nutrition

Supporting Immunity in the Kitchen

By on December 1, 2020

The seasons are changing again and the cold/flu/and pandemic season is raging. When the seasons change, I like to do all the things to keep our immune system strong. Today I am going to share how we support our immunity in the kitchen.

Filling our diet with nourishing foods is one way we support our immune system. There is so much value to eating whole foods and choosing nutrient-dense items. They support gut health and immune function with necessary vitamins and minerals.

Immune Supporting Vitamins in Food

  1. Vitamin A is the #1 protection against viruses. Not just COVID-19. Foods that are vitamin A rich are egg yolks sourced from pastured hens and grass-fed butter.
  2. Vitamin D and Vitamin A work hand in hand to support immunity. Ways to receive Vitamin D nutritionally is through fatty fishes, red meats, and egg yolks. Another easy way to receive Vitamin D is to opt outside as much as possible to receive Vitamin D from the sun. Avoid sunscreens so that you are able to absorb the vitamin. 10-20 min twice a day is an adequate amount of time. The thing about vitamin D is that we do not store it or have reserves, so it is necessary to receive it each day.
  3. Vitamin C is used to prevent and address viral infections. Vitamin C has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to reduce the severity and symptoms of colds. I always make sure to have an absorbable form of Vitamin C on hand, but a wonderful food to add to your diet is sauerkraut or other fermented veggies. Sauerkraut has 10 times more Vitamin C than fresh cabbage. Fermented veggies are also great for the gut microbiome. Increasing your green vegetables are essential. They provide Vitamin C, as well as B-vitamins, Vitamin K, and other important nutrients.
  4. Healthy Fats— Coconut oil is our best natural source of these healthy fats. Also, the lungs can not work without saturated fats, so grass-fed butter, avocado oil, olive oil, and ghee are great sources of healthy saturated fats. Just make sure to avoid all industrial fats and oils.
  5. Hydration— Staying hydrated keeps the pipes flushed, so to speak. Water is wonderful, adding an ionized mineral supplement is ideal and you can receive additional minerals in your kitchen by making herbal infusions.
  6. Bone Broth–is another one of my favorite ways to receive nourishment. Roasted bones leftover from a previous meal or picked up from your favorite butcher. I make sure to use grass-fed or pasture-raised meats. I often make it in my Instant Pot. However, I have been loving making this on the slow cooker function– I use the same proportions, just slow cook for 24 hours instead.

Sugar & Immune Support

With the holidays we start “sugar season”. It all starts with Halloween, then it seems to go until January. Sugar feeds inflammation and the “bad guys”, so being mindful of sugar consumption is a simple way to support immune function.

There are many healthier alternatives that we use in our kitchen. These sugar alternatives also prevent sugar highs and lows and the insanity that comes with sugared-up kids, lol. I use coconut sugar, monkfruit sweetener, and sometimes Swerve for baking. Maple syrup and honey are also natural alternatives.

Immunity Begins in the Belly

Since about 70% of our immune system begins in the gut, it only makes sense to start supporting it in the kitchen. Being mindful of what you are eating and drinking goes a long way in addition to the other germ-fighting techniques we have! Having essential vitamins, minerals, and a healthy gut aids in fighting illness and improving recovery.

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family wellness | health research | women's health

Small Changes, Big Results: Reducing Your Toxic Burden

By on July 15, 2020

I have brushed on the topic of chemical exposure and health concerns in many blogs. Today I want to dive a little deeper into the meaning of toxic burden. The toxic burden is the toxic load our bodies carry while still trying to function normally. We are exposed to chemicals and toxic substances in so many ways. There are toxins in our food supply, the air, the water, personal care products, household cleaning products, lawn maintenance, make-up, packaging, and so much more.

Green Washing

“Clean”, “green”, “non-toxic”– these are words that are trendy, or bougie these days. So many companies have “green” versions of products to cater to that trend. I have fallen into the trap of “green-washing”. You know, when the package looks non-toxic and good for the environment? The claims on the label even support it? However, the actual ingredient list is far from clean. The list is full of hormone disruptors, carcinogens, and artificial fragrances.

I have been keeping an eye on current environmental laws and recently 100 protections have been reversed. This means that even more, harmful chemicals will find their way into our personal care products and the environment. There are over 1400 chemicals that have been banned in Europe but are allowed in the USA. To become aware of these chemicals we have to become adept at reading labels and knowing what is in our products.

Risks of Toxic Burden

Like I said, the toxic burden is the load our bodies carry while still functioning normally. What about those times when our bodies say enough is enough? There is a time when the toxins build-up and start to affect our health. For me, it started happening in my teens (although I didn’t have a clue) but by my 30’s I had a lot going on. It was showing up in my bloodwork, health appointments, and truly making me feel unwell.

Some of us are more sensitive than others and there are a variety of ways toxicity will manifest. Fatigue, headaches, eczema, sleep issues, allergies/breathing issues, infertility, acne, certain cancers, and so much more. The toxic burden can also fuel existing conditions– think autoimmune hell!

Areas of Concern

There are so many things we encounter in our lives that are toxic offenders. In our family, we have several key areas we work to keep as pure as possible. We can not control all that happens in the world around us, however, we can control what goes on in our homes. I’ll share a list of the areas we are mindful of in our home.

  • Water Quality — Nothing quite wakes you up about water quality until you live through a “water crisis“. 2014 did it for me! In our home, we are particularly careful with our cooking and drinking water. Ultimately, a whole-home system is on my list but right now we make sure what we are ingesting is clean. You can receive a local report from your public water system to know where the areas of concern are in your system. We use a Berkey Water Filter in our home and also purchase some 5-gallon refillable jugs from a local water supplier. I am careful about the plastic our water is packaged in and won’t buy single-use bottles.
  • Air Quality— Mold, allergens, and synthetic aromas are all a cause for concern and air toxicity. Removing candles, air fresheners and synthetic fragrances improve the air quality rather quickly. We only use pure essential oils and diffusers and natural cleaning products.
  • Personal Care Products/Household Cleaning— These are one of the biggest offenders. After learning how to read the labels more closely (or even scan the barcode Think Dirty App or EWG) I’ve found that I am not comfortable using about 90% of the items found in most stores. I have a few places that I shop for the majority of these items. This means less choices or experimentation and sometimes I pay a little more. I’m okay with that. Less choices = less stress and also you generally get what you pay for. I’ve found that most higher quality products require less (a little goes a long way) and I have less waste and clutter as a side benefit.
  • Food— I know I’ve shared this info many times but it is worth repeating. I generally try to eat food that is as close to natural as possible. A diet of mostly fruits, vegetables, humanely raised meats/dairy, organic if I can or at least following the dirty-dozen list. Eating locally and in season is also great but isn’t always the most accessible.

Getting to Know Yourself

It is important to know yourself and do your own research. Information is so readily available and it is easy to find contradictory information. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You have to know yourself and what level of “green” living you want to adopt. My best advice is to find out what is most important to you when making the switch and start there. Baby-steps are always the best and most sustainable. When researching look at all sides and from different perspectives, from a reputable source.

In our family we have worked within our budget and have found solutions and for us, we are very, very cautious about what we use. Like I mentioned above, we avoid 90% (if not more) of mainstream-store personal and home care items.

I have a few companies I trust, I make some things and purchase some locally made items. The majority of our products come from Young Living, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs. They offer so much, I love everything they create, and the ease of one-stop shopping does it for me.

Another thing that happens when you begin to remove toxic substances from your life is that you will begin to have keener sense of body awareness. Most likely your health will improve (issues you may not even know you have will clear) and you will definitely notice when you come in contact with a chemical and have a reaction.

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diet | recipes

Simplifying Dietary Changes

By on January 17, 2019

The Struggle is Real

The holidays are over and I am still having trouble getting back on track with my diet. These are the thoughts that have been floating around in my mind:

Carbs taste good, I’m pregnant, just one more day, it’s just “social” eating, one more treat, I’m tired of cooking, cleaning, planning, purchasing.

There ya have it. All excuses to not be my best self. Have you ever had that dialogue floating around in your mind?

I KNOW changing my diet changed my life. I found a healthy, stable weight, my periods returned like healthy clockwork, my son’s medical issue resolved, my feelings of anxiety released, and countless other benefits.

Why, oh why are bad habits so hard to break? Why is convenience more important than health?

Last night, I really had to give myself a reality check. I’m going to deliver a baby in just a few short months, and I do not want a repeat of my last birth experience. Plus, I want my body to bounce back so that I’m not telling another story of postpartum depression or healing difficulties.

Three Tips to Simplify

Simplifying the diet is key. I’ve had to adapt so that I’m not cooking and cleaning all day, or having to run all over the state finding appropriate ingredients.

How have I simplified?

1. Shopping in bulk and mail order has been #1. I found a local source for high quality meat, and place a big order about every 2 months.

Our Costco membership has also been amazing and saves quite a bit of money. We can find compliant cheeses, vegetables, grain-free products in bulk, nice cooking oils, avocado oil mayo, almond flour, compliant salad dressings and several other staples. Scheduling this every 4-6 weeks keeps our pantry stocked and minimizes our trips to run out for just an item or two.

Amazon Prime or Thrive Market are excellent sources to find items that aren’t as accessible in the mainstream market. For me, I would have to drive an hour to a grocery store or health food store that carries compliant baking items.

2. Meal planning is also important. I used to be able to replace a meal with a protein shake to lighten my cooking load. Being pregnant has required that I eat 3 meals and only use shakes for protein rich snacks. Have you ever tried planning 21 meals a week? Its laborious.

Batch cooking and freezing is a good method to lighten the load or just having a plan for dinner by 10 am tends to work for me. Unthawing meat, knowing what veggies need prepped and just general timeline can make the task easier.

Cooking enough food to have leftovers for lunch is also a time saver, or cooking a bigger batch of a favorite that can be eaten over the course of several days for lunch.

3. Instant Pot

I have had my instant pot for about a year and wasn’t sure if I loved it or not. It is not something I use daily but it works wonders to cook a good, healthy, nutritious meal very quickly. I love it for soups and stews or to cook a perhaps frozen chicken very quickly to use for multiple meals.

These are just my tips and tricks that help me stay focused and on task with what I’m putting in my body. I am going to share one of my favorite lunch, batch cooking recipes. I make enough for several days and serve on a bed of greens with a few Simple Mills grain-free crackers. It’s both healthy and satisfying.

Lemon Tarragon Chicken Salad

2 lb. pasture raised chicken breasts

3 stalks of celery, diced

lemon juice

4 Tbs chopped, fresh tarragon

avocado oil mayo (Chosen Foods brand, I buy at Costco)

handful of dried, unsweetened cranberries

1. Drizzle chicken breasts with avocado oil and lemon juice, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake at 375 degrees for about 25 min.

2. Cool and dice chicken breasts.

3. Add diced celery, tarragon, salt, pepper, and enough mayo to coat thoroughly. Approximately 1/2-3/4 c. Mix well. Add 1-2 Tbs. lemon juice and cranberries and mix again.

4. Chill and serve.

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health research | hormone balance

Hormonal Balance & Fertility Optimization

By on January 8, 2019

My journey into natural health began because I struggled with PCOS and was told at an early age that I would probably need help conceiving. I distinctly remember hearing that at 15 years old, and the only thing I knew I wanted for my adulthood was to be a mom. I did have trouble getting and staying pregnant, for awhile.

At a point in my adulthood journey I started reading about how diet, exercise, environmental toxins, and even emotions can wreak havoc on our hormones. In the United States, infertility is actually becoming quite an epidemic and has a very high price tag when undergoing medical intervention. I don’t know about you, but for me medical intervention did not feel right, I felt there was a “why” and a “how” right before my eyes. I just had to find it out for myself. I am glad I did, because I have found success and health, and have watched many other couples do the same.

It is possible to create an optimal environment for conception, restore both male and female fertility, or just age gracefully by taking a few simple steps to cleanse and nourish your body.

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Managing our Chemical Load

Many variables have to be in aligment for proper hormone balance. The first thing I suggest doing is taking a look at your environment and assessing your toxic load. This is part of life that we do not have complete control over, however we can minimize the exposure in our homes.

Petrochemicals in our environment are often a huge culprit in hormone imbalance. They mimic estrogen, even in men, who do not naturally produce estrogen.  Estrogen dominance can create problems in females releasing eggs, or if eggs do release and fertilize, may have difficulty attaching to the uterine lining. Men can suffer from impotence, mood swings, and many other ailments.

So, assessing and cleaning out our homes and replacing with products that contain the least amount of chemicals possible is desirable. Toothpastes, shampoos, lotions, make-up, cleaning products, etc. all can be major hormone disruptors. Our skin is our largest organ, and will absorb anything and everything that we put on. Learning to read labels and being wary of words like “fragrance”, which actually means chemical cocktail!

 

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Food as Medicine

Our diets are also cause for concern. In previous blogs, I have shared the most successful dietary protocol for my body. It is really important to realize that factory farmed meats, artificial flavors and colors, as well as foods that contain phytoestrogens (soy) can be damaging for our delicate hormonal balance. Sticking to a whole food diet, eating humanely farmed meats, removing grains and sugar typically do a world of good.

It is also nearly impossible to meet all of our nutritional requirements from diet alone. Even the “perfect” diet can spark some questions. What was the length of time the food traveled to get to your plate? How was it grown or processed? What do you clean your fruits and veggies with?

High quality, whole food nutritional supplements can help us meet our nutritional requirements. Whole food supplements of the highest quality are necessary so that our bodies can actually absorb and assimilate the nutrients from the supplement. Common supplements that you pick up at big box stores are from synthetic sources, so our body immediately works to eliminate them or can have a toxic response trying to process the vitamin.

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Gut Health

In natural health, it is found that women who suffer from hormonal imbalance tend to have problems with their bowel and liver functions. When our bowels are stagnant, or the liver is not performing optimally, the toxins our body would prefer to release are sent directly to the sex organs. Cleansing is a way to “flush the pipes”, so to speak.

Following a gentle cleansing protocol can reset the system to prepare for a pregnancy. Following these steps typically take about 3-4 months for hormones to begin to regulate, however each individual is different depending on toxicity and gut/colon health. For gut cleansing, I prefer 4 specific types of supplements.

An herbal cleansing supplement is the first thing I use and recommend. This gets the digestive system moving. Even if you are “regular” it does not mean that you are actually actively releasing the excess hormones. A multi-complex digestive enzyme is also key. Most people do not have adequate enzyme activity in the gut to actually break down and assimilate all of the food that is consumed.

The supplement will replenish the digestive enzymes and help the body stay at an adequate level. A fiber supplement  is also helpful and will bind free estrogen in the system and allow it to pass. And a high-quality probiotic will feed the good bacteria and allow the microbiome and immune system to flourish.

Cleansing the gut allows the toxins to release from the body, and healing to occur. Following the dietary recommendations will speed up the healing process. I also like to use the collagen HA supplement I mentioned in a previous post, since it truly helps to close the seal on “leaky gut“, which so many of us with autoimmune conditions suffer from.

Love Your Liver

The liver controls many, many functions in our bodies. Saving and supporting your liver is also a key to hormonal health. The liver is the major filtering organ of the body. It is known that impaired liver enzymes are cause of recurrent miscarriages, and that most estrogen metabolism takes place in the liver. Once the colon has been cleansed, the liver can do a better job releasing and removing the toxins from our bodies.

A healthy body weight is important for a healthy liver, as is limiting chemical exposure. Dietary choices have been the key for my liver health. Removing sugars, grains and  getting most of my carbs from vegetables has been the best way to support my liver. Making these changes have helped me release inflammation, belly fat, and pain that I carried in the upper, right portion of my abdomen.

Moderate exercise is also very helpful. Just a 15 minute walk per day can keep the flow and release going in the area of the liver. If we are stagnant, our organs become stagnant. There are also some very nice supplements and essential oils that will support healthy liver function.

 

Stress and Exercise

Another hormone killer is chronic stress. The stress hormone cortisol is often referred to as the “death hormone”. Why? High cortisol levels changes our blood sugar levels, slow digestion, changes cardiac function, lowers immunity, increases inflammation, decreases thyroid, among many other things.

We have this hormone to protect us in times of danger, but chronic stress leaves us living in this state much of the time.  The autonomic nervous system controls our stress/relaxation response, and can be addressed and nourished in several ways.

Yoga and mindfulness exercises can work wonders in reducing chronic stress. Our breath is powerful in rewiring our stress response and something as simple as taking slow, rhythmic, deep breaths can massage our organs and reduce our cortisol levels.

Since this post is so wordy, I will save a few mindfulness exercises for a future post.

I am also aware that I have shared a lot of information in one post. I am always happy to elaborate or point you to more resources that may be best for you– so feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly if this info sparks any questions.

 

 

 

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family wellness | gut health

Tummy Troubles

By on March 19, 2018

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Hippocrates, the Greek physician and “Father of Medicine” stated that “all disease begins in the gut”. Leaky Gut Syndrome is becoming quite the catch word these days. A few years ago I was at a conference and heard a presentation about this issue. I listened, found it fascinating, but did not see the connection to it and my health problems at the time. Having digestive issues, skin issues, and hormone issues were just my lot in life. Maybe passed down genetically, or quite “normal” to feel this way. Taking a dose of Pepto Bismol was pretty standard practice during my childhood.

Babies are in fact, born with a “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability. This means that there are small gaps in the intestinal lining, which are beneficial in a new baby because larger immune-boosting molecules can pass directly into the baby’s bloodstream. As a newborn, this is important because the baby is using the antibodies of mama’s milk to protect against viruses, bacteria, and other dangerous microorganisms. During the first few months after birth, a baby’s organ systems develop rapidly and the gaps in the intestinal lining begin to close. That is if all systems are working appropriately– the best case scenario. In my post on the microbiome I share that Ezra was not born in the best case scenario for gut health.

In our world, much about development is based on facts and figures. Conventionally, if a baby is 6 months old, has a pincer grasp, and can sit up– it is time to start solids.  I am not sold on that school of thought. Leaky Gut Syndrome is not recognized in western medicine, although I believe it is gaining some popularity in functional or integrative medicine. My little guy has been showing symptoms of digestive discomfort since we brought him home from the NICU. He had reflux, was a “happy spitter“, and grunted constantly for several months with very uncomfortable gas. We kept him as comfortable as possible with many holistic interventions. The biggest shift in Ezra’s health occurred when I changed to a ketogenic diet. He immediately began to gain weight at an accelerated rate, and managed to grow off the preemie charts and on to the full-term charts, and sleep through the night. He was meeting his growth and milestone requirements, so I took it for granted that his internal environment had caught up. The diet was helpful for us both, and a wonderful system reset– however not quite sustainable for a long period of time.

When the gut is “leaky”, the one layer thick lining of the intestines has tiny holes scattered throughout. These essentially spring “leaks” allowing undigested food particles, bacteria and other substances to pass directly into the bloodstream. The immune system is then fired to attack these foreign invaders, creating a near constant immune response. So, what is designed to protect you in times of distress is over functioning and going a bit haywire. When the body is in this near constant state of distress, chronic inflammation begins to set in. After only a few months of eating solid foods, Ezra began to have many symptoms of chronic inflammation.  At the 12 month mark, we had several indicators that his gut still needed quite a bit of support, so some changes were in order.

Some symptoms are: eczema, psoriasis, anxiety/depression, migraines, respiratory problems, chronic fatigue, sugar cravings, allergies, behavior problems, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, weight loss or weight gain issues, and so many more. Navigating the world of infant feeding is difficult. We all want to give our children the best start. Often cereals are the first recommended food, then moving on to green beans or peas (legumes), many fruits are suggested, and age 1 is the magic age for whole milk. What if our recommended feeding guidelines are keeping us and our children sick? How do we discern what the experts are suggesting?

If Hippocrates was correct that “all health begins in the gut”, what can I do to ensure our guts are healthy? For Ezra the diet change begins with me, since he is still breastfeeding. My internal environment will be the precursor to his. At this point, our family diet is roughly 80% vegetables. We stick to leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, small portions of pastured/grass-fed meats, pastured eggs, and A2 dairy. We are avoiding grains, root vegetables, legumes, nightshade vegetables, most fruits, conventionally farmed meats/fish, and sugar. So far, we are adapting quite well and my husband and I have both released some weight within just a few weeks of this switch. This week I will introduce a new supplement into my daily regimen,  I will adjust and adapt as we go along, although right now I am seeing the proof that our systems are beginning to heal and shift toward wellness.

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