HEALTHY HOLIDAY GIFT CHOCOLATES: 3 EASY INGREDIENTS

I’m squeezing in one more blog article before the holiday season, in case you are like me, and love to give food as HOLIDAY GIFTS. Chocolate is always a holiday favourite, and it’s possible for it to be healthy too! So here is a recipe that is easy to make, that you can package up to give away, or that you can finish off a special meal with. You can feel great about gifting this healthy version!

 I tucked freeze dried strawberries or pineapple into a few of these chocolates! Candied ginger is also a nice treat to find inside.

I tucked freeze dried strawberries or pineapple into a few of these chocolates! Candied ginger is also a nice treat to find inside.

This recipe uses 3 ingredients: raw cacao paste, raw cocoa butter, and yacon syrup. Cacao paste is the least processed form of the cocoa bean next to the bean itself (which you can purchase as whole beans or cacao nibs). It is rich in magnesium, potassium, iron and other minerals, and is a good source of polyphenols, which have antioxidant activity (1). Cocoa butter is the fat extracted from the cocoa bean. Yacon syrup is made from yacon root, which is a root vegetable grown in South America. The syrup’s sweetness is derived from fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which is a prebiotic that feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut. We can’t digest these carbohydrates, so they stay in our gut and are used by our bacteria instead. Since we can’t digest FOS, there are no sugars that enter the blood stream, making this a possible option for people with diabetes (2). FOS would not be suitable for someone with IBS or SIBO as it can aggravate symptoms in individuals with these conditions. Caution should be used for anyone with digestive symptoms such as bloating, cramping or abdominal pain. I’m including a variation for those who don’t tolerate FOS.

REASONS TO GIFT CHOCOLATE

If the taste of chocolate isn’t enough to tempt you, there are also numerous health benefits that can result from consuming chocolate, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, support for the immune system, cancer protection, and as already mentioned, there are antioxidant benefits (3).

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RECIPE

140g raw cacao paste
140g raw cocoa butter
1/2-2/3 cup yacon syrup (depending on how sweet you like it)

DIRECTIONS

Place cacao paste and cocoa butter over a double boiler, and melt.  Once melted, remove the top section and mix in the syrup.  Spoon the liquid mixture into candy molds, and place into the refrigerator or freezer until hard.  It only takes about 10 minutes in the freezer.  Once it has solidified, remove pieces from the molds, and put them into a container, or gift bag.

Candy molds can be found at Amazon or various stores such as Michael’s. The variety of shapes you can find is amazing! You can customize your chocolate shapes to fit the person you are gifting to. This recipe should fill 4 trays.

VARIATION

You can replace the syrup with honey. This version is just as tasty, but the honey doesn’t emulsify into the mixture as well as yacon syrup, so you’ll need to keep stirring the mixture as it goes into the molds, and the chocolates need to be kept refrigerated. I make this a lot, and love it, but for gift giving it’s nice not to have to refrigerate the chocolates.

Add the 3 ingredients to your shopping list, and put “chocolate making” on your list of things to do! If you don’t have candy molds, the easiest thing to do is order them online, or make a chocolate bark instead by adding your favourite nuts, seeds or dried fruit, and pouring the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with a silicon mat.

What’s your favourite way to use chocolate?

Happy, Healthy Eating and Gifting!
Best Wishes for the Holidays!
Tracey

BECAUSE AN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET JUST ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH

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There is a lot written about anti-inflammatory diets, and there is a ton of research looking at the anti-inflammatory effects of foods and supplements.  Fish oil and tumeric are examples of supplements that have been extensively researched.  Take a minute and google 'anti-inflammatory diet', or 'top anti-inflammatory foods', and you'll see just how much information is out there.  Dietary approaches that are anti-inflammatory emphasize vegetables, fruit, healthy fats such as olive oil and the omega-3 oils found in fish, and nuts and seeds.  At the same time they eliminate foods that contribute to inflammation such as refined grains, sugars, and deep-fried foods.  The Mediterranean Diet is a good example of a well researched anti-inflammatory diet.

People can experience some great benefits when they make changes to their existing food choices that include more anti-inflammatory foods.  There is a dilemma with this approach though.  The problem is that an anti-inflammatory diet just manages inflammation.  It does not address why there is inflammation in the first place.  It can be a bit like trying to put out a fire that is still being fed fuel at the same time.  Imagine a fire that is being sprayed with water, while at the same time gasoline is also being continually added.  A similar thing can happen in your body.  You can be feeding it anti-inflammatory foods, but if the inflammation is still being fuelled, then the inflammation might diminish, but will never go away.  If you have an ongoing health condition, then this is likely the case.

WHAT IS FUELLING MY INFLAMMATION?

All chronic health conditions have an inflammatory component.  Whether you have a skin condition, a brain condition, an autoimmune condition, heart disease, digestive struggles or any other ongoing health issues, inflammation will be part of that condition.  Inflammation is a normal part of your body's healing cascade.  It is a part of your immune system's response to fix whatever is wrong in your body.  When a health problem becomes chronic, you need to ask yourself "what's fuelling my inflammation?"

HOW DO I FIGURE OUT WHERE MY INFLAMMATION IS COMING FROM?

To understand what is fuelling your fire, it is important to start digging into possible contributing factors.  Here are some steps you can take to help determine where your inflammation is starting.

1.  Visit your family doctor and request some blood work.  Good markers of inflammation include:
- CRP (C-reactive protein) - this test is a good indicator of overall inflammation
- Fasting insulin and Hemoglobin A1C - these tests will provide a good picture of blood sugar imbalances, which can help you determine if this imbalance is fuelling your fire

2.  Visit a naturopathic or functional doctor.  There are some private lab tests that will help you figure out where your inflammation is stemming from.
- Urine Element Analysis - this test identifies heavy metal toxicity.  Heavy metals can include mercury, aluminum, cadmium, arsenic, lead, and thallium.  If you have worked with any of these substances in your job, if you wear lipstick (many contain lead), if you eat a lot of predatory fish such as tuna, shark or swordfish or if you have received vaccinations, then you may have accumulated some of these metals in your body.  These can be inflammatory, and your doctor can help support safe removal of these from your body.
- Environmental Toxicity - in addition to heavy metals, we are constantly being exposed to other toxins through the air we breathe, the body care products we use, the cleaning products we use, the pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on our food etc.  As with heavy metals, these can accumulate in some individuals and contribute to inflammation.
- Food sensitivity testing (IgG and IgA) - these tests measure whether or not certain foods are causing an immune reaction.  Any immune reaction involves inflammation.  If you are reacting to foods, then there is something deeper going on, so you'll still need to go one step further to figure out the origins of your inflammation, such as testing for leaky gut.
- Leaky gut - there are a variety of tests available to test if your intestines are permeable.  Intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) allows a variety of molecules (including food molecules that trigger an IgG response) to leak through the intestinal barrier into your body.  When this happens your immune system reacts, resulting in inflammation.
- Comprehensive Stool Analysis - this test gives you a general picture of what is going on with your gut microbiome.  Your microbiome plays a large role in modulating and regulating your immune system, so if something shows up with this test (an overgrowth or an insufficiency) it can directly or indirectly impact inflammation.  Food sensitivities can result when your microbiome is imbalanced.  This test can also help determine if you have a parasitic infection.
- Organic Acids Test (OATS) - sometimes metabolic products resulting from your body's own processes, or those produced by your gut microbiome can contribute to inflammation.  This test will show you if some of your metabolites are outside of the normal range.  I find this test useful when you have had some of the other tests done, and have addressed those aspects of your inflammation, but are still struggling with ongoing inflammation.
- Infections - infections can be bacterial, fungal, parasitic or viral.  Acute infections are easy to identify, but low-grade chronic infections can be harder to figure out, and might be fuelling your inflammation.  The kind of testing you do will be based on a doctor's evaluation, but might include the amount and type of antibodies found in your blood, white blood cell counts, or testing for something specific like H. pylori.  It's important to work with your doctor to figure out if any type of infection is present.

A DIET THAT ADDRESSES INFLAMMATION

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There are dietary approaches that address the root causes of your inflammation.  A Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet, and Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) are all designed to address leaky gut, and feed your microbiome in a way that supports beneficial species and starves out pathogenic ones.  An AIP diet also addresses many of the most common food sensitivities, but SCD and GAPS can also be customized to address these. All three of these protocols can be considered Paleo or ancestral types of diets that are gut-healthy.

Once you have explored possible sources of toxicity or low-grade infection, then the option exists to pursue various treatment options through your naturopathic or functional doctor, and you can support those treatments with dietary recommendations specific to your area of concern.

If you are eating a lot of anti-inflammatory foods, then keep up the good work!  You are already  well on your way!  

 If you are still struggling with your symptoms, then maybe its time to start digging a bit deeper, and ask yourself where your inflammation is coming from.  Start by scheduling an appointment with your family doctor.

What is fuelling your fire?

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey
PS - I'll be taking a break for the summer, so you won't see a blog article until the fall.

 

 

3 DIETARY MYTHS BUSTED

MYTH #1 -  I SHOULD EAT A LOT OF FIBRE!
There is a lot of truth to this statement, but not everyone should be eating a lot of fibre.  The benefits of fibre are well documented and include pooping regularly, feeding your gut microbiome, and helping to clear debris and toxins out of your digestive tract.  But fibre can be very irritating to a damaged gut, especially insoluble fibre like that found in bran, whole grains, flax seed and legumes.

There are people who should actually be aiming for a low fibre diet.  If you struggle with frequent diarrhea, then you should be eating a low fibre diet.  Some conditions that can involve diarrhea include Celiac disease, diarrhea-dominant IBS, diarrhea-dominant SIBO, Crohn's, or colitis.  Other reasons might include the removal of your gallbladder, a parasitic infection, lactose intolerance, or colon cancer.

If you have ongoing problems with diarrhea, then it is important that you visit your healthcare practitioner to dig into the root cause.

A dietary approach to address diarrhea includes eating low fibre foods such as meat, fish, eggs, and a lot of meat stock or bone broth.  Fermented dairy or coconut products like yogurt and kefir are also good choices.  Low fibre vegetables include squash, carrots, beets, and turnips.  You can make other vegetables like broccoli, lower in fibre by removing fibrous stems. 

Once diarrhea subsides, then you can slowly add fibre back into your diet, and reap all of its benefits!

MYTH #2 - RAW FOODS ARE BEST!
Raw foods can be great, because they contain a lot of enzymes that can facilitate metabolic processes in the body.  Nutrients can be hard to extract from raw foods though, especially when your gut health is compromised.  You need optimal digestive function for the nutrients to be extracted from foods, and you need a healthy gut lining to absorb those nutrients.

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Leaky gut has been correlated to numerous chronic health conditions such as autoimmune conditions and systemic inflammation (Source), as well as many neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease (Source).  When your gut is leaky, then the function of your intestinal cells becomes compromised, altering their ability to digest and absorb nutrients.  Given that leaky gut is correlated to many chronic health conditions, it becomes important to consume foods in an easily digestible format, and cooked foods allow for easier digestibility.

Cooking vegetables can break down cell walls making it easier for your body to extract many nutrients.  While some nutritional value is lost during cooking, it is important to consider the state of digestive function overall.  When digestive function is compromised, such as when leaky gut is present, then cooking foods ensures that nutrients can be extracted from foods.

Raw foods that are still easy to digest include soaked or sprouted nuts and seeds, fermented vegetables, and fermented raw dairy.

Once a leaky gut is repaired, and digestive function is optimal, then slowly adding raw vegetables and fruit back into your diet will allow you to benefit from all those great enzymes!

MYTH #3 - A VEGAN DIET IS THE HEALTHIEST DIET!
A vegan or vegetarian diet is a great way to detoxify your body, and to bring down inflammation.  It can work well for some people, but not if you are dealing with a microbial imbalance in your gut, or if you have leaky gut.

Vegan diets rely on a combination of grains with legumes, nuts or seeds to meet protein requirements.  The problem with grains and legumes is that they are also high in carbohydrates that will feed pathogenic species in your gut microbiome, and can perpetuate dysbiosis (an imbalanced microbiome).  In my clinical practice, I have seen the vast majority of my clients having IgG food sensitivity reactions to a variety of grains, which indicates that the proteins in them aren't being digested properly and are leaking through the gut barrier (leaky gut).  

Additionally, phytates in grains (Source) and legumes (Source) bind to minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium making them unavailable for absorption, so a vegan diet will not optimize mineral intake into your body.  Soaking, sprouting or fermentation will make minerals more available, but you will still be left with the high carbohydrate content.

You can still have a plant-strong diet that is low in carbohydrates, and that includes animal proteins.  Think plant-strong instead of plant-based.  If you are vegan or vegetarian for ethical reasons, but suffer from chronic health conditions, then it might be time to switch to an ethically sourced plant-strong diet without grains and legumes.

MYTHS BUSTED
I hope that you are starting to recognize that some of our commonly held ideas about food don't apply to everyone, and may not be right for you.  Availability of nutrients is largely dependent on a food's matrix, which is a combination of a food's nutrients, and non-nutrients, along with their molecular relationship to one another (such as the way phytates bind to minerals). This is a growing area of study, and is helping us to bust common food myths.  It's important that you eat in a way that supports your health and that is customized to what is going on in your body, especially your digestive function and gut health.

Happy Healthy (and customized) Eating!
Tracey

 

 

CALGARY'S BEST JUICE CLEANSES

Ever done a juice cleanse?   Or maybe thought about it?  Holiday season is already here!  Maybe after indulging in too much holiday merriment your gut could use a bit of a rest, and your body a bit of cleansing.  I’m going to give you the scoop on Calgary’s best Juice Cleanses, and help you decide which one is the right choice for you.

Usually the goal of a cleanse is to support liver detoxification, give the digestive system a rest, and to help bring inflammation down in the body.  The first few days can be a bit rough, but then you start to feel better and see positive changes in your body.   A few people shouldn't cleanse.  If you have diabetes, are pregnant or are breastfeeding, then a cleanse is not for you right now.  If you are on pharmaceuticals, you should discuss with your doctor to find out if it's a good idea.

In the past I’ve done 3-5 day juice cleanses using juicers I have in my kitchen, but the problem is that cleaning them is a lot of work.  Recently that has been a significant deterrent to juicing, because my schedule has gotten busier leaving me with little time to clean a juicer.

Amazingly it had never occurred to me that I could buy my juices, until recently when I met a woman who had just completed 30 days of juicing.  She runs her own business and has kids, but managed the 30-day cleanse successfully because she could order her juices.

So I decided to try a 21-day cleanse where I would sample the best cleanses that Calgary had to offer.  My criteria were that the juices had to be organic, cold-pressed and unpasteurized.  I found 4 places that met these criteria and the cleansing began.  I’m presenting the cleanses in the order I tried them.

The Juice Shop

 The Juice Shop's Liver Cleanse

The Juice Shop's Liver Cleanse

The best thing about The Juice Shop is that it has a menu of cleanses to choose from.  Not only do you have the option to choose from the menu, but you can have a cleanse completely customized to be unique to you.  The Juice Shop was the only company to actually screen me, and make sure I was suitable for a juice cleanse.  I tried both their liver and skin cleanses.   They are about to launch bone broth in their line of products.

Length of cleanse:  Options include anything from 1-5 days.
Delivery: available.  Price varies depending on distance of delivery.
Customize option:  Yes.  Best customization available of the cleanses I tried.
Flexible start date: Yes.
# of cleanses: 14 different cleanses on the menu, plus the ability to customize further.
Provides instructions:  Detailed pre and post cleanse instructions are emailed out once screened.
Ingredients/nutritional info on bottle:  Ingredients are on the label, but no nutritional label.
# of bottles:  Varies depending on the cleanse.  4-6 bottles per day.  Some cleanses come with a "shot", which is added to hot water.  Shots include Immune Shot, Candida Shot, Flu Shot...
Cost:  Starting at $40 per day up to $60 per day.
Order to drinking juices:  Juices are labelled in the order they should be consumed.

JUSU bar

 JUSU bar's Easy Cleanse

JUSU bar's Easy Cleanse

The best thing about JUSU bar is that it has multiple locations throughout the city, so if you want to pick up your cleanse, then you can choose the location closest to you.  Since it is a store with branches in various cities, it is well branded and packaged.  On the down side, staff may not be very knowledgable at these locations, but I was able to get my questions answered through email.

Length of cleanse: 1 or 3 day options
Delivery:  available
Customize option:  Similar juices can be swapped out if an allergy or sensitivity exists.
Flexible start date:  Tuesday or Saturday afternoons.
# of cleanses: 2.  An Easy and a Deep Cleanse.
Provides instructions:  Available on the website.
Ingredients/nutritional info on bottle:  Ingredients and nutritional label on each bottle.
# of bottles:  6 bottles per day.
Cost:  $60 for 1 day cleanse and $165 for 3 day cleanse.
Order to drinking juices:  Juices are labelled in the order they should be consumed.

Wild & Raw Bava Juice

 Wild and Raw's Bava Juice

Wild and Raw's Bava Juice

The best thing about Wild and Raw is the depth of flavour in their juices.  They pride themselves on their use of Superfoods.  The bottles are beautiful, which might have some appeal to gourmands or someone who can reuse them.  You have the option of adding bone broth to your cleanse.

Length of cleanse: 1 or 3 day options.
Delivery:  included in the price, but pickup is an option.
Customize option:  Can be customized if allergies or sensitivities exist.  There is an option to add bone broth to the cleanse.
Flexible start date:  Yes.
# of cleanses: 2.  Basic Cleanse and Deep Cleanse
Provides instructions:  Detailed instructions on what to expect during the cleanse, and post cleanse are emailed.
Ingredients/nutritional info on bottle:  Neither is on the bottle.
# of bottles: 4 large bottles, plus an elixir to add to water between juices
Cost:  $120 for 1 day and $333 for 3 days
Order to drinking juices:  Indicated in instructions

Juice Because

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The best thing about Juice Because is that you can take the glass bottles back and get store credit.  If you are concerned about your environmental foot print, then this is the best option.  You can also save some money using their Cleanse with a Friend option.  You have the option of adding bone broth to your cleanse.  I have to admit that I was disappointed with the flavours of these juices, and to see agave in one of their juices.  Agave is a high-fructose sweetener that is not gut-healthy.

Length of cleanse: 1 or 3 day options.
Delivery:  Available
Customize option:  Similar juices can be swapped out if an allergy or sensitivity exists.  There is an option to add bone broth to the cleanse.
Flexible start date:  Tuesday or Saturday start days.
# of cleanses: 2.  Cleanse I (and JB Cleanse 9.0 which I'm not covering in this article)
Provides instructions:  Brochure provided in the box with pre and post cleanse instructions.
Ingredients/nutritional info on bottle:  Ingredients and nutritional label on each bottle.
# of bottles: 6 bottles per day.
Cost:  $65 for 1 day and $190 for 3 day cleanse.  There is a discount if you cleanse with a friend.
Order to drinking juices:  Juices are labelled in the order they should be consumed.

Which one do I choose?

Determining factors for whether I'll use any of these cleanses again are taste and convenience.  The Juice Shop, JUSU bar, and Wild and Raw all have my vote for great juices in the flavour department.  Convenience for me means grabbing the juices I need and throwing them into my backpack to take to work.  This was very difficult to do with the glass bottles from Juice Because, and Wild and Raw.  They are very heavy, and if I had more than one in my bag I had to be careful they didn't bang against one another.  If you are doing your cleanse at home, then this isn't an issue, but if you need to carry juices with you, then it could become a problem.  When looking at both taste and convenience The Juice Shop and JUSU bar worked best for me.

If you are brand new to juice cleanses, then the Easy Cleanse from JUSU bar, the Beginner's Cleanse from The Juice Shop, or Cleanse I from Juice Because are your best choices.  JUSU bar and Juice Because only have two delivery/pick up dates, so if you need more flexibility, then The Juice Shop offers that.  

Moderate cleanses would include Wild and Raw's Basic Cleanse, JUSU bar's Deep Cleanse, and The Juice Shop's Intermediate Cleanse.

If you already lead a healthy lifestyle that includes an organic, whole foods diet, and you want to do a more intense cleanse, then The Juice Shop's Advance Cleanse, or their Liver Cleanse, or Wild and Raw's Deep Cleanse are your best choices.

If you want to add bone broth, then you can choose Wild and Raw, or Juice Because, and The Juice Shop is anticipating having their broth out soon too.  Of course you can also add your own broth, which is what I did for most of my 19 days.  Why would you add broth?  Amino acids are needed for phase 2 of liver detoxification, and broth will provide you with the specific amino acids you need to also nourish the gut lining.  It offers all of that without requiring digestion, so still let's your digestive system rest.

If you need customization, then Calgary's local shops offer the best choices.  The Juice Shop, Wild and Raw, and Juice Because have knowledgable staff that you can talk to.  JUSU bar allows you to swap similar juices, which may or may not be easy depending on your food sensitivities.  The Juice Shop comes out on top for customization, with Wild and Raw being the next choice.

If flavour is your biggest determining factor, then here are some considerations.  Wild and Raw had the richest depth of flavour in their juices.  JUSU bar includes a chocolate almond milk, so if you have a bit of a chocolate addiction then this has you covered.  The Juice Shop has the greatest variety of juice blends, which is especially nice for longer cleanses.

Lastly, if cost is the biggest determining factor, then JUSU bar or Juice Because's Cleanse with a Friend are the best choices.

I hope all those criteria help you decide which cleanse is right for you.  With the holidays right around the corner, think about adding a Juice Cleanse to your holiday wish list, or pre-order a cleanse for yourself or a loved one.

Winter Cleansing Tip

Coming off a cleanse requires a slow reintroduction to solid foods.  In the winter months the best way to transition back to whole foods is to eat a lot of blended soups made with meat stock or bone broth.  These will help warm you while adding foods in a way that are easy to digest.  Gradually make your soups chunkier and heartier.  The longer you have cleansed, the longer this transition period will be.

Click on one of the websites for juice cleanses above, and place your order for a January cleanse.  Do it for yourself or a loved one.  What are you hoping a cleanse will do for you?

Happy, Healthy Cleansing!
Tracey

 

 

 

3 YEARS INTO MY GUT-HEALTH JOURNEY: MY PERSONAL STORY

It’s hard to believe I’ve been on a gut-healthy diet for 3 years now.  Starting the journey was a difficult decision to make.  I think most of you can probably relate, when I say that the difficulty is not in eating a gut-healthy diet, but the hardest part is just starting.  Change can sometimes feel overwhelming.

I had huge incentive to start though.  I did it for my youngest son, Sam.  We adopted him from China when he was 3 years old.  After receiving the diagnosis of microcephaly and global developmental delay, we spent the next few years immersed in the world of sensory integration and neurodevelopmental therapies.  I know these therapies are life changing for many individuals, but we saw no changes in our son after 3 years.  In frustration I decided it was time for me to go back to school to get a break from working with my son.  Even though I was doing it for purely selfish reason it was to be the most beneficial thing I would do for Sam (and for me).  I spent a year studying nutrition, and then went on to become certified in the GAPS diet (The Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet).  By the time I had finished studying Natural Nutrition, I knew that I needed to learn more about the gut to help Sam.

Sam and I marked a date on the calendar for the end of October 2014, and I talked to him about the diet daily.  I ended up moving our calendar date ahead by a week.  Once I’ve made a decision I like to jump right in.

The changes for Sam were life altering for him and for us as a family, but what I hadn’t even considered at that time was how it would impact me.

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Here’s how things have changed for me after 3 years on a gut-healthy diet:

1.     I used to be a mouth breather at night, and often during the day as well.  When I look at my history, I realize I’ve had sinus inflammation for my entire life.  I still have some inflammation, but I breathe well through my nose all the time now.

2.     I don’t have seasonal allergies anymore.  I used to dread spring, because it meant months of itchy eyes, a drippy nose and severe fatigue.  Anti-histamines never seemed to work.  Amazingly those allergies are gone.

3.     Other allergies are disappearing.  This summer for the first time in 35+ years I have been able to pet dogs without getting hives.  It feels amazing to be able to interact with a dog.  Reactions to other animals are diminishing.

4.     I’ve had skin issues since I was a baby.  Rashes and dry skin plagued my childhood, and then I developed eczema on my hands in my early teens.  Like most people, I had tried every topical solution known to man.  NAIT treatments helped (an acupuncture desensitization) but they still weren’t addressing the cause.  I still get some eczema, but it is much better.  Dry skin is a thing of the past.  It still gets dry in our Calgary winters, but “normal” dry, not cracked, scabbing or severely itchy.

5.     Like my skin issues, I’ve had multiple chemical sensitivities for as long as I can remember.  I can remember feeling nauseated from being in a new car or from the smell of gasoline as a young child.  With each passing year I seemed to react to more and more scents, until I couldn’t be close to anyone wearing perfume, or sometimes even be close to someone wearing scented lotion or deodorant.  At its worst, I couldn’t go into a store if anyone in the store had perfume on.  I certainly couldn’t go into a conventional grocery store with its aisle full of scented laundry and household cleaners.  I used to have to hold my breath to get through the perfume section of a department store.  Sometimes exposure to scents left me vomiting and bedridden for a few days.  I still have to be careful to avoid chemicals, but I’m just so grateful that I’m not living a life of avoidance anymore.

Since most of these issues had plagued me my whole life I hadn’t even recognized them as problematic.  I had just assumed it was normal for me to breathe through my mouth, have itchy, irritated skin and react to most environmental triggers.  It seems so absurd now, but like many people I had just accepted that that was the way I was.

I still have a ways to go.  I measure my gut leakiness regularly.  I figure I have another year to go to reach optimal gut health.  I don’t plan on ever eating grains, or legumes regularly again.  Maybe my future will include small amounts of sprouted ancient grains, but I don’t miss them.  I like muffins and pancakes made with nut flours and butters better. 

Where ever you are on your journey, I hope you are seeing the changes you want.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  When I think of how long I was suffering from health problems, the last 3 years seems short.  After decades of damage, repairing it all takes time.

What has been the best thing about your journey?  Are there still symptoms you struggle with?

Happy, Healthy Journey!
Tracey

 

 

 

 

BECAUSE YOUR BRAIN MATTERS: THE 9 POINT BRAIN PLASTICITY CHECKLIST

You know your brain is important, but do you know how to take care of it?

There are some simple steps you can take to ensure your brain stays healthy and to make sure your brain plasticity isn’t compromised.

WHAT IS BRAIN PLASTICITY?

Plasticity is defined as changes in neural (brain) pathways and synapses due to changes in the environment, which allows for changes in mental and motor function to occur.  A simple definition of plasticity is that it is the brain's ability to change itself.  Whether you know it or not, you want good plasticity, and there is a lot you can do to support it.

WHY YOUR BRAIN MATTERS?

If you want to develop a new skill, prevent mental decline as you age, or keep learning throughout your life, then you want a plastic brain.  Learning requires brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity has far reaching implications.  There are a growing number of fascinating therapies that utilize brain plasticity.  These therapies challenge the brain in areas where there are weaknesses, such as with learning disorders, or developmental delays.  There are therapies to help stroke victims regain the function lost in the damaged area of the brain such as movement, vision or speech.  People with Alzheimer’s can gain lost cognitive function using specialized computer games.  Plasticity is being utilized increasingly in neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis where movement may be compromised, and there are even applications for regaining movement after a spinal cord injury. 

If you want to find out more about some of the therapies that can help your brain regain lost or missing skills, then I would highly recommend Norman Doidge’s books The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW!

Here’s a 9 point checklist you can use to make sure your brain has everything it needs to be primed for learning or to get the most out of rehab therapies.

1.  Vitamin D:  Make sure your vitamin D levels are good.  Ask your doctor to do a blood test to check your levels.  Supplement if your levels are low.  Get plenty of sunshine too – when the sunshine hits your skin, your body makes vitamin D.

2.  Omega 3:  Like vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids are an important nutrient for brain plasticity.  Eat wild, cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines regularly, or supplement with a fish oil.  My favorite is cod liver oil, because it contains vitamin D as well.

3.  Biomarkers:  Go to your doctor and request blood tests for homocysteine, fasting insulin and CRP (c-reactive protein).  If these aren’t in the normal range it could be affecting your brain.  Diet, exercise and supplementation can help improve these biomarkers.

4.  Hormones:  Hormonal balance is important to brain health, so while you are getting other biomarkers tested, you might as well ask your doc for a full hormone panel that includes estradiol and testosterone. There are different ways to bring your hormones back into balance.  If you have eliminated toxins, are eating organic food, managing your stress and exercising (see below) and your hormones are still out of balance you can talk to your doctor or naturopathic doctor about options.

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5.  Exercise:  Do whatever you enjoy to get yourself moving.  Exercise promotes BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which is a necessary protein in the body that stimulates brain growth, and is necessary to support plasticity.

6.  Sleep: Most people don’t get adequate sleep. If you don’t wake up feeling refreshed then it could be a sign that you are getting too little sleep or your sleep is interrupted.  Your brain takes a “bath” when you are asleep to clear out metabolic debris and detox itself.

7.  Stress:  Finding ways to reduce or manage stress can be challenging for many people, but it is extremely important.  Ask yourself if you have enough time to do the things you love, spend time with the people who make you happy or to just be lazy.  If not, then it’s time to simplify life or start implementing some strategies to manage stress such as restorative exercise such as yoga, deep breathing or whatever works to calm you.  Sometimes counseling or additional support may be needed.

8.  Toxins:  Your brain is very susceptible to toxins, so take a look at some of the toxins you expose yourself to daily and try to reduce them.  Start with your body care products (shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant etc) and look for a natural ingredient list free of chemicals.  Do the same thing for your household cleaners and laundry products.  Health food stores are great places to find natural body care and cleaning products.  Is the air you are breathing clean?  If not get an air filter.  Is the food you eat clean or is it sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides?  Start eating more organically grown foods.

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9.  Good nutrition:  Eating to support your brain goes a little deeper than just healthy eating.  If your biomarkers showed problems with homocysteine, blood sugar levels or inflammation, then diet can be customized to help bring test results back into a healthy range.  Eating to support plasticity also involves getting the nutrients the brain needs, as well as providing the building blocks for nerves and neurotransmitter production.  Eating to feed your gut microbiome is also important.  The organisms that live in your gut communicate a lot of information to your brain via the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

Wondering how your brain is doing?  Visit  Food For the Brain  and do their Cognitive Function Test.  Whether your score isn't as high as you'd like, or you just want to do everything you can to keep your brain at its best, then follow these 9 points.
Start by scheduling a doctor's appointment to get biomarkers tested, including vitamin D and hormones.  Then decide what your next step will be.

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

 

FAT BOMB LATTES - A GREAT WAY TO START THE DAY

As I write this, I'm about a week into a ketogenic diet (I'll explain why in next week's blog).  I'm doing a modified or low-ketogenic version of the diet, because it allows me to keep the nutrient density high in terms of micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals.  Historically a ketogenic diet has been used to manage epilepsy, but now studies are revealing a significant reduction in symptoms of Alzheimer's (on a modified ketogenic diet), and David Perlmutter recently discussed promising new research showing a reduction in Parkinson's symptoms (watch here).  The use of a ketogenic diet or a modified version of the diet has significant implications for neurological conditions.

Here's a brief outline of what my meals look like:

Water with electrolytes:  I drink a huge glass of warm water with some added electrolytes when I wake up.  The added electrolytes help me transition into a ketogenic diet without common side effects.  I also drink this between meals.  I like to use ConcenTrace, a liquid ionic mineral supplement.  I won't always need to add electrolytes - it's just to help get my body through the transition of using glucose, to using ketones as my primary fuel source.

Fat Bomb Latte:  I drink a large Fat Bomb Latte an hour or two after waking. (see recipe below)

Lunch:  A combination of 3 cups of vegetables like leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts...) or other low-carb vegetables, like celery, cucumber, asparagus, or zucchini.  Grass-fed animal protein like a chicken drumstick, a hamburger patty, a couple of eggs or any other meat (I love liver, so often have it at lunch).  Then I add a few tablespoons of fat that include MCT or coconut oil.  My current favourite is asparagus (which is seasonal right now) drenched in grass-fed butter.

Dinner:  Very similar to lunch except that I have a carb-up, which means that I have a small serving of a carb-rich vegetable like beets, carrots or winter squash, or some berries.  These foods provide a small amount of carbs, but also allow me to get a variety of nutrients and antioxidants that might otherwise be lacking in a ketogenic diet.  An evening carb-up can also help mitigate some of the side effects that some people experience on a ketogenic diet, and many people find they sleep better with the addition of a carb-up.

MCT Oil:  Since I am doing a modified or low-ketogenic diet I make sure to include some medium-chain triglyceride oil (MCT oil) with each meal.  MCTs are able to enhance ketone production.  MCT oil is easily absorbed and doesn't require bile or pancreatic enzymes, so anyone suffering from digestive issues or compromised digestion can still absorb MCTs.  Once absorbed, these fatty acids easily cross into cell mitochondria where they are metabolized and form ketones.  The best food sources of ketones are coconut and palm oils.  Grass-fed butter also has some MCTs but lower amounts than the coconut and palm oils.  You can also purchase a supplemental version of MCT oil, which is what I use in my Fat Bomb Lattes.

The two main meals above don't look that different from a gut-healthy, Paleo diet except that they are higher in fat.  The main difference is that I've replaced breakfast with a Fat Bomb Latte.  It's possible to skip breakfast completely, so that you have a longer fasting period (through the night and later into the day), but I like to spread my fat consumption out a bit, and it's nice to start the morning with a hot, comforting drink.  If you are familiar with Dave Asprey's Bulletproof coffee (coffee with grass-fed butter and MCT oil), then these lattes are a bit like that.

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SPICED FAT BOMB LATTE

I love cacao butter, because it provides a rich creaminess that has the flavour of white chocolate, so this latte recipe uses cacao butter.  

2 cups almond or coconut milk
2-3 tbsp raw cacao butter (approximate)
1 tbsp MCT oil
2 teaspoons Spice Blend such as Smooth-y-Golden Milk Spice Blend or Sweet Delight Spice Blend
1 scoop of collagen powder (about 1 1/2 tbsp)
1-2 teaspoons of monk fruit (low-carb sweetener)

Put the almond or coconut milk, raw cacao butter and spice blend into a small saucepan and heat until the cacao butter has melted.  Pour the mixture into a high-speed blender and add the remaining ingredients.  Blend on high speed until the mixture is frothy.  Pour into a large mug and enjoy.  The monk fruit is optional, but I find adding it helps bring the flavour of the spices out.

What is your favourite fat bomb drink?
Add cacao butter, and MCT or coconut oil to your shopping list.  Buy or make your own Spice Blend.  Start experimenting, and then let me know if you come up with a good recipe.

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

 

HIGH FAT FOR A HEALTHY HEART

Have you heard the news that fats are good for us?  Maybe you’ve even heard that saturated fats are good for us.  It’s true.  After decades of being told that we should be eating a low-fat diet, research is proving that low fat is detrimental to our health.  It’s bad for our brains, it’s bad for our hearts and it’s bad for hormone related conditions, but today I’m going to focus on the heart.

We’ve all heard about HDL (the good cholesterol) and LDL (the bad cholesterol).  Doctors look at blood levels of these as indicators of heart health.  In a healthy individual we typically see high HDL and low LDL.   High LDL is seen as being problematic.  But it turns out that not all LDL is bad.  There are different types of LDL particles:  large and buoyant, or small and dense.  It’s the small, dense particles that are the ones that put you at risk for heart disease.  It’s possible to have high LDL levels, and have low risk for heart disease if they happen to be the large particles, and conversely you can have low LDL levels, but if they happen to be small particles then you may be at risk for heart disease.  Just looking at total LDL is NOT a good indicator.  We can thank researcher Ronald Kraus for unraveling the complexity of LDL.

Diet and LDL

With the knowledge that we want high HDL, high large LDL and low small LDL, it’s important to look at how we can accomplish this through diet. In addition to changing how we view LDL, Kraus looked at how different diets affect different LDL particles.  Kraus demonstrated that when people eat a high carbohydrate, low fat diet, it correlates with small, dense LDL, which is the marker that increases your risk of heart disease. In contrast, a low carbohydrate diet increases HDL and large LDL particles and decreases small LDL particles.  That is exactly what you want!  (Source

The idea that saturated fats contribute to heart disease doesn’t hold up against the research. (Source)  It’s time to accept that fats aren’t artery clogging!

The Fat-Carbohydrate Relationship

When we take fats out of our diet, we tend to replace them with carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates are found in vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes and of course sugars. People need a feeling of satiety when they eat (or else they don’t stop eating).  Consuming protein makes us feel full and then fat makes that feeling last.  When proteins and fats are not consumed, then people eat more grains and legumes to get that feeling of satiety. In processed foods, more sugars typically get added as fats are removed.  Low-fat yogurts are an example where when fat is taken out, more sugar is added in. 

If you eat a whole-foods diet, you might be asking yourself, “What’s the problem with eating more grains, legumes or fruits and vegetables?”   After all, isn’t this what we’ve been told is a healthy diet?  As we’ve just seen with HDL and LDL, it’s not necessarily a healthy diet if we want a healthy heart.  But let’s look at some other factors involved in fat consumption and heart health.

 Gut Health = Heart Health.

The health of your gut also has significant implications for the health of your heart.  Living inside our guts are trillions of organisms collectively known as the microbiome.  Just like humans have wastes that we excrete through our feces, urine and sweat, the organisms in our guts have metabolic byproducts (or waste products) known as metabolites.  Different species produce different metabolites.  Let’s look at a group of organisms known as Gram-negative bacteria.  These organisms are lumped together based on a staining procedure used for viewing under a microscope. Gram-negative bacteria produce a metabolite called lipopolysaccharides (LPS).  LPS normally isn’t a problem.  However it becomes a problem when you have intestinal permeability (leaky gut).  Leaky gut allows LPS to leak through the barrier of the small intestine.  Just outside that barrier is our gut associated lymphatic tissue (GALT).  An easy way to understand GALT is to think of it as the largest part of our immune system.  It makes up 80% of our immune system, and all of it is imbedded in the tissue of our digestive system.  So when LPS leaks out, it comes into contact with our immune system where it binds onto immune cell receptors.  When this happens, it initiates a whole sequence of metabolic changes that lead to inflammation and heart disease. 

Diet and Gut Health

 So by now it shouldn’t come as any surprise that a low carbohydrate, high fat diet is also the best diet to restore the health of the intestinal barrier.  The GAPS diet is one of the best diets to repair intestinal health, and its founder Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride strongly advocates the use of saturated animal fats as part of a nutritional approach to heal the gut.

Nutritional Approach to Heart Health

If heart health is to be addressed using a nutritional approach, it needs to specifically address small LDL particles and intestinal permeability.  Knowing that a low carbohydrate, high fat diet is beneficial for both of these aspects of heart health leads us to protocols that have these two features.  Ancestral and GAPS diets are good places to start.  These diets include animal proteins such as meat, fish and eggs, vegetables, seasonal fruit, raw nuts and seeds and of course fats.  For people who tolerate dairy, these diets can also include high-fat, fermented dairy items such as yogurt, kefir, cultured cream, and cheeses.

Fat Sources

Great sources of healthy fats include:
Avocado
Coconut milk (full-fat), coconut butter, coconut oil
Raw nuts and seeds, and butters made from them
Grass fed and finished meats
Eggs from organic, free-range poultry
Wild fish
Butter, cream, yogurt, kefir and cheese from pasture-raised animals (if dairy is tolerated)
Olive oil

Further Reading:

The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz
Eat Fat Get Thin by Mark Hyman MD or order the Fat Summit http://fatsummit.com
The Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride


Happy, Healthy Eating!

Tracey

 

FATS ARE OUR FRIENDS

Contrary to the popular belief that fats are detrimental to our health, they are actually a necessary nutrient that is vital to our body’s ability to function well, and to help reduce inflammation.

Each and every cell in our bodies has a membrane made of fat.  Your body will take whatever fat it is given to make those membranes, so if you eat trans-fats or fats that have oxidative damage, then your cell membranes will be made with those fats.  When this use of unhealthy fats happens, then our cells can’t function optimally.  Likewise, when you eat good fats, your cell membranes will be made from these, and can carry out their job well.

Our brains are also made mostly of fat.  Our brains are about 70% fat.  The same principle applies to brains as to cells.  We need the healthy fats if we want our brains to function optimally.  Fats are considered to be neuro-protective.  Neuro-protective means that the brain is protected from degeneration or shrinkage that can occur with aging or illness.  Research studies indicate that people with low cholesterol levels have increased risk of neurological conditions.  We keep hearing we should reduce our cholesterol consumption, but doing so has grave consequences for brain health.

Fats Can Help Reduce Inflammation

Besides being a necessary nutrient, many fats have anti-inflammatory properties that can help bring down inflammation in the body.  Inflammation can be found in most chronic health conditions including arthritis, allergies, skin conditions, digestive conditions like IBS, Crohn’s and Colitis, autoimmune conditions and many neurological conditions. 

The most important fats for reducing inflammation are the omega-3 fatty acids.  Sources of these fats are found in fatty fish, raw walnuts, eggs, flaxseeds and chia seeds, so it’s important to consume these foods regularly.  Pasture-raised meats have a much higher omega-3 profile than conventionally raised meats, so switching to pasture-raised meats is another way to increase your omega-3 consumption.

While olive and coconut oils aren’t high in omega-3, these also have anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s important to get good quality organic oils in order for them to have these anti-inflammatory properties.

How Do I Add These Fats to My Diet?

Raw nuts and seeds make great snacks.  Walnuts are a great source of omega-3, so mix them up with your favorite dried fruit, or eat them as they are.  Walnuts and chia seeds can be sprinkled on cereals, added to granolas or mixed into any salad.  To get omega-3s from flaxseeds, you need to grind them in a blender or coffee grinder.  Add these ground seeds to smoothies or sprinkle onto soups and salads.  Health food stores sell a large variety of nut and seed butters which can be used in a variety of ways.  Try dipping apple or pear pieces into walnut butter.  YUM!

Eggs are an easy and versatile food.  Besides the usual dishes like omelets or boiled or poached eggs, eggs dishes include quiche, soufflés, and flans.

Wild fish is a bit difficult to get in Alberta.  Salmon is almost always available, and trout is probably the next most readily available.  Steam, bake or grill your fish and serve with your favorite cooked vegetables and a salad.

Avocados, besides being a good source of fat, are very nutrient dense.  Add them to salads, smoothies, and guacamole or serve them on their own.  Guacamole can also be used as a salad dressing, or throw avocado and olive oil into a food processor with some seasonings. 

Olive oil makes the perfect salad dressing with a bit of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice.  Try drizzling it over soups, stews or vegetables.  The varieties of olive oil are endless, so if you enjoy being creative in the kitchen, try visiting one of the olive oil specialty shops in Calgary.

Coconut oil and clarified butter (ghee) are some of the best fats for cooking with.  They are heat stable, so don’t get damaged with heat.  Use these when making stir-fries, or for any other cooking in a frying pan where you don’t want foods to stick.  You can also use them to make granolas or for baking with. 

Pasture-raised meats are easy to swap for any meats you already consume.  Visit your local farmer’s market or health food store to obtain these, and look for pasture-raised or grass finished on the packaging. 

So go ahead and indulge.  You can feel good about drizzling your veggies with a good organic butter, having organic eggs regularly for breakfast, or pouring olive oil over a warming soup or stew.