and on our bodies). With some new research linking the heart to the microbiome in the gut. Check out these articles to learn more about the connection:
There is emerging research to support a link between autoimmune diseases and heart disease. It is well-known that there is a link between chronic/systemic inflammation and heart disease. So it makes sense that having an autoimmune disease, which leads to chronic and systemic inflammation – could be one potential underlying cause/contributing factor for heart disease. Because of this, it is a good idea for anyone with heart disease to be tested for celiac disease/gluten sensitivity (especially if there are other potential symptoms of autoimmunity – such as psoriosis, eczema, or other skin conditions/rashes, sun sensitivity, thyroid disease, chronic aches & pains/arthritis, stress fractures, slow wound healing, low white blood cell count, etc).
There is a lot of overwhelming evidence pointing to poorly controlled blood SUGAR.
Although not likely the whole picture – excess sugar increases inflammation, and is linked to increased risk of heart attack and death. Chapter One of my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan goes into detail about how sugar impacts our metabolism and health – and all the sneaky ways it is getting into our diet.
AHA Recommends Added Sugar Limits
Because of the link between sugar and heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to less than 9 tsp for men, and 6 tsp for women. But with 75% of all packaged foods containing added sugars – this is not easy to do. Sugar is sneaking into our diets all day long – even in seemingly healthy choices like cereals, yogurts, salad dressings, sauces, snack bars, etc. You do not have to eat one cookie, one spoonful of ice cream, or one soda to get more added sugar than the recommended limit. It is no wonder that the average American gets about 3 times more than the recommended amount every day (and I personally think that number is underestimated).
Skip the Sodas & Sweet Drinks
One of the fastest way to get too much sugar is by drinking it. One 12 oz. soda has about 10 tsp of sugar, and a 9 oz. frappuccino has about 8 tsp. One medium FruiTea (organic green tea from Wendy’s) has 18 tsp!! That drink alone is 3 times the amount a woman should have all day long!! And before you run out to buy diet sodas – know that two or more diet sodas a day has been linked to a 30% increase for a heart attack (read this article to learn more).
Read these articles for more info:
One way to stay on top of our heart health is to get some tests run. But which ones? Contrary to popular belief – just knowing your cholesterol levels is not enough – as more than half of all heart attacks happen in people who have what are considered normal cholesterol levels.
The Spectra Cell Cardio Metabolic test is a comprehensive test to help you assess your risk of metabolic syndrome. Learn more about the test here – or ask your family doctor or cardiologist to run these tests for you.
There is an exciting opportunity to learn from over 30 of the top experts in the area of heart health next week! The Healthy Heart Summit (begins on July 13 and it is free!!). Register here today, and attend each day for free.
In addition to attending the Summit, I also highly recommend the following books:
This article is not to be construed as medical advice. I highly recommend that you discuss the information presented in this article and at the Healthy Heart Summit with your medical provider.
A few years ago, I used to be a wheat-loving gal. I pretty much sustained myself on it – most mornings I would have a high fiber cereal for breakfast, a sandwich on whole wheat for lunch, pretzels for a snack, and quite often pasta for dinner.
After years of trying to figure out what was causing my laundry list of health complaints (joint & muscle aches, foggy brain, thyroid issues, fatigue, general puffiness, etc), I finally found significant relief by giving up gluten and wheat, and increasing my intake of inflammation-lowering omega 3s. Although the transition was not easy initially (what change is easy??)…now, I can’t imagine eating that way anymore! Instead of cereal I usually start my day with a superfood smoothie with energy and mood-boosting chia seeds, I have salads or soups instead of sandwiches, and zucchini pasta in place of regular pasta.
But I will admit, there are a few things that I do miss…and I know this might sound like a weird thing to be longing for, but I used to love me a good raisin bran muffin! And for some odd reason, this morning, I had a hankering for one!
When I realized that I had a bag of ground flax in the fridge, some organic eggs, virgin coconut oil and coconut palm sugar – I decided to see if I could whip something up that resembled my beloved bran muffin. And guess what? They turned out great*, I’d say better than regular bran muffins!! And best of all – because these are made with flax – they are inflammation-lowering and high in brain and mood boosting omega 3s!
Raisin “Bran” Muffins – made with flax (free of wheat, gluten & grains)
*Boy, do I love it when my kitchen experiments come out great the first time (because let me tell you – I have had more than my share of missteps – especially when it comes to baked goods)!!
I just watched the Showtime documentary Stop at Nothing the other night, this powerful film profiles Lance Armstrong’s obsession with winning, fame, and power.
Watching that film got me thinking about the one thing that all serious competitive athletes have in common is – they have a very powerful desire to win. In order to win, an athlete knows they need to set goals, train hard, and that means that they need to be able to push through pain and overcome adversity. Often they have to make sacrifices in other areas of their lives to truly commit to their chosen sport.
The better an athlete gets at their sport and the tougher the competition gets – the harder it gets to stay on top. I understand the immense pressure Lance Armstrong and other serious athletes are under to win.
Unfortunately, Lance chose to take the illegal and unethical path of using banned substances to gain an unfair edge. It eventually cost him everything – his Tour de France titles, all his lucrative contracts, and the respect of the world. His actions and choices led to disgrace. I hope one lesson that young athletes can learn from Lance’s mistakes, is that it is not worth compromising your character to win, and that trying to rely on the “quick fix” might come back to bite you in more ways than one. Because even some of the legal substances that athletes think will help them gain an edge can potentially lead to deficiencies in other areas of performance or recovery, and potentially even serious health trouble (ranging from dehydration to cramping and even organ dysfunction). Just because a product might make your muscles look bigger, does not mean that they are necessarily stronger, or will make you be able perform better.
The good news, is there are a number of natural and healthy ways for athletes to gain a competitive edge today. One area that all too often gets overlooked is the power of using foods to improve performance and recovery. And the cool thing about nutritional approaches? Beyond the performance & recovery benefits, they can also offer other health benefits ranging from disease prevention to brain function and balancing mood. The first step is simple –
Just get the junk out!
Realize that the majority of people (yes, even athletes too) are eating way too many processed foods and getting too much sugar (read about what happened to a man who ate 40 teaspoons of sugar a day in just 60 days – which is a little more than the average teenage boy gets). The more processed foods in your diet – the more energy the body has to expend on detoxification, the more bogged down the body will become, and the less energy you will have for your training. Processed diets are nutritionally deficient – and athletes need nutrients to perform and recover. Another thing that happens to the body when the diet has too much sugar or processed ingredients – inflammation. An athlete’s enemy, inflammation leads to swelling, pain, and can degrade performance, range of motion, flexibility, and recovery. Inflammation raises our risk of overuse injuries, asthma, and almost every major disease. Simply cleaning up the diet and staying properly hydrated, and getting more plant-based foods, high quality grass fed or organic proteins, and cutting out the junk – will give an athlete an edge over the competition.
Got a clean diet and ready to take it a step further? Check out these superfoods to see if they can help to take you and your performance to the next level.
5 Performance-Enhancing Superfoods:
Although not typically the first thing that comes to mind when talking about athletic performance, mushroom’s are one of nature’s most powerful superfoods – and could be an athlete’s secret weapon. Mushrooms are a type of fungi, or bacteria that can offer a wide range of health benefits ranging from immune-boosting to performance-enhancing effects. They have been used medicinally in Asia for thousands of years. Although you will get health benefits from adding a few button mushrooms into your omelette, for performance enhancement, athletes will want to look to medicinal-grade mushrooms like cordyceps, reishi, turkey tail, and lion’s mane. An ideal way to incorporate them into an athlete’s diet is with certified organic mushroom powders, which can be added to things like smoothies, soups and drinks. Interested in seeing how mushrooms can boost your performance?
A local company called Mushroom Matrix, offers organic mushroom powders, and have extended a 10% off coupon for me to share with you, enter: rebalancelife at checkout to get your 10% discount. Some Mushroom Matrix organic powders to try:
Make sure to choose organic when purchasing mushrooms or mushroom powders/supplements.
2. Beetroot juice or powders
Google beetjuice and performance, and you will find a plethora of articles touting the benefits – “beets are like legal blood-doping” and “like taking performance enhancing drugs.” At the Olympic training center in London – athletes were eschewing the brightly colored sports drinks and downing bright pink cocktails of beet juice, pineapple, ginger and orange juice instead. The benefits of beet juice come from their high content of nitrates, which are converted in the body into nitric oxide – which causes blood vessel dilation, and improves energy production and usage – which makes the body more efficient, and supports the heart to do it’s work. You can juice whole organic beets, or buy a beetroot powder. I recommend if you do incorporate beets/use a powder, to make sure it is non-GMO or organic. Add some spinach, chard and celery to your drink too – as they also are high in nitrates. One example of a organic beet powder to try is Superbeets organic beet powder, just 1 teaspoon is equivalent to eating 3 organic beets.
One thing to point out with beetjuice – it can change the color of your stool and urine. So don’t freak out the day after trying beet juice when your toilet water looks pink.
3. Chia seeds
From the book Born to Run: “In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone.” An ancient Aztec superfood, chia seeds may rival mushrooms as one of the oldest performance-enhancing foods. Chia seeds gave the ancient Aztec warriors the long-lasting energy and endurance they needed to go into battle. Chia seeds boost endurance, energy, hydration, focus/attention, and reduce 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 shown to lower 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. Add chia seeds to your smoothie, or make chia pudding.
4. Virgin Coconut Oil
Medium chain fatty acids (MCTs) which are found in coconut oil have been known in the body building industry for a few decades as a superior form of fat. Medium chain fatty acids are 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, so it is less likely to cause stomach upset than other fats. Taking coconut oil in the morning helps to train the body to use fat as fuel, instead of glucose. If an athlete can get their body out of sugar-burning mode – that can be a key advantage over the competition. I recommend adding a teaspoon or two of coconut oil to your morning smoothie, chia pudding, or oatmeal. A 1978 study also found that coconut oil increases the body’s production of hGH within 30-90 minutes of ingesting it. Coconut oil has some other key advantages – first, it is a m
5. Goji berries
Another ancient superfood with a rich history, the goji berry is a small red berry that has a slightly tart flavor. Also known as wolfberries, they can be eaten raw or made into a tea. Goji berries are known to naturally increase the body’s production of human growth hormone – which is known to improve performance and also has anti-aging effects.
Using nutrition is a healthy and ethical way for athletes to improve their performance, endurance, and recovery.
Note: although some foods can impact performance immediately, others will take longer to build up into the system – so allow up to 4 weeks of consistently taking them to reach the full benefit. Also, some people might notice a difference/benefit from adding superfoods, while others may not.
The other benefit of adding superfoods to your diet – is that they can offer many benefits beyond just performance and recovery enhancement – ranging from immune-boosting to disease-prevention.
A final word of advice to gain an edge? Don’t undervalue recovery. Like all things in nature, the body has a yin and yang, and in order to perform at your best – you need to be allowing your body the time to recover in order to perform at your best (read: The Yin and Yang of Sports Recovery and Are you Headed for Performance Burnout?).
Some links to studies/articles:
Many people throw caution to the wind, and eat with abandon on Thanksgiving – after all, it only comes once a year, right? Well, it might be time to rethink that – because overindulging can not only set us up for a pattern of holiday weight gain, it could have far worse consequences. According to a study presented at an American Heart Association meeting, an unusually large meal quadruples the chance of a heart attack. Add into the mix the higher levels of stress during the holidays, and it is no wonder that Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the heart attack season.
10 Tips to Make Thanksgiving Healthier for the Heart:
It is extremely important to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke because it is extremely important to get them to the hospital immediately. Getting treatment early can save lives. According to the CDC, at least 200,000 deaths from heart attack and stroke could be prevented each year.
Antibacterial soaps, wipes, and sprays are everywhere – next to the grocery carts, in classrooms, and atop kitchen and bathroom sinks. Americans are practically obsessed with avoiding bacteria and germs at every turn. We have good reason to be afraid, dangerous antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) are on the rise. We need to avoid and wipe out bacteria if we want to stay healthy, right? Not so fast….not all bacteria are bad, in fact – we need plenty of good bacteria to stay healthy. When we try to wipe them all out, we create problems – ranging from resistant bacteria to weight gain and more.
According to this article in Scientific American, scientists have discovered that soaps and gels with antibacterial chemicals might actually be creating more resistant bacteria, which in the end could make us much sicker. Some studies also show that antibacterial agents not only inhibit bacteria, but they could also inhibit enzymes and hormones, which according to this University of Florida article, could be dangerous to a fetus.
Bacteria & Our Weight
One more powerful reason to improve your inner ecosystem is the fact that our weight is closely connected to type of bacteria in our guts. According to this New York Time article, “the bacterial makeup of the intestines may help determine whether people gain weight or lose it, according to two new studies.” These studies found that as much as 20% of the weight loss from gastric bypass surgery might be connected to a shift in gut bacteria. The reason could be that bacteria is closely tied to our hormones like insulin and leptin, which affect our body’s ability to process sugars, regulate appetite, and our energy. So rather than taking such drastic measures to lose weight, perhaps more and more people will be looking to change their gut balance with probiotics and fermented foods and drinks.
The Connection to Heart Disease
Bacteria has been in the news in the past several weeks. Two recently published studies have linked heart disease to gut bacteria. According to this article in the New York Times, researchers have found that foods (like eggs and meat) that contain lecithin, carnitine, and choline can interact with certain intestinal bacteria to increase the risk of heart attacks. When these compounds are metabolized by the intestinal bacteria, a substance is released that the liver converts to a chemical known as TMAO (trimethylamine N-oxide). Elevated blood levels of TMAO are linked to increased risk of stroke and heart attack. “Heart disease perhaps involves microbes in our gut,” said the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Stanley Hazen, chairman of the department of cellular and molecular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute. ” In both studies, the subjects were given antibiotics, and the risk went down. But as soon as the antibiotics were stopped, the risk returned. But since it neither healthy nor practical to take antibiotics continually, the studies both suggested either avoidance of the particular trigger foods, or people could take probiotics to change the bacteria in their intestines. Dr. Joseph Loscalzo of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston suggested that people might take probiotics to help grow bacteria that do not lead to an increase in TMAO. More research is needed in this area.
Mood and our “Second Brain”
Sometimes referred to as our second brain, our guts are responsible for manufacturing important mood neurotransmitters like serotonin, referred to as “the happiness hormone.” Over 70% of our serotonin is found in our guts, so it makes absolute sense that our moods are tied to the balance of bacteria in our digestive system. According to this Scientific American article, there is a direct correlation between our mood and our gut bacteria, and it could also be related to osteoporosis and autism.
Factory Farming’s Role
Another thing that is creating resistant bacteria is factory farmed meats and other animal proteins. Animals raised in factory farms are regularly given a continual supply of low dose antibiotics to prevent and reverse diseases that are passed between the animals living in their own filth. When we eat factory farmed proteins, we are inadvertantly consuming those antibiotics. So consuming non-organic meats and dairy is kind of like taking a low dose antibiotic. This is creating a dangerous situation. According to this article in the Organic Authority, and Rodale, MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) “kills about 18,000 people a year in the United States—that’s more than AIDS. Gonorrhea is also on the verge of being untreatable, and many common antibiotics no longer cure urinary tract infections. There is a better way to win the war against bad bacteria – and that is to boost the good bacteria with probiotics and fermented foods and drinks.”
We are bacterial
Our bodies are teeming with over 3 million bacteria, which amounts to about 3 pounds of bacteria in our guts alone!! Over 90% of the cells in our bodies are actually bacteria. Some of those bacteria are “good guys” and others are “bad guys.” A balanced inner ecosystem can mean good digestion, better immunity, improved mood, and even a healthy weight. In Eastern and Integrative medicine philosophies, optimal health can not occur in conjunction with digestive problems. According Hippocrates, the father of medicine, “all disease begins in the gut.”
According to this article, “a healthy lower intestine should contain at least 85% friendly bacteria to prevent the over-colonization of microorganisms like E. coli and salmonella. Our bodies can sustain healthy states with 15% bad bacteria, but unfortunately most have the balance inverted. The human body should have 20 times more beneficial bacteria than cells to maintain a healthy intestinal tract and help fight illness and disease.”
The Digestive and Immune Systems
Probiotics are probably best known for their impact on the digestive system. But studies show that probiotics could be a powerful tool in the fight against illness. Probiotics were shown to boost the bodies’ immune response to help it fight off certain infectious agents and inflammatory conditions. According to this article in Natural News, taking certain probiotic strains can boost the body’s immune response to invaders. Probiotics boost the good bacteria in the digestive system, which can prevent and treat many gastrointestinal disorders including IBS, constipation, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and reflux. They might even help to combat bad breath, fibromyalgia and diabetes according to this article in the Daily Mail and this article from Dr. Mercola. Probiotics have also been shown to protect against: food & skin allergies, recurrent ear & bladder infections, vaginitis, and premature labor according to Dr. Mercola.
Fight the Good Fight
I took 3 adorable Kindergarten classes on a tour of Whole Foods this past week. When we stopped in the supplement section I pointed out the probiotics. I said “inside our tummies (our ‘guts’), there is a fight going on – between the good guys and the bad guys (meanwhile I am demonstrating my best air punching moves). If someone comes to school and sneezes or coughs on you, those “bad guy” bacteria go into your body, and they join in the fight, trying to make you sick. But if you have enough good guys in there on your team, they might defeat them, and not let those bad guys make you sick. So when we have more good bacteria or “good guys,” we might get sick less often, and our digestion will work better.” I then asked them – “We can take a probiotic supplement to boost our good guys, but what foods can we eat to get probiotics?” Right away they answered – “yogurt!”
In addition to yogurt, other fermented foods and drinks include kim chee, saurkraut, kombucha, kefir, miso, sourdough, and raw apple cider vinegar. Even raw cacao is fermented! Not only do fermented foods introduce beneficial bacteria into our digestive system, they also improve the nutritional profile of that food. Eating fermented and cultured foods/drinks, and/or taking probiotic supplements can offer many health benefits.
To learn more about fermented foods, read The Fine Art of Fermentation.
There are some very common misconceptions about what foods and substances really are healthy for our hearts. Here are five heart health myths…busted!
1. Myth: fat free diets are heart healthy:
In the past couple of decades, if you were diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor probably put you on a “heart healthy” low fat diet. But new evidence is revealing this could possibly be the worst possible diet for our hearts! Research from respected institutions like Harvard show that low fat diets may actually raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes (read more here).
Low fat foods make us hungry! Getting enough of the right kind of dietary fat is critical for controlling our hunger hormones – so if you are not getting enough healthy fats in your diet – you are likely going to be hungry all of the time, which can lead to overeating and weight gain, which as we all know, is bad for our hearts. Healthy fats also help to keep our bloodsugar in balance, which is important because blood sugar spikes over a period of time can lead to a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it more difficult to lose weight, and can lead to pre-diabetes, diabetes, and an increased risk of heart disease. Also, post-meal glucose spikes are very dangerous for our hearts (read more). In addition to the 26 million Americans with diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that more than a third of the general population is now pre-diabetic. Knowing your blood sugar levels is very important, as high blood sugar is quickly becoming one of the leading preventable causes of sudden death in the United States.
A multi-billion dollar industry was born from the erroneous concept that fats are bad for us, and for over a decade, consumers dutifully have bought low and reduced fat foods at the grocery store thinking that they were doing a good thing for their health. But many low fat foods are significantly worse for us than the regular ones. Take Reduced Fat Peanut butter for example. The company website claims that it only contains 60% peanuts – like that is a good thing. But if I am buying peanut butter – I want there to be peanuts in there, we have to ask ourselves, what comprises the other 40% in the jar? if you read the label, you will find out what makes up the other 40% is not good for our hearts or any part of our bodies – corn syrup solids, sugar, soy protein, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. So instead of the healthier fats from the actual real peanuts, we are getting “fake fats,” added sugars, genetically modified soy, and GMO corn syrup solids. So I can say without a doubt – that all “reduced fat” foods are not healthier for you. I recommend buying a natural peanut butter, or even better – upgrade to a product like NuttZo – which is a blend of 7 different nuts and seeds, and is a good source of heart protective omega 3 fatty acids. NuttZo contains no added sugar or anything else we don’t need in nut butters.
What do we want to avoid like the plague? Sugar. A study found that drinking just 1 sweetened beverage a day was associated with a 20% increase in heart disease in men (read more).
2. Myth: Saturated fat is bad for your heart.
So what kind of fat is good for us, and which kind is bad? For years we have been taught that saturated fats are bad, and polyunsaturated fats are good for us. Again, this is completely wrong!! I tell all of my clients to get rid of the margarine, corn oils, soy oil, and vegetable oils. So many of us have been dutifully buying margarine in the stores – because we thought it was healthier for us than butter. This is completely false. The benefits that saturated fats offer, are they are more stable, so they are less likely to become damaged, or oxidized – and it is the oxidized or damaged fats/cholesterol that is dangerous, causing the free radicals that leads to disease.
Some saturated fats are actually recommended and have been shown to greatly benefit the heart – like coconut oil. Coconut oil is comprised of medium chain fatty acids, which are more quickly and easily converted into energy – so they are less likely to be stored as fat. Coconut oils are also rich in lauric acid, which has been shown to lower cholesterol, lower our risk of cancer, and benefit the heart. In fact, research shows that these are better for your heart than margarine and polyunsaturated oils. Read: Saturated Fats Are Good for You to learn more about how saturated fats can be better for our heart health. Another saturated fat that is also a good choice is organic or grass fed butter. I always recommend choosing organic or free range for ALL animal proteins – as they are higher in omega 3s (reduces inflammation – important for our hearts and overall health), will not contain antibiotics (80% of the U.S. antibiotics are fed to livestock), and reduce inflammation.
The other issue with margarine, is that it contains a hefty serving of trans fats – largely a man-made fat – the worst kind of fat. Trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils, making the oil more solid and less likely to spoil. This process is called hydrogenation or partial hydrogenation and allows stick margarine to be firm at room temperature. Trans fats have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol, and they tend to lower the HDL cholesterol. Trans fats also may make our blood platelets stickier, which is a definite bad situation for our heart health. Just one tablespoon of stick margarine can pack a whopping 3 grams of trans fat. So pitch out the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, and buy some good ‘ole real butter again (but make sure to choose organic or grass fed).
3. Myth: Eggs raise your cholesterol and so we should avoid them. Many people believe that eggs, and foods with cholesterol raises blood cholesterol and heart disease risk. But half of all heart attacks occur in people with normal cholesterol (read article). Don’t worry about dietary cholesterol – eat your eggs! According to research out of Harvard, eggs – even though they contain cholesterol do not raise blood cholesterol for 60% of the population. For the other 30% for whom eggs did raise blood cholesterol, it raised both the LDL and HDL (it did not change the ratio – most important) and at the same time it reduced the oxidation of the LDL cholesterol – oxidation is the reason why LDL is bad for us. But buy organic eggs – they are higher in omega 3 fatty acids and so they are better for our health & our hearts.
In fact, there is a considerable amount of research to show that high cholesterol is NOT an accurate predictor of heart health. Read the book The Great Cholesterol Myth, Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease, written by Dr. Steven Sinatra (a heart surgeon with over 25 years of experience), and Dr. Johnny Bowden, the “Rogue Nutritionist.” The Great Cholesterol Myth says the real culprits of heart disease are:
Lastly, we need to understand that cholesterol is a very important hormone. It is the mother of all hormones – and without sufficient cholesterol, our body can’t effectively manufacture all the other hormones, which can lead to low testosterone levels in men, among other things. It also has been linked to increased rates of Alzhemiers and dementia – because our brain needs cholesterol for proper brain cell function.
4. Myth: Foods Labeled “Trans-Fat Free” are heart healthy:
There is one thing that pretty much everyone agrees on – that trans fats are the worst kind of fats we can eat for our hearts and our overall health. So we want to avoid eating any foods that contain even trace amounts of trans fats. But – just because the label says “trans fat free,” does not mean that it contains ZERO trans fats!! As long as a food has less than .5 trans fats per serving, it can say trans fats free, but it still can contain trans fats. And because trans fats prolong the shelf life of packaged foods, they are found in lots of packaged and processed good – like cookies and cakes. These are the kind of foods that we tend to eat multiple servings of – so even if they only contain trace amounts of trans fats, those can add up very quickly. Plus, any food that has a label on it – is probably processed. So the less foods you eat with labels and marketing claims, the better for your heart health. But we are all busy, so we will occasionally want to eat something from a package, so it is important to learn how to find Trans Fats on labels (hint – most margarines, certain vegetable oils and many packaged/ processed foods contain them). Just know, the less packaged and processed our diets are – the better for our overall health.
5. Myth: Heart Disease only affects the middle aged.
Diseases that we once considered to only hit in middle age, are starting to show up in kids. Once called “adult-onset” diabetes, it is now referred to as Type 2 diabetes – because it is appearing long before adulthood now. New research shows that heart damage is beginning very early in life. And because of poor lifestyle and diet choices – the disease can accelerate quickly. Teenagers are increasingly showing evidence of heart disease and even having heart attacks. Developing good lifestyle choices should begin as early as possible – waiting until middle age to think about our heart health might end up to be too late. One of the key foods to encourage kids to limit is sugar – especially sugary drinks like sodas. Drinking just 1 sugar sweetened soda per day was shown to raise a man’s risk of heart attack by over 30%. Eating too many sweets or even carbs/grains causes spikes in bloodsugar – leading to a condition called insulin resistance – read this study. Another food group to not overconsume is simple carbs – foods like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Wonder Bread and other simple carbs are very quickly converted to the body into sugars, and they offer no nutritional value, and create inflammation in the body – a key marker for heart disease and many other diseases.
The best predictor for future heart disease in children is their waist circumference, read this article for more info. Having belly fat is an indication that there could be fat forming around the organs, and this fat is far more dangerous for the heart than any other type of fat. This New York Times article tells us how we can prevent heart disease in our children.
Serve these delicious Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes for Valentines Day!
Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes
Melt the coconut oil gently over low heat on the stovetop, or in a Pyrex dish in a hot water bath. Then mix together all the ingredients in a blender or food processor (except the raspberries). Add the 1/4 cup raspberries and process until combined*. If using frozen, it will instantly thicken the frosting. Spoon out into a bowl and place in refrigerator to chill. Rinse and set aside the fresh raspberries for topping the cupcakes.
*Note: If you do not want the frosting to be raspberry flavored, just omit the raspberries. It will have a slight coconut taste – if you do not like that – replace the coconut oil with organic butter (this is a non-vegan option).
© copyright 2017 Sara Vance