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!

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!

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!

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.