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 Reasons to Keep your Blood-Sugar Balanced

You may have heard of the world “blood-sugar,” and probably know it’s talked about by diabetics, but you may not know why it’s important. Most food is broken down by our bodies into sugar, and we use that for energy. Eating too many “simple sugars” can make our blood sugar too high. On the other side, waiting too long to eat, or crashing from a sugary meal, can make our blood sugar too low. Here’s why it’s important to keep it at a balanced medium:   Grouchy from low blood sugar

1.  Low Blood Sugar can make you really grouchy. In my family, it’s well-known that none of us can go hungry for too long. I have 3 sisters, and if our blood sugar gets too low, we turn from sweet, loving women into a bunch of crazed, angry people in need of an exorcism. If you go too long without eating, you can get yourself a permanent condition of hypoglycemia.
How to Fix It: Eat small meals every few hours, and keep snacks on you at all times. I always have a bag of trail mix in my purse, and baked veggie chips in the car. I don’t overeat at meals, but I eat smaller meals more often. I do this for the sanity of those around me and the people I love, so they don’t have to witness my wrath of hunger.

2.  High Blood Sugar can make you really hyperactive, then crash into a unproductive coma. If you eat a high sugar/high starch meal, you can have a “tweak out” as the sugar surges through your body. Sugar is absorbed into the bloodstreaHyperactive Cat from too much sugarm as soon as it enters the mouth, it doesn’t even need to be digested. So that innocent little frappicino or soda can send you into a hang-shaking, mind-racing state of blood sugar mania. Then, to make matters worse, your blood sugar will sharply drop back down causing a crash. Then a state of exhaustion and lack of energy will occur. And how do people pick themselves back up? More sugar! It becomes a vicious cycle.
Cat SleepingHow to Fix It: Eat tons of fiber and some healthy fat in every meal. This will lower the glycemic load and slow the break-down of sugar in the body. Also, avoid sugary snacks and treats on a daily basis. Give yourself a “treat day,” and just eat sweets once a week or so.

3.  Consistently high/low blood sugar increases your risk for diabetes. Don’t think you’reDiabetes Treatments too young to be at risk for diabetes! There are children being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, which is very preventable. It can happen at any age. And do you want the expenses and the annoyance of daily injections, medications, and strict diet guidelines?

How to Fidiabetes pillsx It: Make the choice to be healthy today. And eat more vegetables!!! This isn’t just an annoying thing our parents say, it’s a true key to health. Increase whole gluten-free grains, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats. If you can’t live without ice cream and chocolate cake, give yourself one day a week to indulge.

4.  Low Blood Sugar can slow your metabolism down. If you wait too long in-between meals to eat, your body goes into fasting mode. All of your systems slow down, and you your body holds onto fat reserves. Also, if you get too hungry, you’re more likely to eat a huge meal and consume access calories all at once.
How to Fix It: Continuing to eat small meals throughout the day will keep your metabolism revved up, and your body will even burn more calories as you sleep.

5.  Balanced blood sugar makes you smarter! Ok, not exactly smarter…but it will keep your mind clearer! Low blood sugar leads to “fuzzy brain” syndrome, where you have trouble thinking clearly. You can forgot things more easily, and will have more trouble functioning. High blood sugar can make you hyperactive, and your fast Human Brainmoving brain can have trouble concentrating and holding on to information. So balanced blood sugar can improve your memory and your brain functioning! So eat those vegetables, I swear there’s a million ways to make veggies tasty. Just listen to Einstein, he was all about it!

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!

Should You Go Gluten Free? And What is Gluten Anyway?

Gluten and BreadThere is a new movement in the health world: going gluten free. Gluten free is becoming mainstream, it’s no longer just for the devout health conscious among us. New gluten free products abound on the shelves, new items popping up weekly. But what is ‘gluten free’ exactly? For that matter, what’s gluten?

Gluten is a complex protein molecule found in many of the most commonly available grains. Wheat is the primary grain associated with gluten, but it can also be found in rye, barley, and ancient varieties of wheat (such as triticale, spelt, and einkorn). Gluten is the molecule responsible for the chewiness in bread products, and is in part responsible for trapping the gasses that make bread rise. Because of gluten’s sticky nature, it is also commonly used as a filler or binder in processed food, and is frequently used to make imitation meat products or boost the protein content of foods.

Going gluten free means avoiding any and all products that have gluten, be it whole wheat or barley, or any processed products that contain the flours of the gluten grains (such crackers, pasta, etc.). The reasons for going gluten free deal specifically with your overall health and your sense of well being. The major disorder associated with gluteWheatn is Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder caused by the ingestion of gluten. Symptoms of Celiac disease can be broad, but can include: bloating, diarrhea, headaches, depression, joint pain, and a multitude of others. However, it is becoming more widely accepted that Celiac disease may be the most extreme of gluten sensitivities, and that a broad range of sensitivities from the mild to the extreme exists.

The only way to be sure you have Celiac disease is to get tested by your doctor. However, many people will test negative for the condition. That doesn’t mean you aren’t sensitive to gluten, however. Many of the common symptoms of Celiac disease are also experienced by those who test negative. One of the best ways to test your sensitivity is to self-test for a gluten allergy or intolerance. Try removing gluten from your diet for a week if you suspect you may be sensitive, and note how you feel.

Many people find that by removing gluten from their diet they have increased physical energy, increased mental energy, better sleep, less joint and body aches, less headaches, better physical recovery, better digestion (including bowel movements), less skin issues (including acne and skin blemishes), and even better mood. Many of these benefits have been reaped in my own life since removing gluten from my diet, especially increased mood and body aches. Additionally, I have found that by eliminating wheat and barley specifically from my diet, many seasonal allergies that I once thought ‘normal’ have either minimized or disappeared.

CookieNote that not everyone is sensitive to gluten. Many individuals find that they tolerate gluten just fine and receive no benefit by removing it from their diet. Cutting gluten from your diet also doesn’t automatically mean your diet will be healthier than if you did include gluten. With the numerous products being released, gluten free varieties of over-processed foods are also in the mix. A gluten free cookie is still a cookie filled with sugar and excess calories – it just doesn’t have wheat or barley. However, they are numerous excellent products abound that are gluten free and healthful – choose your products wisely.

Testing positive for Celiac disease or self-testing and finding you have a gluten sensitivity is not the end of your food world. There are numerous alternatives to the common gluten grains, such as cutting out grains entirely, or including the non-gluten grains in your diet: rice, corn, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and oats (Note: many oats are produced on equipment that also process gluten grains. If you are extremely sensitive to gluten, buy gluten-free oats, or oats processed in a gluten-free facility). While a life without bread may seem difficult, it is quite doable. You’ll want to experiment with your foods, find the dishes that best suit your tastes, and learn to incorporate them into your lifestyle. For example, try making this gluten free sunflower cake! It is especially important to read all food labels if you find you cannot tolerate gluten, as it is added to numerous products. Read carefully, and select products that do not include gluten.

As with gluten sensitivity itself, there is a spectrum of how much gluten some people can tolerate. Some will find they will be able to tolerate small amounts, while some may find they cannot tolerate any. Continue self-testing for your sensitivity and see where you lie on the spectrum! And again, if you suspect you might be at all sensitive to gluten, try cutting out all gluten products for 7 days and see how you feel!

Top 7 Foods to Help Lower Blood Pressure

Estimates now show that 1 in 3 people living in the United States have high blood pressure, making it one of the most common ailments among us. High blood pressure medication is also the third most prescribed medications. Yet, lowering your blood pressure is one of the easiest conditions to treat yourself. Creating a new lifestyle for yourself that includes adequate amounts of exercise to keep you energized, reducing stress, as well as changing the foods you eat to include less processed products and more whole foods will work wonders in lowering your blood pressure. One of the many causes of high blood pressure is not maintaining a healthy electrolyte-to-sodium ratio within your body (primarily the essential minerals potassium, magnesium, and calcium), and is extremely easy to skew on a diet of processed foods. Incorporating more foods into your diet that help maintain this balance, and also foods that help to reduce inflammation, is a vital first step to take.

Try introducing the following 7 foods into your diet if they aren’t already apart. Try to incorporate more if you already include them.

1. Almonds

AlmondsAlmonds are an excellent option as a snack for anyone on the go, but especially for those looking to lower their blood pressure. An ounce of almonds contains respectable amounts of both potassium and calcium, but also a significant amount of magnesium. Almonds also contain a hefty amount of Vitamin E (around 35% of your recommended daily intake), a vital antioxidant that helps curb the inflammation in your body. Keep your almond intake in moderation, however, as they are heavy hitters when it comes to caloric density. Additionally, eating too many almonds can skew your Omega 6-to-Omega 3 fatty acid ratio in your body, which can increase inflammation if it is too drastic (consider adding an Omega 3 supplement).

2. Bananas

Like almonds, bananas are an excellent on the go food to use as a snack, or even include in some of your meals. Bananas are widely touted for their potassium – they do contain a significant amount. It is the potassium-sodium ratio in our blood that is believed most to contribute to Bananahigh blood pressure. But it is the combination of the banana’s easy digestibility, convenience, and their potassium content that makes the list. Most people should easily be able to include 1 banana a day, and their extremely wide availability makes them the perfect convenience food.

3. Potatoes

The potato is has become a villain among food, but it’s actually one of the most nutritious foods around. The little (or big) spud is typically deep fried and covered with salt, and is frequently discouraged because of its relatively high Glycemic Index. But when was the last timPotatoese you had a good baked potato as part of a whole meal? As with all foods, most people don’t eat mono-meals composed of a single food, and this will help mitigate the influx of blood sugar in your body. Potatoes are a very good source of both potassium and magnesium, and a good source of vitamin C (another crucial antioxidant), especially if you eat them with the skins. Potatoes are also revered for their ability to be easily digested by most people, making them an ideal starch to add to your repertoire. In fact, if we compared potatoes in nutrient content to other foods, we’d find they similarly resemble bananas in their nutrient composition.

4. Spinach

SpinachSpinach makes the list for its ease of access and mild flavor. But really, all dark leafy greens are included in this category. Like all dark leafy greens, spinach is a good source of potassium, magnesium, calcium, as well as trace amounts of Omega 3 fats (covered at the end of this article). Additionally, all leafy greens are an excellent source of Vitamin K, and antioxidant utilized by our bodies for helping to thing blood. When it comes to lowering blood pressure, a combination of vital minerals, Omega 3 fats, and Vitamin K are a potent mix. Whether your steam it, throw it in a salad, or mix it into just about any dish, spinach is one of the best food sources to add to your repertoire.

5. Oats

OatsThis common breakfast food has two major nutrients benefits that help it make this list. Oats are a very good source of magnesium, one of those crucial minerals to maintaining homeostasis in our bodies. But perhaps the more beneficial aspect of oats is that it contains a unique fiber profile among almost all grains. Oats contain a very high ratio of soluble fiber to insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is what you might imagine when you thing of twigs, or even the stalks of vegetables. The majority of grains contain a large portion of their fiber as this type. Oats, on the other hand, contain over 50% of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber differs from insoluble fiber in that it absorbs water, creating a ‘gel.’ This gel can help to create more consistent bowel movements, important healthy blood pressure and overall health. Some even argue this gel helps to remove excess bile as it passes near the gallbladder in your intestine, helping to maintain consistent bile production and aid the health of the liver, in turn also helping to maintain the health of your body as a whole.

6. Zucchini

Zucchini!Along with many other vine fruits from the Americas, zucchini is a very unique fruit in its nutrient profile. This squash contains ample amounts of all the aforementioned mineral electrolytes that are so important in helping your body maintain healthy blood pressure; it is especially high in potassium, but also contains a good amount of magnesium and calcium. Zucchini is also a good source of Vitamin C, and a decent source Vitamin K and Beta-Carotene.

7. Omega 3

It may be impossible now to not have heard the benefits of increasing omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. Omega 3 and omega 6 fats are responsible for maintaining the balance of inflammation in our bodies. However, the typical diet has a large skew towards omega 6 over omega 3, which can lead to increased inflammation, increasing you chance of all diseases and disorders, including high blood pressure. While there are numerous arguments as to what and where to source your omega 3 from, whether from plant or animal sources, the benefits can be reaped from both. Sources of animal omega 3 fatty acids include fish, fish oil, krill oil, grass fed and free range meats and dairy, and especially the organ meaFlax Seedts of large animals. Plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids include flax and flax oil, hemp seeds and hemp oil, macadamia nuts, chia seeds, and all leafy greens. Walnuts are largely touted for their omega 3 content, and while they do contain some omega 3, they also contain a decent amount of omega 6. For those looking to increase their omega 3 intake, walnuts are best kept in great moderation.

Remember, utilizing these foods will help you on your both towards lower your blood pressure, but they will not do it alone. Couple these excellent foods with a greater whole foods diet (limiting processed foods), along with a lifestyle that includes a healthy amount of physical activity for you, limit stress, and be sure you’re getting adequate amounts of rest/sleep, and you’ll be on the path to lowering your blood pressure!

The Benefits of Coconut Oil

Coconut!Saturated fats have been villainized in  as the definitive root of heart disease and the many other degenerative ailments so common in our culture. Yet, cultures throughout the world have eaten saturated fats throughout their histories. Coconut oil has been a victim of this treatment, being composed of nearly 90% saturated fats. Has it received an unfair treatment?

The coconut hails from the Pacific Islands, where it has been a food staple for thousands of years among the islands’ inhabitants. Coconut oil is the product of pressing the meat of the coconut to extract the pure fat. Similar methods are used to produce coconut cream (a pressing of the meat, but keeping a whole product and not merely extracting the oil) and coconut milk (a pressing/pureeing of the meat with a liquid, frequently the coconut’s own water). Various cultures throughout the Pacific Islands, such as the Trobriand Islanders, derive a large percentage of the calories from the coconut, from which nearly all their fat calories derive. And yet, these people have a near absence of heart disease or other degenerative diseases as our culture.

Research into the benefits and structure of coconut oil have produced surprising results. Such benefits include: improved immune system, boosted thyroid, more efficient digestion and metabolism, and increased weightloss. Additionally, coconut oil has been used in the tropics for skin conditions, and simply as a beauty aid for skin and hair. Coconut sports a unique profile of fat molecules, unique in almost all the plant kingdom. It is from its unique molecular structure that its benefits can be attributed.

Coconut TreeOther than mothers milk, coconut oil the most dense source of lauric acid known. Lauric acid is an important fat molecule for our bodies, especially as infants, as it helps to build our immune systems. Lauric acid converts in our bodies into monolaurin, a substance known to be anti-bacterial and anti-viral. This fact alone has led coconut oil to be proscribed to individuals with severely compromised immune systems, such as HIV patients.

Coconut oil’s other unique attribute is that is composed of mostly mono-chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are a saturated fat, and compose about 50% of the fat found in coconut oil. MCTs vary significantly from other fats in how our bodies metabolize them, whether this be saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, or polyunsaturated fats. Commonly, other fatty acids are considered to be long-chain fatty acids, which are large molecules that take a significant amount of energy for our bodies to break down. As such, they are much more likely to be stored as fat within our bodies. MCTs on the other hand, are efficiently broken down by our liver, and almost immediately utilized for energy. Benefits attributed to coconut oil such as increased metabolism, energy, and athletic stamina can be traced back to this fact. Additionally, coconut oil is now frequently recommended for Alzheimer and dementia patients because of its potential ability to help with cognitive function – a fact that can also be traced back to how it is metabolized.

Another benefit of coconut oil is simply that it is composed primarily of saturated fats. This in beneficial when it comes to cooking, as many commonly used oils for cooking are polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats break down quickly when exposed to heat, and thus become rancid. This can occur even at seemingly light heat. Saturated fats break down much more slowly when exposed to heat, especially the more saturated they are by nature. Coconut oil’s 90% saturated nature makes it ideal for cooking, even at heats high enough for frying. Additionally, coconut oil is ideal for baking, as its highly saturated structure makes it ideal for prolonged exposure to heat. You may even want to consider using coconut oil exclusively for your cooking needs!

Liquid Coconut OilCoconut oil is again becoming a mainstream oil, and is now relatively easy to find. While you can find it numerous health food stores, it is now being offered at many more ‘conventional’ locales. When buying coconut oil, look for virgin cold-pressed unrefined oil. While other varieties can also be beneficial to your health, cold-pressed and unrefined oils are extracted at lower temperatures to maintain the integrity of the fat’s molecular structure, and unrefined to not contain chemical agents to help the extraction (which can be harmful to your health). Coconut oil is typically hard a room temperature because of its saturated nature, but can also be a clear liquid at above 70°F.

Give coconut oil a try, you’ll be wonderfully surprised, even if only for its flavor!

Self Testing for Food Allergies and Intolerances

Many common ailments that affect us can be linked to either a food allergy or an intolerance that go (mostly) unnoticed. Headaches. Flatulence. Poor bowel movements. Lethargy. Fatigue. Depression. Sudden weight gain. There are numerous indicators; many can be common among multiple people, but they can also vary on an individual basis. An allergy, an intolerance, or a sensitivity to a food all have one thing in common, however: once they are removed, a greater sense of well-being returns.

A food allergy differs from a food intolerance. A true food allergy can be measured by your doctor through a blood test. This test is conducted by measuring your immune system’s response by accounting for the amount of allergy antibodies in your blood, called immunoglobulin E (IgE), in response to an administered food. A high level of IgE indicates an allergy. Often, however, our bodies will not create a full immune response when a food is ingested or placed into our bodies, and thus these tests are not always accurate. A food intolerance can be a mild, prolonged immune response that is otherwise undetectable, but can also be a digestive system response. Both hamper your body’s ability to function at optimal levels. Common food allergies and sensitivities include foods such as grains, gluten (a unique protein in wheat, barley, and other grains), soy, milk (both the proteins and lactose), eggs, tree nuts, and peanuts (it’s really a legume!).

There are three common ways to self test for a food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity:

The Pulse Test is on the fastest and easiest ways you can see if you potentially have a food allergy or intolerance. Your pulse can be taken anywhere you can feel your pulse best, or have someone take it for you!

  • Upon rising and after being awake for about an hour, take your pulse for 60 seconds. This will give you your average resting pulse rate.
  • Just before a meal, relax and again take your pulse rate for 60 seconds. If you have been quite active throughout the day, later in the day it may be higher than usual. If it is higher, note that it is higher, but still keep in mind what your average resting pulse rate is. Then, chow down!
  • 30, 60, and 90 minutes after the meal, again take your pulse rate. It is important not to take your pulse immediately after eating, as your body is sending extra blood to your stomach to begin digestion, creating an increase in your heart beat. If the rate ranges at least 10 beats more than your resting pulse rate, you may have a food sensitivity to a food you ate. Create a journal and write down what you ate if this is the case (more on this below!)
  • The next step is to isolate all the foods you ate when you note an increase in your heart rate. Test them systematically with the same process as above. Any food with a continued elevated heart rate may pose to be problematic for your body, and may be best removed from your diet. You may want to try an elimination diet for this food. More on this below, as well!

Keeping a Food Journal is one of the most effective ways of tracking foods that may pose potential problems for allergies or intolerance. At its basis, it is simply logging all foods you take in over any given period of time, and also logging how to feel after you eat. Log how you feel immediately after eating, shortly after (30,60,90 minutes), before you go to bed, and when you wake up the next day. If symptoms such as headache, lethargy, dizziness, sneezing, body ache, or any symptom you might find peculiar or curious (even if you experience it all the time!), write it down! Try eating similar foods, and see if the same symptoms occur. As with the Pulse Test, you will want to try isolating each food and log how you feel in reaction to each. If and when you find a reaction, you may want to avoid this food entirely or try…

The Elimination Diet. This diet can also be referred to as a rotation diet, and is best utilized in conjunction with a food journal. Elimination diets can vary, but at their core they follow a simply procedure:

  1. Eliminate all foods from your diet that you believe may be causing your trouble, OR reduce your diet down to basic foods that are unlikely to cause most people trouble: fruits, vegetables, lightly cooked meats (if you eat them), and easily digestible grains (primarily white rice).
  2. Log how you are feeling in your food journal. Simply by reducing potential problematic foods and following a more simply diet, many people will note an increase feeling of well being. Be specific in your food journal. How do you feel? What is your mental energy like? Your physical energy? What are you not feeling?
  3. Slowly reintroduce potential problematic foods to your diet, one at a time, and keep them in their most simple form. For example, if you think soy may pose a problem, try eating some soybeans or tofu rather than a processed soy product. Note in your journal how you feel immediately after eating, and again before bed and the following morning.
  4. If you find you react to a certain food, you may want to avoid it for a while again, and then try reintroducing it once or twice more. If you continue to find you react to the food, it is probably best to eliminate it entirely. However, frequently an intolerance can develop from eating a food too often. By eliminating some foods for a prolonged period of time, you may find you tolerate it again at a later time. Try reintroducing it slowly, however.

Food allergies and intolerance can develop for many reasons. Sometimes our bodies are simply incapable of processing a specific food properly. Other times, various conditions can trigger our bodies to create an intolerance, such as emotions, stress, or even eating a specific food too frequently. It is always important to be mindful of the food we eat and the mental state in which we eat them. Choose your foods wisely, respect the signals your body gives you.

Sugar Substitutes – Are They Safe? (Part 2)

In this article we’ll cover the most commonly used sugar alcohols, Stevia, and how sugar substitutes may affect our appetites.

Be sure to check out Part 1 of this article here if you haven’t already! Get the lowdown on what a Sugar Substitute is, as well as info on the most widely used artificial sweeteners!

Sugar alcohols are a hydrogenated form of a carbohydrate, similar but slightly different to the molecular structure of other sugars. Unlike artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols are actually less sweet than sugar, with their sweetness compared to sugar varies depending on the sugar alcohol. However, because they taste much more similar to table sugar, they are frequently mixed with artificial sweeteners to create a taste comparable to table sugar. Additionally, sugar alcohols do have calories. On average, they contain approximately 2 kcal per gram. Because of this slight amount of calories contained, sugar alcohols can have an affect on an individual’s blood sugar levels. However, sugar alcohols are partially absorbed by our bodies in the small intestine (rather than almost immediately with common sugar), and so have a much more negligible effect on our blood sugar – again, a very important concern for diabetics. Depending on the country you live or purchase sugar alcohols, they can either be labeled as calorie free (as in the United States), or labeled as having few calories (as in Britain). A word of caution: our bodies are not able to fully breakdown and assimilate sugar alcohols, and thus over-consumption can lead to bloating, flatulence, and even diarrhea. Moderation is key.

Erythritol and Xylitol are two of the most commonly used sugar alcohols for food consumption, as they taste most similar to table sugar and have little if any after taste. Erythritol is approximately 60-70% as sweet as sugar, while Xylitol is approximately 90% as sweet as sugar. However, both are frequently labeled and sold as being the same sweetness as table sugar. Erythritol is more fully absorbed by our bodies than any other sugar alcohol, and thus has the least amount of flatulent or laxative affects. Research on Xylitol has been shown it to reduce harmful strains harmful micro-organisms. Specifically, it has been shown to reduce strains of Mutans streptococci, a group of bacteria shown to be a significant contributor to tooth decay.

Stevia is one of the newest sugar substitutes widely available for sale and used for food consumption in the United States, although has been used for decades to centuries in other countries (such as Japan). It is an herb of the species Stevia rebaudiana, and frequently referred to as sweet leaf. Stevia is approximately 300 times sweeter than sugar! Stevia does has marked aftertaste that some find undesirable, and is thus frequently mixed with sugar alcohols when used in food products. If small amounts of Stevia are used, the aftertaste is less marked. Stevia extract is used for processed food consumption, and is labeled as rebaudioside A. Stevia has been used for centuries by the indigenous people of Paraguay, where it was used a folk remedy to help control blood sugar. Recent research has validated this remedy, showing Stevia as being beneficial to help regular blood glucose levels.

Do Sugar Substitutes Affect Our Appetites? Various studies have been conducted through the years regarding whether sugar substitutes affect our metabolism in direct ways that could trigger our body’s desire to consume more calories or even directly affect our body’s metabolism and systems for storing fat. Sugar substitutes generally do not exist in nature (perhaps other than Stevia), and thus our bodies have evolved to associate a significant number of calories with a sweet flavor. Studies within the past few years on rats have shown that rats fed a surplus diet sweetened with saccharin (an artificial sweetener) gained more weight than rats fed a surplus diet sweetened with glucose or sucrose. When the rats’ core temperature was analyzed, the rats fed artificial sweeteners had a lower core temperature than those fed with glucose or sucrose immediately after eating. Core temperature is an indication of metabolism – a lower core temperature in rats fed artificial sweeteners indicated that the mechanism in the rats’ required to burn excess calories was not triggered, leading to lower overall metabolic rate. Additionally, the rats fed artificial sweeteners ate more total calories than rats fed glucose/sucrose.

While no studies have been conducted on humans regarding artificial sweeteners and metabolism, it is important to understand that artificial sweeteners recreate a taste our bodies are equipped to handle in a very specific manner. While we can’t say if they will in fact slow our metabolism, we do know that many people will crave more sweets the more they eat. Simply because a food contains artificial sweeteners, it does not mean it can be eating to excess – it still contains whatever calories it would have without sugar.

If you’re going to eat a cookie, eat a cookie. Don’t eat the whole box!

If you’re having trouble with sugar cravings, be sure to check out: Understanding Sugar Cravings!

Sugar Substitutes – Are They Safe? (Part 1)

Many people are attempting to limit calories in their diet, and one of the many ways this can be accomplished is by limiting your sugar intake. Many herbs have traditionally been used as sugar alternatives, and since the late 1800s artificial sweeteners (man-made substances that mimic the sweetness of sugar) have also been utilized in our food. While we know that white sugar (sucrose) itself is devoid of nutrients, and even requires additional nutrients for your body to process, spikes our blood sugar, and can be a leading cause of being overweight and obesity, what is the safety of sugar substitutes? Proponents of sugar substitutes argue their benefit in helping to reduce calories and limit sugar intake (especially important and necessary for those with diabetes!). Opponents of sugar substitutes argue that many have toxic components, but can also overstimulate our taste buds and cause us to crave more sugar and food!

A crucial defining point to sugar substitutes is that they are actually sweeter than sugar itself. This means the amount of a sugar substitute required to get its ‘sweet effect’ is negligible compared to sugar. Because of this, and their very nature, sugar substitutes have either no caloric value to our bodies, or a very minimal caloric value. For those looking to trim up a bit, this can be quite important as a means of decreasing calorie intake. Sugar substitutes primarily consist of artificial sweeteners. The four major artificial sweeteners consumed in the United States include:

  • Acesulfame Potassium (Acesulfame K, Ace K, and Sunnett)
  • Saccharin (Sweet N Low)
  • Aspartame (Equal, Nutra-Sweet)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)

New sugar substitutes available include sugar alcohols and herbs:

  • Erithrytol
  • Xylitol
  • Stevia, an herb (rebiana, Truvia).

Let’s look at each sugar substitute individually:

Acesulfame Potassium was developed in the late 1980s, and is widely consumed in manufactured and packaged foods. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar. In high concentrations, Acesulfame K is bitter, and so is usually mixed with other sugar substitutes. The FDA has cleared Acesulfame K for human consumption, and backs their decision by citing over 90 studies as to its safety. Opponents of Acesulfame K cite conflicting studies, especially regarding a specific component it contains known as methylene chloride. Methylene chloride is as known potent carcinogen – a cancer causing substance – and has also been linked to kidney and liver damage, nausea, and headaches.

Saccharin was accidentally discovered in the late 1870s by a chemist working to develop coal tar derivatives, who happened to discover a sweet taste on his hand. Since the 1950s, saccharin has been used as a sugar substitute in our foods, and is commonly found on tables everywhere. Saccharin can range anywhere from 200-700 times sweeter than sugar. Studies in the 1970s indicated that saccharin could cause bladder cancer in mice, but the FDA confirms that this risk is not major in humans. Ever since the early 1900s, saccharin has had a bumpy road to being legal to sell for food consumption. The director of the bureau of chemistry for the USDA in 1907, Harvey Wiley, stated that saccharin is “extremely injurious to health.” It took another 50 years to legalize saccharin, and the FDA itself has put saccharin up for review and attempted to ban its sale. Other than being potentially carcinogenic, saccharin has also been linked to allergic reactions, headaches, and breathing issues.

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by a chemist attempting to develop an anti-ulcer drug. Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. Originally cleared for food consumption in 1974, objections by a neuroscientist put the approval on hold. It wasn’t until 1981 and 1983 that aspartame was approved for both dry and liquid goods, respectively. Perhaps more than any other sugar substitute, controversy abounds around aspartame’s safety. Because of the large amount of controversy, more tests have been performed regarding aspartame than any other substitute, as well. The FDA states that aspartame has been thoroughly tested, perhaps more than any other food additive, and that it is safe for consumption. The main opposition toward aspartame comes in two parts. Firstly, aspartame is composed of 50% phenylalanine. People with a genetic disorder known as phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot metabolize phenylalanine, which can lead to lethal concentrations in the brain, and so must avoid aspartame. Secondly, aspartame also contains approximately 10% methanol, or wood alcohol, which breaks down into formaldehyde in the human body. Formaldehyde is a known neurotoxin, symptoms which include gastrointestinal disturbances, memory lapses, numbness and pain in bodily extremities, retinal damage and blindness, and is also a known carcinogen.

Sucralose is the newest of the common artificial sweeteners, have been confirmed for consumption in 1998 under the brand name Splenda. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Because of the mild flavor of sucralose, it is much more favorable to most people compared to other artificial sweeteners. Before clearing sucralose for consumption, over 110 studies were reviewed by the FDA, and it was deemed that sucralose posed no toxic carcinogenic, neurological, or reproductive dangers. However, no long term toxicity studies have been conducted on humans. Sucralose is made from actual sugar, but the chemical process it undergoes involves chlorination, and thus transforms the sugar into a new substance. It is this primarily this chlorination process that brings the safety of sucralose into question. A number of studies, including those reviewed by the FDA, indicate that approximately 15% of sucralose ingested by the body is not eliminated in a timely fashion. Opponents argue by not eliminating even this small amount of sucralose over a long period of time could result in chlorine toxicity.

Stay tuned later this week for Part 2, as I cover the sugar alcohols, Stevia, and how sugar substitutes affect our appetites!