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

 

WHERE VEGETARIAN AND PALEO MEET

A couple of months ago my 15 year old daughter, Anya, decided to become a vegetarian.  This is a reasonably common decision for teenage girls during a developmental period when their empathy grows, and they make the decision to stop eating meat for ethical reasons.  

If you've been following my blog for a while, then you know that I support a Paleo or Ancestral way of eating that is especially focused on restoring gut health.  I had to go through my own health crisis and journey to reach where I am at today, and that journey included being vegetarian for 10 years.  While I was a vegetarian, my health declined even as the quality of my food increased.  I spent several days completely bedridden each month with extreme nausea and fatigue, and I suffered from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder that at times left me vomiting and exhausted after exposure to perfumes or chemicals that off-gassed.  Finally an alternative practitioner told me I had to start eating meat again, and that was the turning point in regaining my health.  That was long before I became a nutritional consultant and started researching the gut microbiome and intestinal permeability (leaky gut).  Once I understood how inflammatory grains and legumes were in the gut there was no turning back.  I am not 100% free of my chemical sensitivities, but the nausea and fatigue are long gone, and the hay fever that I've suffered from since I was a child is also gone.

So you can probably imagine my reaction when my daughter stopped eating meat.  I should mention that like me, she also suffers from chemical sensitivities and hay fever.  We have spend many hours discussing leaky gut, and how being a vegetarian will make it worse, but at 15 years of age she doesn't have a frame of reference to really understand what it means to be in poor health.  At this stage, the life of an animal is more important to her than her own health.

When I realized she had stopped eating meat we had a discussion about what a good vegetarian diet looks like to ensure she is getting complete proteins (all the amino acids the human body needs to repair and grow).  I told her that legumes, and nuts and seeds needed to be part of her diet.  I emphasized how often people just take meat out of their diet without understanding the need to replace the nutrients that meat provides.

The next step was to inspire Anya with great vegetarian recipes that were still nutrient dense.  Sadly there seem to be very few good vegetarian cookbooks.  I think I have signed out every cookbook the Calgary Library offers, and have been dismayed by most of them.  Entree recipes typically rely on pasta or bread with vegetables.  Rarely are there recipes that ensure adequate protein combinations.

WHERE VEGETARIAN AND PALEO MEET

One of the biggest dilemmas has been finding meal ideas that everyone can eat, but luckily there are a few sources of complete protein that fit into both a vegetarian and a Paleo diet.  These ideas can be great to take to dinner parties or social events where you don't know the dietary needs of people.

Vegetables and Fruit
Luckily all vegetables and fruit can be eaten on both diets with the exception of potatoes.  Some people on a Paleo diet can eat potatoes, but from a gut-healthy perspective they are too high in carbs, and people with autoimmune conditions can react to them.  It's very easy to find a wide variety of vegetable dishes including salads, stir-fries, roasted vegetables and soups.

Fats
Avocado oil, olive oil and coconut oil are all plant based fats that are great for both vegetarians and Paleo eaters alike.  Use coconut oil for cooking.  Olive oil should only be used for salads or drizzled over dishes - never cooked with.

Protein Sources
Hemp Seeds - these offer complete proteins and can be used in a variety of ways including making hemp seed milk.
Chia Seeds - these great little seeds also offer complete protein, as well as omega 3 fatty acids.  
Spirulina - an algae that contains complete protein.  Can be added to smoothies.
Other nuts and seeds - not complete proteins, but a great source of fats, and flours and butters can be used for baking.
Eggs - a nutrient powerhouse and a complete protein.  They are incredibly versatile for those people who tolerate them.
Raw or Cultured Dairy - raw milk is difficult to get in Alberta.  I suggest everyone avoid pasteurized milk.  Cultured dairy includes yogurt, kefir and aged, lactose-free cheeses, which all offer complete proteins.  Dairy isn't tolerate well by many people, and lactose should always be avoided when restoring gut health.

NOTE:  If you are in the early stages of an autoimmune protocol, then none of these sources of protein are good options - stick to animal proteins.

MEAL IDEAS

Cooking for the whole family has been challenging over the last couple of months, but we have found some great favourites that everyone can eat.

I don't need to sweeten my hemp seed porridge when I add seasonal fruit, but my daughter likes hers sweetened.

I don't need to sweeten my hemp seed porridge when I add seasonal fruit, but my daughter likes hers sweetened.

Frittatas - eggs and a collection of a variety of vegetables.  An easy and simple idea for any meal.  Try mushrooms, spinach and black olives.  Cheese can be added for those who tolerate it.
Smoothies - leafy greens, fruit, MCT oil and water or a milk alternative.
Hemp & Chia Seed Porridge - served with fruit this dish makes a hearty breakfast.   Try this recipe.  For a gut-healthy version use honey as the sweetener.
Vegetable Fritters - grate up a variety of root vegetables or zucchini, and mix them up with eggs.  Form into patties and bake or fry.  Great to freeze or grab on the go.
Almond flour or coconut baking - muffins, cakes, and breads can all be made with a variety of Paleo flours and eggs.  My current favourite are Blueberry Lemon Muffins.
Nut & Vegetable Patties - These add variety to the Vegetable Fritters we make.  Try this recipe.

Are you living in a household with a variety of dietary needs?  What are your strategies to simplify meal preparation?  

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey
PS:  Do you want more relevant information about gut health?  Check me out on FaceBook.

SEBASTIAN'S EASY CHERRY PIE

My 17 year old son made an amazing gut-healthy pie last week.  It was so good (he has promised another) that not a crumb was left.  We all had a piece, and then I declared that we might as well finish it all, since it was so amazing.  My son will be attending a Baking and Pastry Arts program this fall, because he loves baking, but the good news is that this was REALLY EASY, so anyone can make it.  Sebastian loves working with whatever ingredients are on hand, so as soon as he saw the huge bag of cherries I came home with he was inspired to make a pie.

Sebastian used my favourite pie crust recipe from Elana's Pantry.  It only has 4 ingredients making it the easiest pie crust ever.  The dough just gets pressed into the pie plate, so no rolling required.  Can't eat eggs?  Replace the egg in this recipe with a gelatin egg.

Then he made a simple, delicious 4 ingredient filling.  

SEBASTIAN'S CHERRY PIE FILLING

2 pounds fresh cherries
1/2 cup honey
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp tapioca flour

Wash and pit the cherries.  Mix the tapioca flour with the lemon juice.  You can add a bit of water if it's not enough fluid.  Put all the ingredients into a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir continually until the mixture thickens (5-10 minutes).  Allow to cool and pour the cherry filling into a baked pie crust.  Refrigerate until set (if you can wait that long) and enjoy!

Visit your local farmer's market this weekend to get amazing cherries.  Let me know what you think of Sebastian's Cherry Pie.  What are your favourite pie fillings?  Saskatoons?  Peaches?  It's that time of year for a lot of great pie making.

Happy, Healthy Baking!
Tracey

PS:  I made the crust with a "gelatin egg", and used blueberries for the filling and it was just as good!

THE GUT-HEALTHY ROAD TRIP SNACK GUIDE

I'm starting to get ready for our trip to Windermere and thought I'd share some of the snacks I pack for a road trip.  For longer trips we will usually plan a stop somewhere along the route for a meal, but this trip is a shorter one, so won't require a stop.  

If you are doing a longer trip, it's helpful to take a few minutes to plan where you will stop, since eating a gut-healthy meal does require a bit of advanced planning.  Traditional diners usually work well, because it's pretty easy to get an omelette or a steak and salad (ask for olive oil and lemon for your dressing).  Franchised restaurants don't tend to work well, since much of their menu is prepared, frozen and shipped to restaurants, which makes it very difficult for restaurants to customize your order.  Start by choosing a town that you anticipate reaching at lunch or dinner time.  Do an online search for gluten-free menus.  Once you find restaurants that accommodate for gluten, it's pretty easy to customize to gut-healthy from there.

Some other gut-healthy meal ideas are:
Italian - order a chicken, fish or meat dish that is baked or grilled (not breaded).  Ask for extra vegetables instead of pasta or rice.
Mexican - grilled meat and vegetables without the tortilla.  Ask for vegetables to dip in guacamole.
Burgers - call ahead to find out if they use fillers in their burgers.  If not, then you are good to go.  Order a burger without the bun, or ask them to wrap it in lettuce for you.   Add a side salad.
Japanese - sashimi and seaweed salad.  Make sure the salad doesn't include soy sauce.

Regardless of whether or not you stop for a meal, some snacks are always important to have along, especially if you have kids in the car.  It's almost impossible to grab a gut-healthy snack at a gas station, so a little bit of planning goes a long way to making a road trip enjoyable.  

This year, I'm packing some homemade crackers:  flax seed crackers and a sweet chocolate almond flour cracker, both of which were made in my dehydrator.  As you'll see, a dehydrator can be invaluable for road trips.  Other snacks I made in my dehydrator are beef jerky and kale chips.  Before we leave I'll get some fresh fruit and veg, and some nitrate-free sandwich meat and salami to go with those crackers.  Two of my kids love seaweed, so I'll also have some Seaweed Snax on hand, and we'll be trying out some plantain chips I got at Blushlane.  I'm hoping we'll see fresh fruit vendors somewhere along the way as well, but this is the first time I'm making this trip since I was a teenager (that was a few decades ago), so I'm packing fruit to be on the safe side.  Additionally we'll have some nuts and seeds on hand, and we'll have extra water on board.  Some bottles of kombucha will round things out nicely.  I always end up packing more than we need, but on those few occasions when we've been delayed it has been great to have food on hand, especially for the kids.

Here are my dehydrator snacks, plus a couple of items from the store.

Here are my dehydrator snacks, plus a couple of items from the store.

What do you pack on your road trips?
What do you end up grabbing on the road if you don't pack snacks?

Happy Healthy Snacking!

Tracey 


 

 

YOU'LL LOVE COOL CUCUMBER SOUP ON HOT SUMMER DAYS

Cold soups don't have a lot of appeal most days of the year, especially living in Canada, but on those days where it's sweltering hot, nothing beats a cold soup.  In Calgary, we had some of those sweltering days last week, and a few more are expected in the coming days, so cold soup will be a welcome treat.  The best part is that Cucumber Soup only requires a blender to prepare, so in addition to being a tasty, cool meal, it is incredibly easy to make.

I have a simple Basic Cucumber Soup recipe, and then you can choose from any of the following variations, or create your own.  These recipes are gut-healthy, Paleo, and can easily be adapted to a Keto diet, by adding more olive oil.  Serves 4.

Have you made a cold soup before?  Has soup making ever been this easy?

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

 

Basic Cuke Soup

2 English cucumbers, chopped
1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small clove of garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt or Himalayan salt

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until creamy.  Add water if needed to create a thinner consistency.

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Herb & Lemon Soup

Juice from a lemon
Handful each of fresh dill, and oregano (or your favourite fresh herbs)

Add these two ingredients into the basic soup and blend on high-speed until the herbs are chopped.  If you like an intense lemon flavour, add the zest from the lemon a well.

Green Curry Soup

Juice from 3 limes
3 handfuls fresh mint
1 heaping tablespoon green curry paste
dash of your favourite hot sauce (optional)

Add the first 3 ingredients into the basic soup and blend on high-speed until the herbs are chopped. Sprinkle in a bit of hot sauce to taste.

Sweet Green Goddess

3 pears, chopped and seeded
3 handfuls fresh mint

Add these two ingredients into the basic soup and blend on high-speed until the herbs are chopped.  The pears might seem like an unusual addition for soup, but they make this soup very refreshing on a hot day.

I HAVE THE GENETIC MARKER FOR ALZHEIMER'S! HERE'S WHY I'M NOT WORRIED.

Ever wonder if you are going to get a dreaded disease that you have a family history of?  That was the case for me with Parkinson's disease.  My grandfather had Parkinson's, and sometimes I wondered if I had the same genetic markers that predisposed my grandpa to getting the disease. About a month ago I got an email from 23andme letting me know that they were going to be changing their website, and that if I wanted access to locked genetic information, I would have to access it before those changes came.  The locked information included genetic markers for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and breast cancer.  I had previously decided to keep that information locked, because I know that diet, exercise and stress management are key factors involved in gene expression.  As a nutritional consultant I'm pretty confident that my diet is good, I exercise regularly, and while my life can be pretty stressful, I do have regular practices that I use to manage it.  

I changed my mind though when I realized I would lose access to that information.  I gave a huge sigh of relief when I found out that I don't have any of the known Parkinson's markers, but was surprised to find that I have the APOE 4 gene.  APOE 4 carriers are prone to high LDL cholesterol and Alzheimer's.  The reason the E4 variation is associated with higher risk for high LDL is because the Apolipoprotein E (the protein produced by the gene) binds with VLDL, which reduces the clearance of LDL from the blood, resulting in higher blood levels of LDL.  Ideally you want low LDL, so having a genetic variation that predisposes you to higher LDL increases your risk for certain diseases, such as cardiovascular disease.  The connection between APOE 4 and Alzheimer's is not well understood at this time.

WHY I'M NOT WORRIED

1. Known risk factors:
There are many known risk factors for Alzheimer's including family history, having the APOE 4 gene, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, stroke, depression, smoking and traumatic brain injury (Source).  
Besides the genetic marker, I have no other risk factors for Alzheimer's.  A good reason not to worry.

2.  A healthy gut microbiome:
Research into the area of the microbiota-gut-brain axis has exploded in recent years, and includes the effects of the microbiome on Alzheimer's (Source).  Since my area of specialization as a nutritional consultant is teaching people how to eat to support a healthy microbiome, I feel pretty confident that I'm addressing my microbiome.  I eat a Paleo, gut-healthy diet that includes animal proteins, lots of vegetables, some fruit, healthy fats like fats from grass-fed animals, coconut oil and olive oil, as well as some nuts and seeds, and fermented foods.  

3.  Occasional ketosis as prevention:
A 2008 study showed that glucose transport across the blood brain barrier is impaired in an Alzheimer's brain (Source).  When brain cells are deprived of glucose they need another fuel source, which can be obtained from ketone bodies.  There are different ways for the brain to get ketones.  One is to eat a very low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat diet (also known as a ketogenic diet), which will cause your body to shift from glucose metabolism to fat metabolism.  When you metabolize fat, you start producing ketones, which are a great fuel for brain cells.  The other way is to supplement with medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which rapidly get metabolized into ketones. A double blind, placebo controlled study has shown that MCT supplementation improves memory in Alzheimer's patients (Source).  It's important to note that no dietary changes were made in the study, but that the changes happened with supplementation alone.

A ketogenic diet that is high in saturated fat could be problematic for someone like me who has the APOE 4 gene variation.  I never recommend a diet low in fats, but at the same time I don't necessarily want to eat a high fat diet if I can't metabolize fats well. I decided on a modified ketogenic diet with MCT supplementation.  Right now I'm eating a very low-carbohydrate diet, moderate protein, moderate fat with the addition of MCT oil supplementation daily.

My long-term plan is to go back to a Paleo, gut-healthy diet, with occasional periods of ketosis.  Some of those periods might look like the one I'm in right now that uses a modified ketogenic diet, but some of those periods might be a 3-4 day fast, which also induces ketosis.

Have you considered a preventative approach to your brain health?  Have you reversed symptoms of a neurological condition using diet?  What has worked for you? Or what hasn't?

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

 

4 REASONS TO GARDEN YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE THOUGHT OF

Every year I plant a small vegetable garden, as well as fill several large planter pots with herbs.  We have a small backyard, so it's not much of a vegetable garden in terms of size, but each family member's favourite vegetable gets planted, a variety of leafy greens go in, and then there is a bit of space for experimentation.  This year's experiment is peppers.  Last year's was cauliflower, and they were so big and beautiful that I'm planting them again.

Last year I had several beautiful, enormous heads of cauliflower in my small garden.

Last year I had several beautiful, enormous heads of cauliflower in my small garden.

There are so many benefits to growing your own food, with organic and fresh picked being at the top.  Nothing rivals the taste of a sun-warmed tomato fresh from the vine, or pulling a carrot straight out of the soil and biting into its crispy flesh.  But there are other important reasons to consider gardening.

1.  ADDING TO YOUR GUT MICROBIOME
When you pull that carrot straight from your garden and give it a quick wash, some of the soil microbes are still on that carrot.  Adding soil-based organisms to your gut increases the microbial diversity of your own gut microbiome, and greater diversity is associated with greater health.  Each plant has its own microbiome, but when vegetables get picked and power washed in preparation for store shelves, that microbiome gets washed away.  Exceptions would include things like cabbage, where the leaves are tightly packed and water doesn't get past the outer layer of leaves, leaving the microbes inside the cabbage safe and sound.  To maximize your own gut microbial diversity, you want to ingest both the microbes from the plants and from the soil they grow in.  I should point out that you want to be growing in soil that hasn't had chemicals sprayed on it.

Jeff Leach, who cofounded the American Gut Project,  has studied the Hadza population in Africa, specifically in relation to their gut microbiomes.  Jeff believes that high fibre content is one of the contributing factors to the Hadza's microbial diversity (Source).  The fibre in vegetables from your garden feed all those great organisms, ensuring that they can thrive.

2.  STRESS RELIEF
Gardening can be a great way to take your mind off daily stressors.  Regular watering and pulling the occasional weed might just be what your busy brain needs to switch gears at the end of a hectic day.  The initial stage of gardening requires some effort.  You might add compost, organic fertilizer or other nutrients to create good soil, and then you have to plant your seeds or plantings.  However, once that has been done, then all your garden asks of you is watering and weeding.  It can be incredibly calming and rewarding to take a few moments each day or two to provide your garden with the water it needs, pull a few errant weeds, and to witness shoots emerging from the earth and eventually flourishing to a full sized plant that bears edible roots, leaves or fruits.

3.  SOCIAL CONNECTION
Planting a garden is a great thing for parents and children to do together, or for grandparents to do with grandchildren.  Not only does it teach a young child where the food that they eat comes from, but it is an opportunity to spend meaningful time together.  

Other opportunities for connection include involvement in a community garden or a CSA(Community Supported Agriculture).  While having a share in a CSA doesn't actually involve you spending time in the garden, it is a great way to connect with your local farmers.  Having a share typically means that each week you meet with a farmer at a designated drop off location (often a farmer's market) to pick up your share of the harvest.

Whether you grow your own food, spend time with loved ones while gardening, or connect with local growers, one of the best ways to connect with loved ones is by sharing a meal made with fresh, local ingredients.  Preparing a meal with fresh, local ingredients is a great way to show your love for friends and family - it nourishes bodies and nourishes connections.  I like nothing better than a potluck with friends or family where everyone has contributed a wholesome dish to share.
 

4.  GROUNDING
Grounding refers to skin contact with the surface of the earth.  Walking barefoot and gardening are great ways to get that contact with the earth.  I like to do my gardening barefoot, which means my feet are always dirty, but I always feel like I've been emotionally restored after time spent barefoot on the grass or in the dirt.  

The basic idea behind grounding is that the negative ions from the earth counteract positive electrons in the form of free radicals. Free radicals are a normally occurring metabolic product in our bodies, but in high numbers they damage body tissue and contribute to aging, so having strategies to counteract their effects is important to good health.

Research shows that grounding has a positive effect in reducing inflammation and supporting wound healing. (Source)

WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Stop by a garden store and pick up some plants or seeds to start your own vegetable or herb garden.  Prepare to get your hands and feet dirty.
At the end of the summer, enjoy amazing food that you grew, and that is adding diversity to your gut microbiome.

What is your favourite thing to grow?

Happy, Healthy Gardening!
Tracey

 

PALEO TORTILLA CHIPS! - I'M IN HEAVEN

I don't normally write about a specific product, but I was so excited by these chips during a recent trip I took last week to San Diego that I had to share.

Sometimes being on a Paleo, gut-healthy diet is tough.  You can only eat at higher-end restaurants (which I'm not really complaining about, but it does limit your options), you often have to ask for substitutions when eating out, and you inevitably need to spend some time in your own kitchen (which is great if you like to cook, not so great if you don't like to cook).  One of my biggest frustrations is finding great products when I travel to the States, but not being able to get them locally.  I've written about this before.

So there I was perusing the aisles of Whole Foods in San Diego, and getting some Primal Kitchens Mayo, and some Epic bars - there were even amazing Paleo choices at their cafeteria style buffet where I loaded up a container for lunch one day - when I saw Grain Free Tortilla Chips.  I immediately grabbed a couple of bags and threw them into our cart.  These chips are produced by Siete, which is a family owned company that started supporting Veronica, a family member suffering from multiple autoimmune conditions, by creating grain-free tortillas and chips.  These are AMAZING!  In fact I would go so far as to say that these are better than any tortilla chip I've ever eaten.  Made from cassava flour, avocado oil, coconut flour, ground chia seed and sea salt, these chips rival the best with their crunch and flavour.

So next time you are visiting the States, leave room in your suitcase for a few bags of tortilla chips.  I even brought a bag back for my young son, who has the most sensitive of guts, and he LOVES them, and hasn't had any tummy troubles.  He was pretty excited to be able to eat a chip again.  I won't lie - I went through 4 bags in the 5 days we were on our trip.  Probably not the healthiest thing to do (still a processed food), but like I said sometimes eating this way is tough, and it was an indulgence that I didn't feel guilty about.

Want to see more products like this on local store shelves?
Talk to the customer service staff at your local health food store and inquire.  If there is enough demand, they'll start bringing in more products.  I'm trying to set up a meeting with SPUD to see if they are willing to carry more Paleo goods.
You are your strongest advocate, so if you want to see more Paleo products on store shelves, then let the store you shop at know.

Happy, Healthy Eating (and Shopping)!

Tracey

TIGERNUT TROUBLES

Do you ever buy something at the grocery store not really knowing what you are going to do with it?  I've done this with Tigernut butter, Tigernut flour and Tigernuts.  Once I get home, I start searching for recipes online, and then start trying different things out.  The trouble is that I haven't found anything I like that uses Tigernuts.

Soaked Tigernuts over raspberries.

Soaked Tigernuts over raspberries.

Tigernuts aren't actually a nut.  They are a small tuber, just like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and cassava.  They have a sweet nutty taste, and can be a great alternative to nuts for people who have allergies or sensitivities to nuts, or who are on an autoimmune protocol.  Tigernuts are high in fibre, and are a good source of monounsaturated fats.  There are many claims that they are also high in resistant starches, but I haven't seen research supporting that claim.  Other raw tubers are high in resistant starches though, so it would make sense that this one is as well. Tigernuts are dehydrated to make them shelf-stable, and the end result looks a bit like a tiny dried wild mountain fig.  These little tubers have been embraced by the Paleo and Autoimmune communities.  I suspect that they are not SCD or GAPS compliant, due to the fact that other tubers aren't allowed on these protocols, and the high fibre content could be irritating to the gut lining.

AIP Eat More Bars

AIP Eat More Bars

MY TROUBLES

I keep trying to find a recipe I like.  Here's my experience to date:
1.  Flour:  I tried a variety of pancake recipes, but they all seemed gooey on the inside and burnt on the outside.
2.  Whole:  I tried using the dried Tigernuts the same way I would use nuts.  I made AIP Eat More Bars, which are a sweet treat, but I find the Tigernuts to be too hard and fibrous to be enjoyable.  Then I decided to try soaking them, and put them over a bowl of berries - still too hard and fibrous to be enjoyable.  
3.  Tigernut Milk:  I haven't actually tried making this, because I know from past experience (and a bit of research to confirm) how labour intensive milks are to make, and then you have the pulp to deal with.  Dehydrated pulp makes a mediocre flour that is gritty.
4.  Tigernut Spread:  This is very similar to any other nut butter.  To date it's my favourite way to eat Tigernuts.  It's good on celery sticks or for dipping fruit into.

Have you had similar troubles with finding a way to enjoy a food?  Kale?  Liver?
Do you have a Tigernut recipe that you really enjoy?  If you do, please share!

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

THE EVILS OF ERYTHRITOL!

Ever done an online search and had a hard time finding the information you needed?  A couple of months ago I started wondering if erythritol would be a safe sugar alcohol to use in a gut-healthy diet, and I've had a hard time finding relevant research.  My interest in this sweetener started when I realized it was the preferred sweetener used by people on ketogenic diets. After plugging away at it for a while I'm starting to find what I was looking for.

Erythritol is a sweetener that is used in many low carbohydrate and low calorie products, and it's considered to be diabetes friendly.  Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, which puts it in the same category as other sweeteners such as mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol.  These can all be found in our food supply as sugar replacements in sugar-free foods such as sugar-free gum, chocolates, flavoured drinks, candies, jams, protein bars and packaged goods.  Swerve is one of the common brands you'll find on store shelves, and is the brand recommended by many ketogenic diet cookbooks.  Swerve has the benefit of being non-GMO (genetically modified organisms), which makes it a better choice than many erythritol sources that are GMO.

At first glance it looks like a great product:  low calorie, doesn't affect blood sugar levels, doesn't contribute to tooth decay, and very little makes its way to the large intestine, so it can't feed organisms like Candida.

THE GUT PERSPECTIVE:  Is Erythritol Gut-Healthy?

Many people experience digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating and diarrhea when consuming sugar alcohols, but erythritol is often used specifically because it causes less digestive upset than other sugar alcohols, and is often well tolerated.

One study found that "consumption of 20 and 35 g erythritol by healthy volunteers, in a liquid, is tolerated well, without any symptoms. At the highest level of erythritol intake (50 g), only a significant increase in borborygmi and nausea was observed..."

I think the key words in that quote are "healthy volunteers".  If you are already experiencing digestive symptoms, then adding erythritol into the mix can make things worse.  Erythritol and other sugar alcohols are also known as polyols.  Polyols are usually associated with FODMAPs (Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols), which are known to be problematic for people who suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).  So if you suffer from IBS, SIBO or are having a lot of unexplained  digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating, then erythritol should NOT be a part of your diet.

ALTERNATIVES

Gut-healthy sweeteners include honey, and dried fruit, and if you are trying to stay really low-carb then see how you tolerate monk fruit (also known as Luo Han Guo).  All of these should be used in moderation, and if they contribute to your digestive issues then they should be avoided. Sweeteners can be really problematic if you have IBS, SIBO or digestive symptoms so use caution, and figure out what works best for you.

I also added a bit of vanilla powder the these.  YUM!

I also added a bit of vanilla powder the these.  YUM!

Try mixing up 1 cup of softened butter or coconut oil with 1/2 cup of honey.  Place dollops of this mixture on a lined baking sheet and put it into the freezer.  I call these treats Freezer Candy, and it is an indulgence to let one melt on your tongue.

What has your experience with erythritol been?

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

EASTER SCONES

These scones incorporate the traditional flavours of a Hot Cross Bun, but in a gut-healthy version.  Made with almond flour, these scones have healthy fats and are packed with minerals.  

Ingredients:
3 cups almond flour
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda (aluminum free)
1 tsp. Cassia/Sri Lankan cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
3 eggs
¼ cup honey
½ cup currants or raisins
Zest from one orange

Directions:
Place the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir together.
Add beaten eggs and honey to the dry mixture
Add currants and zest and mix well.
Drop roughly ¼ cup sized spoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Makes 1 dozen scones. Serve these fresh from the oven with butter.

What's your favourite Easter treat?
Do a quick on-line search to see if you can find a Paleo, gut-healthy version.

Happy, Healthy Easter!
Tracey

 

 

 

 

MY 2 FAVOURITE WAYS TO EAT RESISTANT STARCHES

Ever heard of resistant starches?  Not many people have, but they can be an important part of a gut-healthy diet.  Most people can benefit from adding some resistant starches to their diet.

Resistant starch is starch that doesn't digest in the small intestine.  It is resistant to digestion.  Since it doesn't digest in the small intestine, it continues along the GI tract to the large intestine where it has beneficial effects.  In the large intestine, the resistant starch provides a food source for the beneficial species of the microbiome.  When these species metabolize the starches a very important end-product results - short chain fatty acids.  Butyrate is one of those short chain fatty acids, and it is the preferred fuel for the cells lining the large intestine.   So by eating resistant starch you end up with two important things:  a happy microbiome and happy intestinal cells.

Plantain Pancakes:  these are simple and tasty whether they are made with or without eggs!

Plantain Pancakes:  these are simple and tasty whether they are made with or without eggs!

GUT-HEALTHY RESISTANT STARCHES

Raw potatoes
Cooked and cooled potatoes
Potato and tapioca starch
Green bananas
Plantains
Cooked, cold white rice

MY FAVOURITES

The problem with some of the resistant starch sources, is that they aren't very yummy.  I don't know about you, but raw potatoes or green bananas aren't among the foods I like to eat.  Potato and tapioca starch can be used in some gut-healthy, Paleo baking (once the baked item has cooled), and some people mix unmodified potato starch into a glass of water, but there are much tastier ways to get resistant starches.  Here are my two favourites:

Plantain Pancakes

2 plantains
1 egg (optional)
coconut oil, ghee or butter for frying

Blend the plantains and the egg in a blender or food processor until creamy.  If you can't eat eggs, then omit the egg and just puree the plantain.  Heat oil in a ceramic or cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. Place a heaping tablespoon of puree  in the pan and spread into a 3-4 inch circle using the back of a spoon.  Cook until both sides are golden brown.  Easiest pancake ever.  These are great with nut butter, and leftovers are easy to pack for snacks or lunches. Makes 10-12 pancakes.

Potato Salad

2 pounds cubed, steamed or roasted potatoes that have been refrigerated
2 tablespoons Primal Kitchen Mayo
2 tablespoons chopped dill pickles or Bubbies Kosher Dill Relish
chopped green onion for garnish (optional)
season with sea salt and ground pepper to taste

Potato Salad:  a summertime favorite

Potato Salad:  a summertime favorite

Everyone has their own way of making potato salad, so go ahead and follow your favourite way.  I love Primal Kitchen Mayo, because it is the only commercially produced mayo I've found that conforms to a gut-healthy, Paleo diet.  Unfortunately it's a bit tricky to get - I have my husband get it whenever he travels to the States on business.  Using Bubbies Relish is another shortcut I like to use to cut down on preparation time.  It's available in local health food stores.
With BBQ season around the corner, potato salad is a nice addition to whatever you are throwing on the grill.  Potatoes are not normally part of a gut-healthy protocol, but eaten cold they are great.

WHO SHOULDN'T EAT RESISTANT STARCHES?

If you suffer from IBS then eating resistant starches may aggravate your condition, so use caution and avoid them if they contribute to symptoms.

So add some resistant starch sources to your grocery list, whether it's plantains or potatoes.

Do you have a recipe that uses resistant starches that you like?

Happy Healthy Eating!
Tracey




 

TELENUTRITION: GET THE HELP YOU NEED FROM THE COMFORT OF YOUR OWN SOFA

You have an appointment to get the help you need.  But it's going to take 30 minutes each way to get there and back.  The roads are icy, so that might slow you down.  Then you have to find parking.  You are missing valuable work time.  Or maybe you had to get a babysitter, or are dragging your kids along.  When you get there, you get to sit in a waiting room with sick people, and wait... and wait...  Sound familiar?

It can be challenging and time consuming to set up appointments, get to them and often be faced with delays in the practitioner's schedule once you arrive.  Once you have made the decision to prioritize your health, the stress of navigating appointments can be a significant obstacle in you being able to access the help and resources you need.  

New Solutions

Increasingly health practitioners are setting up appointments via phone, Skype, Zoom or other platforms that allow you to get the help you need from the comfort and convenience of your home or office.

For hands-on therapies, this approach obviously doesn't work, but increasingly practitioners such as functional doctors, nutritional consultants, and psychologists are moving in this direction.

Benefits To You

  • You don't waste time commuting and can avoid stressors such as traffic and road conditions.
  • You don't have to stress about finding or paying for parking.
  • You can schedule an appointment during your lunch break, or during your kid's nap.
  • You can be in a setting that is familiar and comfortable.
  • If you are at home, you can be in your pjs, or only dressed from the waist up, and only you will know.
  • Your practitioner gets a view into your world.  
  • You gain access to a broader range of practitioners.  You can consult with a practitioner in another city if you feel that person can meet your needs better than someone locally.

Benefits To Your Practitioner

I love being face to face in a room with clients, and when I started my practice I didn't want to consult with people over Skype or phone, but I quickly changed my mind when people outside of Calgary started contacting me.  It was important to me to be able to shake someone's hand when I first met them, or hug them when they needed it, or pass them a tissue when they started to cry.  I place a high value on just being with someone, but I soon realized that if people were seeking my help from outside of Calgary, I could hardly ask them to come to Calgary for a single appointment, nor could I deny them the help they were asking for.  Luckily for me, there were benefits on my end as well.

Many of the benefits I experience are the same as for you.  

  • I don't have to stress about traffic, parking or road conditions.  
  • I can wear a nice blouse, but be barefoot and in pj pants if I want.  
  • My stress is reduced on the days that I schedule clients from home verses going to the clinic, and since I'm often making recommendations to my clients to reduce or manage stress, being able to find a way to actually practice what I preach is important to me.
  • When I Skype with people, I often get a glimpse into their homes, which can provide me with important information (especially those busy parents who don't acknowledge their stress).
  • I get to work with people from all over Canada.
  • If a client gets sick and is unable to attend, I can throw a load of laundry in the machine, or do any number of 'mom' duties.

I love being able to offer both face-to-face and distance consultations.  In today's changing world you have choices in the kinds of practitioners you see, and how you see them.

What practitioners have you consulted outside of a clinical setting?  What was  your experience?
If you have a practitioner you want to work with, and can't find the time, try asking if they'll consult with you in a format that accommodates you.

Happy, Healthy appointment making!
Tracey



 

GREEN GOODNESS ON ST. PATTY'S DAY

With St. Patrick's Day falling on a Friday this year, you can bet that a lot of green beer will be consumed.  If green beer isn't your thing, or if you need some beneficial green foods to balance out the effects of that green beer, then I've got you covered.  I've also got a great green food that will go perfectly with that green beer.

Peach & Peashoot Smoothie

2 large peaches or 2 cups frozen peaches
2 cups pea shoots
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon coconut oil or MCT oil (optional)

Blend all the ingredients in a high-speed blender (such as a Vitamix or Nutri-bullet).  Drink this before heading to the bar, or the next morning.

Cream of Cucumber Soup
(Raw Food Made Easy for 1 or 2 people by Jennifer Cornbleet)

1 ½ cups chopped romaine lettuce
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ cup water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon crushed garlic
½ avocado, chopped
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs (dill, mint, tarragon, cilantro) or one teaspoon dried

Put the lettuce, cucumber, water, lemon juice, garlic, and salt in a blender and process on medium speed until smooth.  Add the avocado and oil and process until smooth.  Add the herbs and process just to mix.  Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator, this soup will keep for 2 days.

Throw this into a mason jar and have it for lunch on Friday.

Guacamole Cheat

2-3 ripe avocados
sugar-free salsa
fresh lime juice (optional)

I have to admit I hate chopping food, so this cheat lets me avoid chopping.  Mash up the ripe avocados, mix in salsa to taste (and squeeze in some lime juice if using) and you are done.  Avocados are incredibly nutrient dense, and have healthy fats.  I like to eat mine with flax seed crackers, but it's so good I'll eat it with a spoon.

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey
(PS - beer isn't really part of a gut healthy diet, so if you are going to indulge try to at least get a gluten-free beer.)

 

VERSATILE PALEO MUFFIN RECIPE

I was asked last week to provide the muffin recipe for the picture I had included in the Paleo On The Go blog.  I created this muffin recipe a few years ago when I was trying to come up with a simple recipe that used ingredients I always had at home.  It has worked well for me, because it is a great base that almost anything can be added to.  When I haven't had apples, I've used pears, bananas and even pumpkin puree.  The fruit sweetens the muffins nicely.  When I use pumpkin puree I use the muffins as a bun for sandwiches.

Ingredients
3 cups almonds
3 apples
4 eggs
2 teaspoons baking soda

Grease 18 muffin cups or line with parchment muffin papers.
In a food processor grind the almonds until they reach a fine consistency. (you can use store bought almond flour if you want to eliminate this step)
In a blender puree the apples with the eggs and baking soda until it has a smooth consistency.  Mix the almond flour and liquid mixture in a large bowl.  You now have a basic muffin batter that can be baked as is, or you can add pieces of dried fruit, nuts, seeds, blueberries, orange or lemon zest, cacao nibs or anything else you fancy.

Bake at 350F for 25 minutes.  Makes 18 muffins.

Give it a try and let me know your thoughts.  If you come up with a variation that you really like I'd love to hear about it.

Happy, Healthy Baking!
Tracey

 

PALEO ON THE GO

Ever made a dash out the door without your Paleo grub and not been able to find good food?  Ever been in an airport searching for something Paleo to eat?  Ever wonder how to survive a gut-healthy, Paleo style of eating on the go?

I just returned from a ski trip to Idaho, and it was a reminder of how far behind the Canadian market is in supplying Paleo foods that are easy and convenient.  I was in a small town called Ketchum, and was pleasantly surprised to be able to get Paleo granola, and crackers at its local grocery store.   It was so nice to be able to buy these without making a special trip.  I had anticipated having to travel into a larger town that had a health food store.  It was such a relief not to have to do that.

Sometimes it's frustrating and time consuming to manage a Paleo, gut-healthy diet, but here are a few things I do to make it easier:

1.  Jugo Juice - a kale smoothie from Jugo Juice is a great on-the-go option.  On this trip I was thrilled to enter the new terminal at the Calgary airport and find a Jugo Juice open in the early morning hours.  I don't like cold drinks, so I ask them to make it without ice.  It's still cold, but not brain-freeze cold.  If you have a juice or smoothie bar near your work or home that uses fresh, organic ingredients, even better.

2.  Paleo baking - having some almond or coconut flour muffins made and in your freezer is a great on-the-go snack to have handy.  Whether you didn't have time for breakfast, need an instant lunch to pack, or just need a snack to can take along with you, muffins will have you covered.  I like to make unsweetened varieties that can be made into a sandwich.  Baked goods are never an issue going through customs at airports, so for this trip my carry-on bag was full of muffins to supply us with breakfast on the plane.

3.  Seaweed Snax - the package says 'Strangely Addictive!', and indeed they are.  If you miss the crunch of a potato chip, or like a salty, crispy snack, then Seaweed Snax are a good option.  Seaweed is a great source of trace minerals, and I like that this brand uses olive oil.  These get gobbled up in our household in packed school lunches and as snacks.

Take some time this weekend to make a batch of Paleo muffins.  
What is your favourite grab-and-go Paleo food?

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

 

 

AGH! WORSE THAN CHILD BIRTH! KIDNEY STONES & HOW TO PREVENT THEM

Ever passed a kidney stone?  If you have, then you know the extreme pain that goes with passing a stone.  Symptoms can begin with nausea, vomiting, and can also include fever and chills.  Pain on your side and back below your ribs can be intense.  The pain can fluctuate and spread throughout the entire abdomen as the stone makes its way through the ureter (tube from the  kidney to the bladder).   Urination becomes difficult as smaller amounts are passed and the need for frequent urination increases.  Urine can become foul smelling, cloudy, and bloody, and be painful to pass.  The pain of passing a stone is often described as being worse than childbirth by people who have experienced both.  Want to avoid this?

Unfortunately, some people are more likely to form stones, so if you've already experienced the passing of a stone, or if an ultrasound has revealed that you have stones in your kidneys then you might want to take some preventative measures.

1.  Supplement with magnesium:
Kidney stones can be a sign that you are deficient in magnesium.  Magnesium is needed to remove oxalic acid from the body, but when there isn't enough magnesium to perform this function, then calcium gets used instead.  When calcium gets used then the result can be calcium oxalate stones (the most common type of stone).  Making sure your kidneys have the magnesium they need to do their job without complications is a simple preventative measure.  To get magnesium in your diet make sure to eat dark leafy greens daily.  A large salad at lunch will do, or maybe you prefer to add greens to a stir-fry.  You can also add magnesium citrate as a supplement, especially initially when you are trying to bring levels up in your body.

2.  Restore the gut microbiome:
One small study showed that the gut microbiome of kidney stone formers was different to that of people without kidney stones.  Research has also identified that the absence of Oxalobacter formigenes, a bacteria that lives in the gut, is correlated with kidney stone formation.  This species helps to break down oxalates, so when it is absent then oxalates can't get broken down and can contribute to calcium oxalate stones.  These studies tell us that gut health is compromised in individuals with kidney stones, so working to restore gut health is the next step.  Eating fermented foods that contain probiotics is an important step.  Increase you intake of unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi, add yogurts that contain live cultures, or add kombucha to your day.  Increasing your vegetable intake will add prebiotics to help feed the probiotics you are eating, so fill your plate with raw, roasted, steamed, pureed or sautéed vegetables.  

3.  Reduce oxalates in your diet:
A low oxalate diet is sometimes recommended to help prevent kidney stones.  The problem with this type of diet is that it can be very low in fibre and requires the removal of some nutrient dense foods.  A good compromise is to avoid some of the worst offenders such as spinach, beans (all types), rhubarb and cocoa while you work on restoring gut health.  Go easy on nuts and seeds too.  If you are increasing leafy greens to get your magnesium levels higher, just make sure that spinach isn't one of the greens.  Instead try lettuce, dino kale, mustard greens or bok choy.

4.  Drink a lot of water:
This is a bit of a no-brainer.  Keeping the kidneys flushed will help prevent stones from forming.  Make sure to stay well hydrated throughout the day by drinking filtered water or herbal teas.  Start your day with a large glass of water as soon as you get up.  If you forget to hydrate throughout the day, try setting your phone alarm to go off mid-morning and mid-afternoon to remind you to drink up what is in your water bottle or tea pot, and then make sure to refill those containers.

Add magnesium citrate, low-oxalate greens and some fermented foods to your shopping list.
Need help managing your microbiome?  I'm here to help.

Happy, Healthy Eating and Hydrating!
Tracey