Food Is Not Your Enemy


How to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that most people will develop at some point in their lives. It is dangerous as it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are among the leading killers of Americans.

The good news is that elevated blood pressure—a reading of 140/90 or higher is considered high, according to the National Institutes of Health—is something we can reverse, often through diet and lifestyle changes. Here’s how:

-Control salt intake. Even if you generally eat a healthy diet, your sodium consumption may be higher than you realize—especially if you regularly eat food prepared outside the home. Ninety percent of the salt in our diets comes from prepared and processed foods and restaurant foods, according to Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. What this means is that you shouldn’t stress about sprinkling salt on your homemade roast chicken at the dinner table. What you should stress about is, for instance, that burrito at Chipotle or that can of soup you’re slurping. My husband, a very healthy eater, found out recently his blood pressure was borderline high. We then looked up the amount of salt in the vegetarian burrito bowl he ordered twice a week for lunch from Chipotle, and it contained more than a day’s worth of sodium. On top of that, there were the tortilla chips he’d get on the side. Yes, Chipotle sources sustainable and clean ingredients, but that doesn’t mean the food isn’t loaded with salt. Other foods that are surprisingly salty are bread, cheese, and cold cuts.

-Eat a diet rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These nutrients help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. Potassium-rich foods include sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, beans, and leafy greens. Calcium-rich foods include dairy and leafy greens. And magnesium-rich foods include nuts and seeds, cacao and dark chocolate, and, yes, leafy greens.

-Exercise. One of the most important things you can do to prevent or control high blood pressure. 30 minutes of moderate activity a day will do it.

-Watch alcohol consumption. Excess alcohol can raise blood pressure—this means not having more than one drink a day for women, or more than two drinks a day for men.

-Manage stress. Stress can raise our blood pressure, and cause many other health problems as well. Experiment with different ways to bring your stress levels down, either by deep breathing, meditating, going out for a walk, or talking to someone about what you’re feeling. You may find some inspiration here.

-Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Of course, if you eat a nutrient-rich diet of mostly home-cooked food, exercise regularly, limit booze, and keep control of stress, maintaining a healthy weight may simply come as a matter of course.



Are You Addicted to Food?
March 3, 2015, 11:24 am
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Sweets, weight loss | Tags: , ,

Why is it that no matter how much we want to eat healthier, we can’t resist those treats passed around at work? You reach for a cookie offered by your co-worker, knowing that you don’t really want to eat it, that you really want to lose weight and that this cookie will make you then want another, and maybe another. But you feel like you can’t help yourself. It’s just so dang delicious for those 30 seconds it takes to scarf down…

The guilt sets in afterwards. But that, as you well know, won’t necessarily stop you from doing it again tomorrow.

Maybe cookies are not your undoing. Maybe it’s pizza. Maybe fries. Or ice cream. Or burgers. Whatever your trigger food, though, it’s likely that it contains sugar, fat, or both.

Sugar and fat and the high-calorie foods they tend to appear in have been shown to be physically addictive, in studies involving both rats and humans. Our brain lights up from consuming sugar and fat in much the same way it would if we were to use drugs. “It looks like the habitual consumption of calorie-dense food can elicit changes in brain responses that mirror drug addiction,” Kyle Burger, a researcher at the Oregon Research Institute’s Eating Disorders and Obesity Prevention Lab, told Nutrition Action Healthletter in 2012.

Due to the effects they have on the brain, the more we eat sugar, fat, and junk food, the more we’ll want them. So there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling so drawn to these foods—most of us feel this way, at some point or another. You’re not weak for experiencing these cravings.

So what to do about it? Your best strategy is to eat more whole foods found in nature that don’t contain added sugar and are not fried or otherwise swimming in unhealthy fat. Your palette will adjust—when your body and brain become more accustomed to eating fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, beans, and whole grains, then fast-food fried chicken and Oreos won’t be such a temptation. Try it—it really works.

Your waistline will thank you.



Four Steps to a Healthier Year
January 30, 2015, 12:20 pm
Filed under: Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: , , ,

There’s no need to avoid all grains. You don’t have to shun beans. Juicing as a lifestyle? Not advisable. Paleo? Meh. Atkins? Why, so you have an excuse to eat a pack of bacon every day?

The diet industry in our country loves to push us to extremes. We’re told at every turn to cut out entire food groups, imbibe crazy quantities of this or that, and to then just sit back and watch the pounds melt off. They might indeed come off, but the chance of those pounds staying off are slim to none if you don’t make real, permanent, and sustainable changes. Ask yourself—can I comfortably eat this way for the next 20 years? If the answer is “no,” then you’ll likely need a different approach.

Begin by getting back to the basics of healthy eating and living. You can’t go wrong if you …

Eat whole foods. This means eating food that’s as close to its natural state as possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Raw meat that you prepare yourself (as opposed to pre-cooked breaded chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs). Nuts. Beans. Whole grains. Not Cheetos.

Cook. It’s so easy to eat out, order in, do drive-thru. But food prepared outside the home tends to be high calorie, and restaurants just serve us way too much food. Cooking at home means you know exactly what’s in your food, and we tend to serve ourselves much more reasonable portions than restaurants do.

Ask yourself if you’re hungry. Most of us, at least some of the time, eat when we’re not hungry. We eat because we’re bored, or stressed, or lonely, or because the food is there, right in front of us, tempting us. Always ask yourself if you’re hungry before eating. You’ll be surprised by how often the answer is no.

Exercise. Schedule it in. Treat it like taking a shower—you don’t try to talk yourself out of showering every day, do you? Likely not. You just do it. It’s not negotiable. To be healthy, you need to move. Walk, run, dance, play basketball, ice skate, do yoga, whatever. Just do something that you enjoy–on a regular basis.

There’s nothing faddish about this advice. Which is why I think it’s the best way to go.



How to Thrive During the Holidays
December 11, 2014, 1:17 pm
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle | Tags:

Come December, we often see stories in the media about “surviving the holiday season.” I would prefer to change things up and offer some tips on not just how to survive, but how to actually thrive during the holidays.

The word “survive,” used in connection with the holidays, pushes the mindset that Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year’s are events to be endured, dealt with but not enjoyed, and perhaps even dreaded. We’re shown photos and video of shoppers getting in fistfights over toys at Wal-Mart, made to feel concerned about the economy when Black Friday isn’t as big a moneymaker for retailers as was forecast, and told that holiday travel will be a nightmare. Every other magazine by the checkout counter warns of imminent holiday weight gain, and promises recipes for low-calorie “treats” made with imitation whipped cream. Ugh.

But we don’t have to engage with this narrative. We can instead remember that the holidays are a time of year to slow down, spend time with our loved ones, and express gratitude for all that we do have and all the people who love us. And it’s easier to get into this frame of mind if you take care of yourself as you prepare for the holidays and keep yourself from getting swept up in the go-go-go! mentality of December.

Remember to exercise. Feast on the holiday days themselves, but every other day this month eat as healthily as you can to help counteract all those cookies and party appetizers. Sugar is addictive—the more of it you eat, the more of it you’ll want—so think about having treats with added sugar only on special occasions. Set aside some time each week all for yourself, and spend that time doing as little as possible. Get enough sleep. And enjoy those moments curled up by the fire with your family or spent playing board games at the dining room table while sipping hot cider. Because these are the moments you’ll remember, the moments when you’ll feel like you’re thriving.

Happy holidays, everyone.



Artificial Sweeteners Are Making You Sick and Fat

“Artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, causing metabolic changes that can be a precursor to diabetes, researchers are reporting.”

So began a recent article in The New York Times that delved into why it may not be the best idea to recommend artificial sweeteners as a way to help prevent and/or manage diabetes.

The researchers, using mice and then humans in their experiments, found that Sweet’N Low, Splenda, and Equal all altered the population of bacteria in the digestive system. And this altered “microbiome” then led to changes in the metabolism of glucose—the test subjects’ blood sugar rose higher after eating and decreased more slowly than it did prior to the introduction of the artificial sweeteners into their system. After only one week, the mice given the sweeteners developed a “marked intolerance to glucose,” which is the precursor to such conditions as metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes. When the scientists gave the mice antibiotics to kill much of the bacteria in their digestive systems, their glucose intolerance disappeared.

More and more research is demonstrating just how important our gut bacteria is. The right mix of bacteria leads to a stronger immune system and better digestion, for instance, while the wrong bacteria can lead to illness and obesity.

To help the good bacteria proliferate in your gut, move away from not just artificial sweeteners but also sugar, poor-quality fats, junk food, and chemical additives to food; and eat more fermented foods like plain yogurt or kefir, veggies (green veggies in particular), fruits, healthy fats, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Your intestines—and your whole body—will thank you.



Recipes for Great Breakfast Smoothies
October 27, 2014, 11:17 am
Filed under: Dairy, Fruits, Healthy Lifestyle, nuts, Recipes | Tags: ,

I used to be a cold cereal eater. I grew up on Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, and Cocoa Puffs. In college, my best friend and I ate this stuff called Just Right every single day without fail. As an adult, I drifted from one cold cereal to another, never questioning the idea that cereal should be my breakfast—if Rice Krispies left me hungry in one hour, for instance, then I’d just get a bagel with cream cheese as a second breakfast. After I became a holistic nutrition counselor, I finally did start to ask if cold cereal was the best breakfast for me, and began to move toward healthier fare, like oatmeal with flaxseeds, walnuts, and raisins.

But one day I started to notice that, as healthy as oatmeal is, I was getting hungry 90 minutes or so after eating it, and sometimes my blood sugar even dipped very low at that time, to the point where I felt a little shaky. Oatmeal is wonderful for some people, I realized, but it wasn’t the perfect breakfast for me.

What has turned out to be the perfect breakfast for me (and my husband) is a homemade smoothie. I feel very satisfied after drinking it, and stay full up until lunch. There’s something about the combination of ingredients that I throw in the blender that just really works for me.

So what’s in my morning smoothie? I vary it a bit every day. Here is the template I use to make a 16 oz. serving:

Toss into your blender…

One ripe banana

Then pick another fruit…

½ cup of blueberries, strawberries, mixed berries, mango, or melon all work nicely

Then choose a nut butter…

2 tablespoons of almond butter or coconut butter are my favorites

Sprinkle in seeds…

1 tablespoon of chia, hemp, or flax seeds

Select a liquid…

About 1/2 cup of unsweetened nut milk (I like almond milk) plus ½ cup of water, or 1 cup of plain kefir (if I use kefir, I tend to skip the nut butter)

And lastly…

Add a few ice cubes if you’d like

Blend it all until smooth and you’ve got yourself a super healthy, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast in five minutes!



Are You Eating Your Roots?
September 24, 2014, 3:32 pm
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Recipes, Vegetables | Tags: ,

When you think about healthy eating, salads and green vegetables usually come to mind. But how about adding a little more variety to your plan?

Root vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and turnips are a rich source of nutritious complex carbohydrates. Instead of upsetting blood sugar levels like refined sweet foods do, they help regulate them.

Why eat more root veggies? Long roots–carrots, parsnips, burdock, and daikon radish–are excellent blood purifiers and can help improve circulation in the body. Round roots–turnips, radishes, beets, and rutabagas–nourish the stomach, spleen, pancreas, and reproductive organs.

If you’re like most of the world, the root veggies you probably eat most are carrots and potatoes. But here are many others you can try:

  • Beets contain an abundance of antioxidants and are highly detoxifying.
  • Burdock is considered a powerful blood purifier. This long, thin veggie is a staple in Asian and health food stores.
  • Celeriac, also known as celery root, is rich in fiber and has a respectable amount of antioxidants.
  • Jicama is crunchy and refreshing and contains a generous amount of vitamin C. It’s a favorite in its native Mexico and South America.
  • Onions are rich in antioxidants and other phytonutrients, making them prized for their ability to strengthen the immune system.
  • Parsnips, which look like giant white carrots, boast a sweet, earthy taste. They’ve also got plenty of fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, niacin, thiamine, magnesium, and potassium.
  • Radishes are an excellent source of vitamin C. They’re also rich in calcium and folic acid.
  • Sweet potatoes contain unsurpassed levels of beta-carotene and are also rich in vitamin C, phytonutrients, and fiber.

Excited to add more roots to your diet? Here’s an easy recipe …

Roasted Root Vegetables
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25-35 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 sweet potato
  • 2 parsnips
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 turnips or 1 large rutabaga
  • 1 daikon radish (or substitute/add in other favorites, like squash)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • herbs: rosemary, thyme, or sage (fresh if possible)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Wash and dice all vegetables into bite-sized cubes.
  • Place in a large baking dish with sides.
  • Drizzle with olive oil; mix well to coat each vegetable lightly with oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and herbs.
  • Bake uncovered for 25-35 minutes until vegetables are tender and golden brown, checking every 10 minutes to stir and make sure veggies are not sticking.

Tip: any combination of vegetables will work. Roasting only one kind of vegetable also makes a nice side dish.




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