The Basics of a Healthy Meal Plan

Quite awhile ago, I wrote an article about the importance of a balanced meal. I don’t think it’s healthy to eliminate a food group…i.e., “Low Carb,” “Low Fat,” etc. We need a balanced amount of carbs, protein, and fat in our daily meals. (There are more complications in sports nutrition, as there are different things you should eat before/after working out, for muscle soreness and recovery, etc. But, I will discuss this in a later article.) For the most part, to have a steady stream of energy throughout the day, you need a balanced combination of all the macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat).
In the video, I also discuss what a protein really is. There is the common misconception that a complete protein only comes from animal sources. (If this were true, vegans would die very quickly.) For an in-depth look at protein, you can also check my older article on the basics of protein.
For true health and vibrance, many people forget about the importance of micronutrients. These are all the vitamin and mineral buzzwords you’ll see on a food package. Vitamin D, electrolytes, Vitamin C, potassium, B-Vitamins, etc. You get the idea. These can be found in whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, but also in nuts, seeds, and legumes. People tend to concentrate on the macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat.) But, we would be able to just manufacture a fake, perfect food source if these elements were the only important aspect of a healthy diet. The micronutrients, fiber, and clean water that fruits and vegetables provide are essential for good health.

So here is my video discussion of a balanced meal.

Detox Your Liver for Vitality

Your liver is frequently under appreciated, yet is one of the most important organs in your body! The liver has hundreds of different functions, two of the primary being to store vital nutrients for your body and to filter and breakdown chemicals that would otherwise be harmful to our bodies. As our world has become more industrialized, we are now more commonly exposed to both natural and unnatural substances that our livers must filter. These substances can come from a variety of sources, be it chemicals (pesticides, industrial chemicals, solvents, toiletries etc.), drugs and medications, or poor diet (including alcohol, caffeine, and sugar). Exposure to these substances can lead to your liver being overburdened, and an overburdened liver can lead to chronic fatigue, allergies, improper digestion of food, body aches, headaches, brain fog, depression, and fatty liver disease. Some, including myself, argue that an overtaxed liver will result in a toxic body, promoting the ideal environment for almost all chronic diseases and disorders!

There are a number of options to consider when it comes to finding a protocol to help detoxify and cleanse your liver. Some protocols are more extreme than others, so always choose the option you feel most comfortable with. Small changes in your lifestyle can have a dramatic effect on how you feel and your quality of life. That being said, some of the more ‘extreme’ options can be more effective than other ‘less extreme’ options.

Diet and exercise are the foundation of a quality life and is one of the most important protocols for keeping your liver in tip-top shape. Processed foods lack essential nutrients your body requires to function optimally — this includes allowing your liver to work its magic and keep your body clean! Additionally, most processed foods contain preservatives in the form of chemicals, which put a great strain on your liver to eliminate. Usually, they also contain sugar, another substance your liver must eliminate. Keep your foods as simple and whole as possible to provide yourself with the most amount of nutrients, and test yourself for food intolerances and allergies — these foods can put an enormous strain on your entire body, not just your liver. Be sure to include high quality fats in your diet, such as olive oil, coconut oil, or even butter! Your liver works in conjunction with your gallbladder, the organ responsible for digesting fats. If you give your body the proper fats it needs, your gallbladder will release bile for digestion. The magic is that bile is actually created from the toxins your liver removes from your body! Limiting or eliminating alcohol, caffeine, and sugar consumption will also take tremendous strides in detoxifying your liver.

Milk Thistle

Herbs and cleansing foods are another facet to consider to detoxify your liver. Milk thistle is one of the most well known and well researched herbs when it comes to aiding and cleansing your liver. It contains numerous antioxidants and compounds that not only help your liver function more optimally, but also help prevent your liver from absorbing any dangerous compounds it filters while it works. Two other herbs include artichoke and dandelion, both which have been used for thousands of years to promote better digestion and aid the liver. These three herbs can be found at health food stores in whole, capsule, or tincture form, and are frequently placed together in various tonics. Adding specific foods known to help cleanse the liver can also be a great asset to liver detox. Such foods include dark leafy greens, including the three herbs above in their whole form, other green vegetables (such as cabbage and asparagus), garlic, turmeric, citrus fruit, carrots, beets, and apples in their various form. Apples contain two important substances for helping to detox the liver: pectin, a form of soluble fiber, and malic acid, which can help fat digestion and help break down gallstones in your gallbladder.

Dandelion

Liver cleanses and fasting are the more ‘extreme’ methods of detoxifying your liver, and different variations can also be more ‘extreme’ than others. Such variations can include the olive oil liver cleanse, coffee enemas, apple juice fasting, vegetable juice fasting, and water fasting. Each of these techniques deserves their own post, as each requires its own unique protocol while being conducted. Look for a series of upcoming articles beginning this week, starting with the olive oil liver cleanse!

Why You Should Own a Foam Roller

You’ve probably seen a foam roller at the gym or a chiropractor’s office, but did you know they’re one of the most versatile and practical tools for preventing and relieving injuries? While foam rollers are most commonly used in the realm of sports (such as strength, conditioning, and other athletics), they’re one of the most beneficial and affordable tools you can own for relieving vast array of bodily ailments.

High density foam rollerFoam rollers are overly simplistic in their design, and their names aren’t misleading. Foam rollers are typically 3 feet long cylinders made of — you guessed it! — foam. By utilizing your body weight, you can manipulate the roller and yourself into various positions to help stretch and massage your entire body. While this can be very important for athletes, it is also important for the average person. Think of how many people (maybe even yourself) that have chronic low-back pain, upper-back pain, neck or hip pain, or even sciatica. Many of these symptoms can be mitigated, if not completely relieved, by using a foam roller regularly. Foam rollers are unique because they help you manipulate fascia, the substance around your muscles that forms into knots. Fascia can be slightly manipulated through stretching, but other than receiving a massage, foam rollers and other similar devices are the only way to relieve fascial knots. It is these fascial knots that lead to the many pains we see so regularly; by working them out regularly, you’ll see a tremendous benefit in your body.

Preventing and relieving common injuries was one of the primary reasons foam rollers were invented and have become so widespread in the fitness world. For example, many athletes, especially runners, have injuries and pain in their IT band. By using a foam roller regularly, rolling on your side from your hip to your knee in this particular instance, you can help to relieve the fascial knots that develop. Sciatica is a common ailment that deals with compression in the sciatic nerve in the leg — performing similar motions on the foam roller can help to relieve this compression. Even if you don’t yet have injuries, frequently utilizing a foam roller will help stretch out fascial knots before they become and injury or painful.

Increasing your flexibility is a key benefit of using a foam roller, and is another component of why foam rollers will help to prevent many injuries and pain. Many of those common ailments (upper and lower back pain, neck and hip pain, etc.) are caused by lack of flexibility or tight muscles. For example, many cases of lower back pain are caused by having tight hamstrings or hip flexors — which can be caused from athletic training (such as running or strength training) or even from sitting or not moving for prolonged periods of time. Running your hamstrings along the roller and perching your hips on the roller so they are elevated will help relieve these common ailments. For upper back pain, you can lay on your back and place the roller behind your heart. Flexibility is a key component of overall health that is frequently overlooked — have a protocol that helps build and keep your flexibility is important for longevity.

Rolling helps you de-stress. Nearly all the benefits we know we get from receiving a massage we also receive from rolling frequently on a foam roller. When we get stressed, be it from a hard day at work, exercise, or from emotions, we tend to tense our muscles in key areas — the areas where we ‘hold our stress.’ Using a roller helps to relieve that tension before it becomes too painful or leads to an injury. Additionally, relieving any tension in your body feels wonderful! It’s a great way to get a natural high.

Nubbed foam rollerWe will have a series of future articles and videos regarding specific stretching and movements to utilize on the foam roller, especially regarding specific ailments. For now, I’d suggest investing in a foam roller and experimenting with it to find what works best for your body. Foam rollers typically cost around $25, and the benefits you’ll receive are tremendous for so little! If you have access to a roller at the gym, use it every time you go. Your body will thank you!

7 Fall Foods to Help Lower Blood Pressure

Although high blood pressure is one of the most common ailments to affect the modern world, it is also one of the most easily remedied conditions; changing your lifestyle is the key! Reducing the amount of processed foods you consume, along with increasing the volume of whole and natural foods you consume, combined with moderate exercise and adequate rest, are the corner-stones to reducing high blood pressure and maintaining a healthy, energetic life. Fortunately, Fall provides a bounty of  foods that are not only tasty, but have just the right ingredients to get your blood pressure on track.

Be sure to check out: 7 Foods to Help Lower Blood Pressure and 5 Ways to Lower Blood Pressure Without Medication for more tips for lowering blood pressure naturally.

Acorn Squash, and other winter and fall squashes such as pumpkin, butternut squash, kabocha, and banana squash, are a delicious addition to any meal (or as a meal!) for those looking to lower and maintain healthy blood pressure. Acorn squash boasts an impressive amount of the minerals magnesium and potassium, as well as some calcium. Adequate amounts of these minerals are important for maintaining healthy blood pressure, as they directly help to regulate proper blood vessel function (and thus blood pressure). In addition, acorn squash contains numerous other beneficial nutrients, such as Beta-carotene and Vitamin C. Both these nutrients are important for helping to reduce inflammation in your body — reducing levels of inflammation is also important for reducing high blood pressure, but also important for reducing your risk for all other diseases, especially heart disease. Not sure how to eat acorn squash? Try roasting it in the oven and preparing the seeds. It’s simple to prepare, and you can prepare all the winter squashes the same way!

Brussels Sprouts are commonly despised by children and adults alike, yet are one of the most health promoting foods you can consume! When it comes to blood pressure, they’re almost ideal! Brussels sprouts contain an impressive amount of potassium, one of those all-important electrolytes important for regulating blood pressure. Being a member of the cabbage family, they also contain large amounts of Vitamin C, Beta-carotene, calcium, fiber, and beneficial phytonutrients that decrease inflammation and help reduce your risk for all forms of cancer. Most people are introduced to Brussels sprouts steamed, which is perhaps the least appetizing way they can be prepared. Try cutting your Brussels sprouts in half, coating them with a bit of olive oil, tossing them with your favorite spices (a generic seasoning spice is wonderful), and roasting in the oven at 400°F for tasty vegetable dish!

Apples are said to keep the doctor away for good reason! This fruit seems common place in the face of other ‘superfruits’ (like pomegranate and açaí) that we tend to forget it’s substantial health benefits. Apples contain a unique kind of soluble fiber called pectin. Pectin has been linked to lowering high cholesterol levels, reducing body inflammation, improving elimination, and reducing high blood pressure. Apples also boast a respectable amount of Vitamin C and an antioxidant called quercetin, which has been shown to increase oxygen availability in your lungs, thereby increasing overall endurance and relieving stress on your body. Try eating apples raw, baked or sauteed, or even make your own apple sauce!

Pumpkin Seeds, also known as pepitas, are usually available year-round at most grocery stores, but can be made fresh during the Fall! Pumpkin seeds contain large amounts of magnesium, an important mineral for maintaining healthy blood pressure and blood flower. A single serving of pumpkin seeds (1/4 cup) can contain as much as 50% of your recommended daily intake of magnesium! Pumpkin seeds also boast significant quantities of Vitamin E and zinc, two important nutrients required to promote optimal health, including supporting a healthy libido. Pumpkin seeds are especially beneficial for men, with numerous studies suggesting that consuming pumpkin seeds regularly will help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. You can eat pumpkin seeds shelled (pepitas), or prepare your own by saving the seeds from jack-o-lanterns and roasting them in the oven. This can also be done with any seeds you save from other winter squashes, such as acorn squash!

Sweet Potato, while not considered as villainous as the potato before it, is frequently served loaded with large quantities of fats and brown sugar. But like the potato, it is extremely beneficial to helping to reduce high blood pressure. Sweet potatoes contain ample amounts of those important electrolytes magnesium and potassium, and also a hefty quantity of Vitamin C. Sweet potatoes take the nutrition level up from potatoes in that they also contain large amounts of Beta-carotene, helping to reduce your body’s inflammation. In addition, sweet potatoes having a lower Glycemic index than potatoes, making them a more ideal choice for those looking to regulate blood sugar. Eat sweet potatoes steamed or baked, and try to avoid them fried as sweet potato fries (a new trend) or candied (as frequently served for Thanksgiving).

Kale is a nutrient powerhouse of a vegetable. Like the Brussels sprout, it is also a member of the cabbage family. I had a recent article about the full health benefits of kale, but it’s so nutritious it was worth mentioning again! Kale contains a very large quantity of potassium, but also contains large amounts of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, and Omega 3 fats — all of which are important for regulating a healthy blood pressure, and largely work in conjunction with each other! Since Kale is a member of the cabbage family, be sure to cook it the majority of the time you consume it, such as by steaming or sauteed lightly.

No Fall, Winter, or holiday treat is complete with the blood pressure reducing herb that is Cinnamon! While cinnamon is largely known for being delicious, it is most frequently touted for helping to regulate blood sugar levels. However, more recent studies have also shown cinnamon to be an important addition to helping regulate healthy blood pressure levels. The blood pressure regulating effect of cinnamon has been shown to be even more powerful for those looking to regulate blood sugar levels. While it is unknown exactly why cinnamon is beneficial for regulating blood pressure, it likely has to do with lowering overall inflammation in the body. Sprinkle cinnamon on your oatmeal in the morning, or especially on your baked apples and acorn squash!

Vegetable Oils Will Destroy Your Health!

Fat and oil in our diet is one of the most widely misunderstood and confusing subjects when it comes to our health. Decades ago we were informed that a ‘low-fat’ diet was optimal for energy, health, and preventing nearly all diseases — especially heart disease. We were then informed that fats are crucial for health, yet also told that the best fats to consume are vegetable oils. Vegetable oils have widely been touted to help lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, aid weight loss, and even help to lower cholesterol. Almost every product that contains vegetable oils has today been labeled as ‘Heart Healthy.’ But the truth is that consuming vegetable oils will actually destroy your health!

Vegetable oils are generally produced from seemingly healthy foods: from soybeans, corn, rapeseed (canola oil), safflower, sunflower, etc. Yet, if we think back 100 years, oils produced from these plants were non-existent. Technology had yet to be developed that would actually allow oil to be extracted from these plants. Especially in the case of soybeans and corn, think about eating a soybean or a kernel of corn. How much fat do they contain? Not much. In the early 1900s chemical solvents, usually petroleum based, were created that allowed oils to be extracted and separated from their whole-food form. These chemical solvents were (and are) cheap to produce, and could be applied to nearly any crop. Manufacturers applied these cheap chemicals to the cheapest crops, creating a large surplus of vegetable oil. Now vegetable oils are in everything: margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressing, roasted nuts and seeds, and almost every processed food!

Vegetable oils will destroy your health for two reasons: they way in which they are manufactured and their chemical makeup.

Because vegetable oils tend to be extracted from the cheapest of crops, they tend to derive from genetically modified (GMO) crops. In the case of canola oil, oil cannot be extracted from a non-genetically modified variety of rapeseed! The variety of rapeseed from which oil is extracted was specifically engineered to have oil extracted from it! I’ll have a future article on why to avoid GMOs, but know that genetically modified crops also tend to be the crops with the most heavily used pesticides and herbicides. Oil is a concentrated form of a food, thus oils have a much greater concentration of whatever pesticides and herbicides were sprayed on its whole-form!

When vegetable oil is extracted from it’s whole-form, it is extracted by heating the food and applying the chemical solvent. Waxy residues are created from this heat and chemical mixture, and must be removed by applying yet another mixture of heat and a chemical acid. If this doesn’t sound that tempting — it’s not. At this point, vegetable oils have an unappetizing color and smell. Manufacturers know this, so use even more chemicals to make the color more appetizing. This is followed by another chemical process to deodorize the oil. Such chemicals used in these processes include bleach and hexane, an extremely dangerous chemical known to be a neurotoxin and potent carcinogen (a cancer promoting substance). Residue from the chemicals required for extraction are found in vegetables. These chemicals combined with the pesticides and herbicides used for growing the crop create a vegetable oil that is, in actuality, a toxic concoction.

Vegetable oils by their chemical nature are mostly polyunsaturated fats. The chemical structure of polyunsaturated fats makes them extremely sensitive to heat: even a minor heating (such as light cooking) can damage the chemical structure, making them rancid and unfit for consumption. Vegetable oils are the most polyunsaturated of all oils! Yet the process required for extracting vegetable oil requires a high-temperature heating, not once, but twice! The reason oils smell unpalatable during manufacturing is because the oils have spoiled, they’re rancid. By using a deodorizing process, manufacturers cover up this reality. Rancid and spoiled oils are one of the most damaging foods you can consume. Rancid fats promote free radicals (those things anti-oxidants are supposed to help reduce), are toxic to the body (your body does not know how to eliminate them properly), and promote full-body inflammation (known to promote all major diseases and disorders).

Additionally, vegetable oils contains a large concentration of Omega-6 oils. While Omega-6 fats are important for health, the majority of people’s diets contain far too many Omega-6. A balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats are required for health, but an overabundance of Omega-6 promoted an over-inflammation of the body. As mentioned above, inflammation is perhaps the single largest and universal cause of all major diseases and disorders, especially heart disease and high blood pressure.

So what oils should you consume? Sticking with traditional oils, oils that have been consumed for millenia, are the safest and most health promoting! Such oils include coconut oil, palm fruit oil, and butter. While these oils are saturated fats, they are not dangerous to your health! Check out all the benefits of coconut oil! The saturated chemical structure of these fats makes them more stable than polyunsaturated vegetable oils, and thus extremely safe and the oil of choice for cooking. And while olive oil is a vegetable oil, it is perhaps the only safe vegetable oil for consumption. Buying cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil is your best bet, as the extraction process requires minimal heat and has been extracted for thousands of years without the use of chemical solvents.

Choosing the highest quality fats and oils in your diet will give you large gains in your overall health. Stick with traditional oils, and avoid vegetable oils that have only existed for a few decades, including eating the processed foods that contain them. You’ll find you feel better, reduce your risk for all major diseases, and you’ll probably enjoy them more, too!

The Health Benefits of Kale

Dark leafy greens are widely known to be the most nutritious of vegetables, but even among the greens, kale may stand alone as the single most nutritious vegetable! In recent years, kale has gained tremendous popularity as a go-to vegetable for its outstanding nutritional profile, versatility in dishes, and delicious flavor.

As with most vegetables, kale is grown in a number of varieties: leafy green, dinosaur, curly, and even ornamental for your garden. Kale belongs to the Brassica family of vegetables, which includes other cruciferous vegetables known to be nutrition all-stars, such as asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. Among vegetables, cruciferous vegetables are widely touted for their anti-cancer properties. Numerous studies have been conducted and repeated showing a strong correlation between the consumption of eating cruciferous vegetables and a lower risk of all forms of cancer. This lowered risk is regularly attributed to the phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables, of which kale is especially abundant.

The health benefits of kale are attributed to its large concentration of various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Kale is incredibly rich in Vitamin K, an important fat-soluble vitamin that can dramatically reduce of your chances of developing cancer, but is also important for numerous bodily functions, including helping to regulate blood clotting and reduce blood pressure. A single cup of cooked kale can contain as much as 1300% of your recommended daily intake! Kale is also abound with beta-carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, another important nutrient connected to reducing your risk for cancer, as well as nearly all other age-related and degenerative diseases. That single cup of cooked kale can contain as much as 350% of your recommended daily intake! Kale is also a nutritional powerhouse when it comes to Vitamin C, manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. Potassium and magnesium are crucial minerals for optimum bodily function, especially when it comes to regulating blood pressure and lowering your risk for heart disease. Recent studies suggest that the calcium contained within kale is easily absorbed by the human body, making it an ideal food for those looking to maintain bone health.

Dark leafy greens, including kale, have been revered throughout history for their medicinal properties. They are frequently considered to be ‘liver cleansing foods,’ perhaps in part to their large concentrations of folate, a vitamin known to strengthen your liver, which in turns helps to cleanse and detoxify your body as a whole. Dark leafy greens are also widely known for their anti-inflammatory properties, helping to reduce all degenerative diseases, but also help remedy conditions such as arthritis and pain, and reduce your chances of heart disease and high blood pressure.

Kale can be prepared in a variety of ways. One of the most common methods of preparation is the lightly steam it, perhaps alone or accompanied by other vegetables. Likewise, you can also saute it lightly in a vegetable medley. A method of preparation that is gaining popularity is to create ‘kale chips.’ These ‘chips’ are created by wetting your kale and coating it in various ingredients, such as other vegetable powders (onion, garlic, carrot, bell pepper, etc.), ground seeds or nuts (sunflower seeds and cashews being the most popular), and nutritional yeast. After coating, the kale is then either dehydrated or cooked at a low temperature as to not burn. This is a unique, delicious, and nutritious method for eating kale. While you can make your own kale chips, they are now more easily located at numerous health food stores. You may find you like them more than potato chips!

How to Increase Your Health with Indoor Plants

Study after study has shown that the air inside our homes is frequently more contaminated with pollutants than the air outside — even in large metropolitan areas! Beyond making your home more attractive and welcoming, adding indoor plants to your home can increase your health for numerous reasons!

Just about everyone knows plants produce oxygen, which can help purify the air around you, and has been shown to help those that suffer from frequent headaches, respiratory congestion, help prevent illness, and can even help stimulate a more positive mood. In addition, finding and adding plants to your home that produce oxygen at night can help you sleep better! However, one of the major benefits of adding plants to your home is their ability to remove contaminants and pollutants from the air. Common sources of pollutants can include paint, carpeting, building materials, furniture, clothing, and even tap water (especially where you shower, as hot water will vaporize gases contained in tap water). The newer your home, the more likely it is to have a greater variety and quantity of pollutants in the air, as vapors from various building materials, paints, and carpeting can take years to out-gas the chemicals with which they are produced. The ability of plants to remove such toxins from the air is called phytoremediation, which removes volatile organic compounds, many of which have been linked with such symptoms as asthma, cancer, and neurological and reproductive diseases. Such compounds include carbon monoxide, ammonia, benzene, and formaldehyde.

If you’ve never had indoor plants (our outdoor plants for that matter!), finding the ideal plant is a lot more simple than it may seem at first. The key is finding low maintenance plants that are easy to locate, and also attractive for you home. Visiting your local garden shop and asking for a specific variety of plant you desire is the easiest way to go about obtaining indoor plants. You can also try your hand at growing them yourself! The three following plants are among the easiest indoor plants to care for, and each is easy to locate!

Ferns, such as the Mother Fern (pictured at the beginning of the article) or Boston Fern (pictured to the right), are among the easiest indoor plants to care for. Ferns come in a variety of shapes, from being more delicate to thick in appearance, and require indirect light and low moisture (perfect for those that don’t remember to water them all the time). Ferns are especially beneficial for your home as they have been shown to be one of the top 9 plants for filtering volatile organic compounds. Because ferns need indirect light, they are best placed away from a window where light can filter in — they will not thrive in areas with direct sunlight or lack of sunlight. Ferns enjoy higher humidity, making them a good fit for bathrooms. Consider adding one (or a few) to the bathroom you regularly use for showering.

Bromeliads, the same family of plants that pineapple derive from, are an attractive variety of plant that are easy to take care of, though slightly more so than ferns. One of the primary benefits of choosing bromeliads for your home is that they process oxygen at night, making them an ideal choice to place in your bedroom for sleeping benefits. Bromeliads prefer bright indirect light, and are thus best placed away from a window — they will also not thrive in areas with no light. Bromeliads are slightly more demanding of their surroundings, and are best placed in homes where heating is not used regularly, as they require approximately 60% humidity in the air. Additionally, spraying your bromeliad with water on a frequent basis will prove beneficial to the health of your bromeliad. However, bromeliads need only be watered every 3-4 days and prefer soils that dry quickly.

Lucky Bamboo is among the most interesting and easy to care for indoor plants you can choose, and is becoming readily obtainable. Lucky bamboo complements almost any decor and is an essential part of feng shui design, where it is frequently woven into beautiful patterns. It can be grown in either soil or in complete water, allowing you to get very creative with how to choose to express this plant in your home. Additionally, lucky bamboo can thrive in almost any kind of light and can withstand long periods of being poorly kept, making it the most ideal of all plants for those seeking the ultimate low maintenance house plant. One of the most common ways to grow lucky bamboo is a vase with pebbles, in which only an inch of water is required for the health of the plant. Although you don’t have to change the water until it runs dry, I recommend changing it weekly to prevent stagnation and mold build up in the water. The leaves of lucky bamboo are also slightly toxic, thus the plant is best placed away from areas where pets or children can gain access to it. An interesting note: lucky bamboo is not bamboo at all, but a species of plant known as Dracaena sanderiana.

Getting started adding indoor plants to your home will improve your air quality significantly, thus improving your health in the process. If anything, your home will look better, feel cleaner, and you’ll have a new friend to care for in the process!

6 Natural Remedies for the Common Cold

With Fall upon us, the wind arising and the weather changing, now is one of the most common times for people to fall prey to the dreaded common cold. While there are many things you can do to help prevent a cold — like staying active, eating a whole foods diet, and avoid those that already have the cold — what should you do once you actually have the cold? Rather than taking over the counter medications (which do have their place in extreme circumstances), there are many natural and time honored remedies to utilize to ensure you get back on your feet as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that the flu and the cold have similar symptoms, with the flu typically creating a great fever in the body. Both are can be characterized coughing, nasal congestion and runny nose, body aches, headaches, sneezing, and sore throat. Fortunately, most natural remedies that can be used to aid your body in combating the cold can be used to combat the flu, as well.

Rest and sleep are the primary remedies for curing any illness. And while these things may seem like a glaringly obvious remedy to many, we live in an extremely active culture. A cold (or the flu) is a sign that it is time to give our bodies a break, relax a bit, recharge our batteries. Resting allows our body’s immune system to get to work, to attack the opposing bacteria/virus and expose of it as needed. In addition, sleep allows our body to repair itself. Having a cold and sleeping as a remedy can do wonders for your body beyond simply exposing of bacteria — it can make your stronger, more ready to tackle the world once you’re back to your best. So take easy, let your immune system and other organs take care of you.

Fasting is more of an unconventional remedy when it comes to curing a cold and is typically not proscribed by medical professionals. Yet, fasting — obtaining from food for 24-48 hours while you are sick — can take a significant amount of strain off your entire body. Digestion is among the most energy taxing processes in our body, a significant amount of energy is actually required in order to extract energy from the food you eat. By not eating for a short period, this energy can be diverted to the systems in your body where it most required. In this instance, toward your immune system and liver to better defend and dispose of offending organisms. Be sure to drink plenty of liquids while fasting — you may want to consider a juice fast if an full fast proves to be too much for you. Dilute fruit juices with water, or consider using freshly pressed vegetable juices.

Honey has be utilized traditionally in many, many cultures throughout the world as an aid for the flu. Numerous studies have shown that utilizing honey as an aid for an irritated or sore throat, and as a cough suppressant, to be effective, especially for children. While it isn’t completely understood why honey may be beneficial as a natural remedy, its effectiveness is widely attributed honey’s natural antioxidants obtained from the flowers from which bees harvest the pollen, as well as its wide array of natural enzymes. Use honey in moderation, as it is still a sugar.

Garlic, the lovely stinking rose, it a widely touted natural remedy for the common cold. Cultures throughout the world have used garlic in various forms for thousands of years, creating a variety of concoctions to be used as a natural remedy. Modern research attributes garlic’s effectiveness to a molecule called allicin, a potent anti-bacterial and anti-fungal compound that also gives garlic it’s potent kick as an herb. Garlic can be infused into easy to digest foods, such as broths and vegetable soups, but is most potent for fighting a cold in its raw state. Try crushing raw garlic and mixing it in a bit of warm water to make it more palatable, or be daring and eat it whole!

Immune System Boosting Herbs have also been used throughout time to help fight the cold. Three of the most common herbs utilized throughout the world (other than garlic!) are: ginseng, astragalus, and echinacea. In addition to help boost your immune system, all three of these herbs are considered to be adaptogens, herbs that help your body perform better under any form of stress, and thus are excellent to be taken any time. I will be doing a future article on herbs to boost your immune system, and will explain these three herbs in greater detail. Know for now that these three herbs have a long tradition of use, and can be found in pill or tincture form in many health food stores. Tinctures, where the herb’s essence is extracted using alcohol (thus making it more potent), are the easiest form in which to take these. Try adding a small amount to a class of water — you may start to feel a difference immediately!

No natural remedy list for the cold would be complete without Vitamin C! While it is best to obtain Vitamin C naturally from nutrient rich food, such as from Vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables (Oranges, Bell Peppers, Strawberries, Cabbage, etc.), when sick, it may be of some benefit to supplement yourself with some extra Vitamin C! Vitamin C can be found easily over the counter and almost any drug store, market, or health food store. Try adding a couple thousand milligrams to your repertoire when sick. In addition, Vitamin C has been shown to help rebuild your adrenal glands, which help manage stress in your body — you may even find your ability to cope with stress and illness increase after being sick!

The Gluten Free Grains

With so many people trying to go ‘Gluten Free,’ a lot of people wonder what to eat. Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or an omnivore, removing gluten containing foods can be easy if you keep your foods simple: keep them as whole, or as close to their natural form, as possible. Load up on veggies, fruits, high quality lean meats and dairy, nuts, seeds, and excellent starches such as potato and sweet potato. But if you’re looking for another source of food in grains, what should you choose? Which grains are gluten free?

Fortunately, the majority of grains in the world actually do not contain gluten. This is excellent for variety purposes. However, many of the most widely available grains do contain gluten. Grains such as wheat, rye, barley, and spelt contain this protein. If you’re not sure what gluten is, be sure to click here!

QuinoaQuinoa is a rising star in the grain world, though it is not technically a grain. Hailing from the desert highlands of Central America, quinoa is a pseudo-grain, a grain like seed of the Chempodium genus of plants — a relative of beets and spinach. Quinoa is highly revered in Central American tradition, largely in part due to its exceedingly high nutrient profile, especially in regards to manganese and magnesium. Additionally, quinoa is one of the few starches in the world to contain a protein profile said to be ‘complete.’ That is, containing all the amino acids required to support human life. Among grains, quinoa is especially high in the amino acid tryptophan. Quinoa can be found readily available in health food stores, but is becoming more a mainstream food stuff, and thus can also be found in many other grocery markets. Cook it as a porridge or keep it light and fluffy for a salad!

OatsOats have a long history for human consumption, being one of the first grains to be harvested in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, though gained an even stronger foothold as a crop in Europe. Oats are widely touted for their unique fiber content, of which the majority if a soluble fiber, meaning it dissolves in water. As such, they are largely promoted for helping to lower blood pressure. Oats can be found on the market as either whole-oat groats (an unroasted variety, in it’s most whole form) or as rolled oats, the most commonly available form. Rolled oats are roasted, steamed, and then pressed to give them their distinctive shape. Oats are also a very nourishing grain, being high in manganese and selenium. It is important to note that oats are commonly grown alongside gluten containing grains, or processed in facilities that also process gluten containing grains. As such, if you are extremely sensitive to gluten, it is possible to find brands that process oats and other grains in a dedicated gluten free facility. Because of the soluble fiber of oats, it is frequently eaten as a porridge.

Rice is the third most consumed and produced crop in the world! It has a very long history of consumption in the Asian area of the world, largely due to requiring large amounts of water, in which it must be immersed, in order to grow — commonly called a rice paddy. Rice also has a history of being one of the first grains to be highly processed in the form of Brown Ricewhite rice, where the hull is removed and the grain then polished. While it is interesting to note that the nutritional deficiencies brought by polished white rice and far lower than that of any other grain (such as white wheat flour), brown rice is far more nourishing variation. Brown rice is nutrient rich in B-vitamins, higher than any other grain, and also a good source of manganese and selenium. Brown rice can be found in most any market, and can be paired with almost any other food for an excellent meal!

Blue CornCorn, or Maize, is the single largest most produced and consumed crop in the entire world! Corn likely hails from somewhere in Central America, most likely in the region of Mexico, and was originally used as a food crop by indigenous Native Americans. Since the arrival of the West, Corn has changed significantly. Corn was one of the first crops to be genetically modified, to have the genes of other organisms spliced into its own genome. I will touch on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in a future article, but for now know that it is best to find and consume only organic corn. There are many varieties of corn that exist, though the type we consume most is a sweet yellow corn variety. However, other varieties, especially Hopi blue corn, are gaining momentum for consumption. Corn is one of the few grains to be a decent source of Vitamin C, and like rice, can be paired with almost any other food for a delicious treat!

Millet in the United States is often considered to be and used as bird seed! Yet, this simple grain is one of the most widely consumed cereal crops in the world, frequently used as a staple food in regions in Africa and Asia. Like wheat and oats, millet was one of the first cereals to be cultivated as a food. Millet can come in a variety of colors, and looks Milletvery similar to quinoa. Millet can be found in many grocery stores, though you are more likely to find it in health food stores because of it’s lower demand as a food. Millet can be ground to make a bread called injera, a common food in Africa and Ethiopia, or can be made into a porridge. Millet has a slightly nutty flavor, but will take the flavor of whatever it is prepared with. Because of millet’s tendency to ‘cake,’ it is also excellent for use in veggie burgers or paired with other grains for a gluten free bread.

By expanding your pallet and trying new grains, going gluten free can be easy!

5 Ways to Lower Blood Pressure Without Medication

Blood PressureMany of us have, or know someone with, high blood pressure. Blood pressure medications are now the third most prescribed medication, and yet controlling your blood pressure is usually a matter of adjusting your lifestyle. Whether or not you choose to take blood pressure medication, adjusting your lifestyle will help you eliminate, minimize, or delay the need for medication.

Try adjusting your lifestyle with the following 5 suggestions. Add one at a time, and try incorporating them slowly, in a way that is most realistic and applicable for your lifestyle. Adding even a single suggestion to your repertoire will help significantly!

Exercise is an activity that will help aid many common ailments that affect our culture, and helping to reduce high blood pressure and maintain a healthy blood pressure is no exception! Aim for a goal of 30-60 minutes of moderate activity 5-6 days a week, whether this is aerobic activity (cardio exercises, walking, running, etc.) or anaerobic activityWalking (strength training), any exercise is beneficial! If this seems like a lot to start, aim for 15-30 minutes and work your way up. It is more beneficial to get your exercise throughout the week rather than all at once, so aim to spread out your activity as much as possible — you can even consider breaking up your day’s duration into multiple parts, such as 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. For individuals with high blood pressure, gradually build up your activity and intensity over time, as too much intensity too quickly can be risky.

If you have severe hypertension, it is especially important to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, as there may be some exercise restrictions specific for you.

VegetablesEating a Healthy Diet, like exercise, is a strategy that will help mitigate nearly all common ailments. Again, for lowering and maintaining a healthy blood pressure, this is no exception! When your body has all the essential nutrients it needs to survive, it will function more optimally. Reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet, and instead replace them with whole foods you make yourself, as simple and close to their natural form as possible. Be sure you add a full bounty of fruits and vegetables to your diet, the latter being most important for those with high blood pressure. Additionally, you’ll want to aim to eat some specific foods that will help to reduce blood pressure: foods high in essential minerals (potassium, magnesium, calcium), a good amount of fiber, and high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

If you’re looking for some excellent foods to add to your cooking routine, be sure to check out: 7 Foods to Help Lower Blood Pressure.

Reducing Stress is often something ignored in our culture with a go-go attitude, but it essential for lowering your blood pressure. Besides, doing so will also help your overall well-being! Stress and anxiety can temporarily increase blood pressure, but if you’re constantly stressed or anxious, your blood pressure will also constantly be raised! Take some time out of your day to identify what is stressing your most. Family? Work? Home? Friends? Think about what you can do to help reduce stress, and then take action and reduce it as much as possible. However, sometimes we have obligations we simply cannot give up that stress us. In this case, think of some alternatives. Take up some deep-breathing exercises, meditation, try yoga, get a massage, be sure you’re getting adequate sleep, or perhaps even see someone that specializes in helping to reduce stress (such as a therapist).

Losing Excess Weight is a tremendous key it lowering your blood pressure. When you have excess weight on your body, your heart and blood vessels must work harder to simply pump the blood to where it is needed in your body. Losing even just 5-10 pounds can help significantly, but making a goal to reach your ideal weight should be a priority! If you do decide to take blood pressure medication, losing weight will also help to make the medication more effective overall. In addition, keep an eye out for where you carry your weight: carrying excess weight primarily in your midsection increases your odds for high blood pressure. Make strides to lose those excess pounds, diet and exercise are key!

Reducing Sodium and Caffeine are two methods for helping to reduce your blood pressure. If your diet is primarily based around processed foods, it’s likely it contains a good amount of sodium. Replace processed foods with whole, natural foods as described in Eating a Healthy Diet (above), and you’ll help eliminate excess sodium. Once you’ve done this, if you still find you would like salt in your diet, try adding small amounts of unrefined Celtic sea salt or Himalayan pink salt, two types of salt that contain a significant quantity of minerals other than sodium. Additionally, add foods high in potassium and magnesium to help balance the sodium content in your blood. Limit your sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg per day.Caffeine

When you ingest caffeine, the caffeine temporarily raises your blood pressure. In the same way that stress can raise your blood pressure, a consistent stream of caffeine also means a consistently spiked blood pressure. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, and thus the effects will vary. However, caffeine can also be stressful for your adrenal glands, the organs that help us deal with stress in our daily lives. Stressed adrenal glands mean a more stressed body, and stress as a whole elevates your blood pressure. Try reducing the amount of coffee, tea, and soda your ingest on a daily basis. Be mindful of how you feel, and also monitor your blood pressure as you reduce you caffeine intake to see what intake is best for you.

Incorporate these suggestions into a balanced lifestyle and you’ll start to see results, whether your goal is to lower blood pressure or maintain it. Taking blood pressure medication is largely unnecessary, especially for the long-term. Your lifestyle is key. The decisions you make are yours!