A Calorie is Not a Calorie: Busting Myths with Dr. Robert Lustig and the IRN

 

Pardon me while I gush like a total geek for a second.

I have been on the planning committee for the Wellness Conference put on by the Hospitals Association of Southern California for the last three years. For the last three years I’ve been wanting Dr. Robert Lustig to come to the conference to speak about his work with diabetic children and the research he’s done to convincingly argue that the excess sugar we consume as a society is killing us, one diabetic at a time. He finally made it to the conference this year, and I almost literally jumped for joy when I saw him walk into the room. I think I might have made him a little self-conscious when I asked him to take a picture with me, but he graciously obliged. Yesssssssssssssss!

a calorie is not a calorie Dr. Robert Lustig Institute for Responsible Nutrition

Some of you might have noticed I did a teeny tiny bit of live tweeting (a whopping 3 tweets) during his talk on Thursday of last week at HASC, but since it was just a few tweets they might have passed you by. They featured some of my favorite sound bites, which will guide you through what I consider the most important information Dr. Lustig shared.

Dr. Robert Lustig’s Work

If you’re not familiar with Dr. Lustig’s work, I suggest you start with his book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Diabetes (affiliate link). He’s been working with children at UCSF who are presenting with the diseases of the old — metabolic syndrome, diabetes, hypertension — and in his research, he’s found that the number one problem in our modern diet today is the sheer amount of sugar we consume. He uses the old adage “the dose determines the poison” and asserts that the food industry is dosing us.

“Sugar is the alcohol of the child.”

I’ve heard Dr. Lustig speak a few times before, and each time he not only covers this problem on an individual level, but he also points out the systemic, institutionalized, tacit (but not really) agreement between “the people in charge” (USDA, FDA, lawmakers) and “the big food companies” to keep people uninformed about how much sugar we’re consuming and just how dangerous it is for our health. The most compelling evidence for this little arrangement is the fact that food labels never share the RDA percentage of sugar per serving. 

a calorie is not a calorie Dr. Robert Lustig Institute for Responsible Nutrition

The point stands that if the spot under % Daily Value were filled in with accurate percentages for Recommended Sugar Intake, people would think twice before buying sugary cereal for their kids (or any of the other boxed products in the center aisles of the grocery store). Part of Lustig’s work at the Institute for Responsible Nutrition (IRN) is to move sugar from the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list to the “Food Additive List,” citing it as an addictive substance, a cheap preservative, and not a necessary part of our diet. Doing this would put sugar in the same category as trans fat and create awareness around the health hazards of consuming too much.

“Obesity is not the problem. People Don’t Die from Obesity.”

Myth #1: If we cure obesity, we cure our health crisis. Dr. Lustig spent a long time on debunking this point, sharing obesity and diabetes rates across the globe and arguing that while there’s certainly overlap between obesity and diabetes, there are also plenty of cases where obesity is present and diabetes isn’t, and vice versa. India, Pakistan, and China, for example are not obese countries, but the rates of diabetes are skyrocketing. Mongolia and Iceland are obese but not diabetic. The position of mainstream medicine on this matter is that if you cure obesity, you cure the problem, but Dr. Lustig reveals that 40% of normal weight people (who make up 70% total population) have the exact same chronic diseases as 80% of obese people (who make up 30% of the total population). So the problem is metabolic syndrome, not obesity. Obesity is a potential symptom of the problem, but not the problem itself.

“I don’t believe in common sense. I believe in science.”

a calorie is not a calorie Dr. Robert Lustig Institute for Responsible Nutrition

Click the image to see the full infographic on the IRN website

Myth #2: A calorie is a calorie. We’ve been told our whole lives that a calorie is a calorie — that the law of thermodynamics states that if we take in more energy than we expend, we will gain weight — it’s just common sense. Well no it’s not. The laws of physics don’t trump the laws of nutritional biochemistry, and all calories are not created equal.

Our bodies react differently to different nutrients that accompany each calorie — in fact, some calories (like the ones that come from soda and other sugar-laden drinks and processed foods) are downright poisonous to us when consumed in the quantities that we’re consuming them right now. We do not digest a carrot the same way we digest a soda.

I touched on the calorie myth in my post Fatty Doesn’t Equal Fattening, where I talked about the difference between healthy fat and unhealthy fat, but Dr. Lustig drives the point home with his charts that correlate increased sugar consumption with CVD (cardiovascular disease), diabetes, and liver disease occurrences over time. You can see some of that work at the IRN website.

“Your choice to drink soda is hurting me.”

Myth #3: It’s about personal responsibility. I almost fell on the floor when I learned that the notion of “personal responsibility” was invented by the tobacco industry in 1969. It makes complete sense, and the parallels between big tobacco and big food don’t stop there. (In fact, some of the major players are/were the same!) If one can argue that quitting sugar (or smoking) is just about personal choice, an individual decision that affects no one but the person eating (or smoking), then one can keep regulation away, keep warning labels away, and keep people addicted.

If you can be convinced that your decision to eat junk (or smoke cigarettes) isn’t hurting anyone but yourself, then you can just keep right on doing what you’re doing until you’re ready to change, at which point, it’s your own personal responsibility to do so, and you should just be able to stop on your own. Forget the constant barrage of commercials advertising your substance of choice to you (no longer legal for certain media to advertise smoking). Forget the fact that it’s available at your fingertips everywhere you turn (barriers have been put into place for cigarettes, including age requirements), that nothing is labeled properly (warning labels have been legally mandated for cigarettes), and that there are so many different names for sugar that can all be buried into the ingredients label so that the average consumer is none the wiser (not the case for tobacco or nicotine products). Most importantly for our society, forget that your sugar (or smoking) addiction makes you a more expensive medical patient who’s more likely to get sick and stay sick for longer, and in the end we all bear the brunt of a sicker population. Of course big food wants to make it about personal responsibility, because it keeps them in business!

Dr. Lustig cites the three ingredients needed for the case for “personal responsibility” to be made:

  • Knowledge – of the actual contents of the food we have to eat AND of the real consequences of our current system
  • Access – to real, whole foods AND the information we need to know to make good decisions about these foods
  • Affordability – related to access, real, whole foods need to be available to all socio-economic levels, not reserved for those who can afford to shop at Whole Foods.

Click to download a PDF of this list to take with you to the grocery store!

“I’m for dessert, for dessert. I’m not for dessert for breakfast.”

This one is my favorite — I too, am for dessert! And I too have a rant on the topic of breakfast cereal! This is where the action items come in, and where I don’t leave you empty-handed thinking that the cards are stacked against you and your health. No one is asking for a ban on sugar. No one is saying that it should be considered a controlled substance. What Dr. Lustig, the folks at IRN, and I am saying is that we need to be informed, we need to recognize that we can’t do it alone, and that it IS possible to make lasting change on this issue at the personal and societal level! Here’s what you can do to make a difference:

 

Indie Chocolatier Gives Willy Wonka a Run for his Money with Gracias Chocolate [GIVEAWAY]

Warning: This is a post about chocolate and I am obsessed with the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder. Expect random references to and quotes from this movie throughout this post. Sorry, it couldn’t be helped.

Who doesn’t love chocolate? I mean, I suppose there are some people who don’t love chocolate, but there’s something wrong with those people. Maybe that was harsh. If you don’t like chocolate, you probably won’t care to enter the raffle at the end of this post for free chocolate (that’s ok, more for everyone else!), but you might enjoy this story about how Bay Area local chocolatier, Jessica Osterday, got her start, so I should probably stop insulting you now. Plus, you never know — once you find out that chocolate can actually be a health food, you might just jump into that chocolate river after all! (Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination!)

Willy Wonka meets Holistic Health in Jessica Osterday

Healthy Chocolate Gracias Chocolate

Jessica Osterday feeds her artistic fire by creating unique flavor combinations for her budding business Gracias Chocolate.  She uses only the best ingredients, adding nutritive touches like pure maca powder (affiliate link) and unexpected flavors like truffle oil — ingredients that aren’t typically included in your average chocolate bar that ‘give it a little kick.’ She’s passionate about the concept of chocolate as a healing food, as am I, which is why I chose to share her beautiful, hand-made chocolates with you. Also, they’re delicious — scrumdiddlyumptious even!

I asked Jessica a few questions to get the ball rolling on this post, and there were some things I thought just sounded better coming from her, so I’ll start with a quote from her before I share her story and tell you how much I love this chocolate.

“There is no doubt in my mind why my path has led me to create chocolate. I have the privilege of sharing something that makes people happy. Because chocolate has such a dynamic flavor profile, I get to engage my spontaneity and creativity, formulating different flavor experiences by adding interesting taste combinations to each bar. It is truly a pleasure to create and share more beauty with the world through chocolate.”

Gracias Chocolate: Osterday’s Golden Egg

Jessica studied massage and body healing techniques alongside her more traditional undergraduate work, which exposed her to new ideas and ways of exploring the senses — including lickable wallpaper and fizzy lifting drink (just kidding). Learning healing arts allowed her to experience her body and her life more consciously — which led to an active pursuit of creativity in all aspects of life, including food. She worked with amazing chefs and food creators who helped open and develop her palette during her studies, and eventually she caught the bug and decided to enter the world of chocolate-making.

Playing in the kitchen has inspired her unique flavor combinations, including the Citrus-Habanero with Hazelnuts and the Fig Balsamic with Black Salt, which Jessica says “have a way of opening up like time-released flavor bombs in your mouth.” What a delectable way to experience chocolate! And I can vouch for these flavor bomb combinations. This chocolate is a truly unique experience! So far, my favorite flavor is the Pecans and Nibs (pictured below), but of course, these things are subject to change at a moment’s notice — strike that! reverse it! this way please!

“Above all,” Jessica says, “I want to create an incredible taste experience with every bite of chocolate.” And on that front, she’s succeeded — without any help from Oompa Loompas.

Healthy Chocolate Gracias Chocolate

Is Chocolate Really Healthy? 

Chocolate is more than just an indulgence. It’s an actual food stuff. You’ve probably never noticed this, but candy is taxed at the grocery store, while pure chocolate isn’t. That’s because chocolate is a food, while candy is just sugar with no nutritional benefits — put another way, ‘Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.’

Well made dark chocolate retains a rich antioxidant profile, offering the same polyphenols you find in tea, red wine, certain berries, herbs, spices, and veggies. (Check out this chart that ranks foods rich in these potent phytonutrients. Cocoa powder is pretty high on that list!)

Chocolate is also thought to increase the serotonin and dopamine responses in the brain, which means eating it could give us a little boost of “happy chemicals” from time to time. 

Check the Label

Unfortunately, so much chocolate on the market today is made with unnecessary additives that can take away from the benefits of this superfood. Genetically modified soy lecithin, processed sugars, and possibly even waxes and preservatives can find their way into even the pricey chocolates on the shelves of Whole Foods Market and fancy chocolate shops. It’s on this front that Gracias Chocolate is different.

“I wanted to create a product that was pure, so that I can share the PUREST effect and the most good for our bodies through eating chocolate. We deserve to eat good food that makes us happy and helps our bodies feel good.”

Quality Counts

Jessica has chosen to sweeten each of her chocolate bars with coconut sugar and maple sugar — this might be my favorite feature of Gracias Chocolate. It has become easier to find GMO-free/soy-free chocolate chips, but even those are sweetened with processed white sugar. I love that Gracias Chocolate brings whole food sweeteners into the mix, offering a truly pure form of enjoyable chocolate.

Healthy Chocolate Gracias Chocolate

photo used from DangerousMinds.net

Gracias Chocolate is vegan (with the exception of two bars that include local honey), soy-free and gluten-free, and each bar contains 10% Maca, which is a superfood grown in the Andes that helps to heal the adrenals, balance hormones, and increase overall vitality. Gracias Chocolate gets it organic cacao from an heirloom cacao tree called Arriba Nacional, which only grows in Ecuador. All of the ingredients in their base chocolate are organic and fair trade except the maple sugar (which comes from Butternut Mountain Farm in Morrisville, Vermont) and the Himalayan Pink Salt. 

Pairing Gracias Chocolate with Food and Drink

I’ve enjoyed these chocolates after dinner for many a meal, from roasted pork butt to pesto veggie pasta, but mostly I’ve devoured them sitting on my couch doing absolutely nothing else but focusing on the flavors. I love the idea of pairing wine with chocolate, but Jessica has even better ideas in her felt top hat of chocolatey wonder and imagination.

I asked Jessica to offer some food and drink pairings for her unique chocolates, and she graciously offered some absolutely decadent suggestions. Sign up for my newsletter to receive a beautiful eCard that lists Jessica’s pairings, along with an exclusive CWB pairing featuring Gracias Dark Chocolate. (Subscribers will also receive my free eCookbook featuring deliciously unique vegan and vegetarian pumpkin recipes!)

Healthy Chocolate Gracias Chocolate

The Jackpot! The Grand and Glorious Jackpot!

The more entries you have in this raffle, the better your chances are to win, so do them all! We’re giving away two Gracias Gift Packs, which include the following bars:

  • 1 Bar Dark Chocolate
  • 1 Bar Lavender Honey with Almonds
  • 1 Bar Fig Balsamic with Black Salt
  • 1 Bar Truffle Oil and Black Salt

a Rafflecopter giveaway

7 Foods You Think Are Healthy But Aren’t

In helping people find new, nourishing ways to eat, whether it’s for weight loss or overall health improvement, I’m often surprised to learn what people believe to be “healthy choices.” It’s not realistic to expect a layperson to decipher all of the misinformation about health and nutrition swirling around the webosphere, but even folks with medical and health education backgrounds can get stuck on outdated strategies for a healthy lifestyle, following and recommending advice to their patients that is no longer backed up by the research. So I’m going to pick my jaw up off the ground and set straight some of the misconceptions out there about food — what’s healthy, what’s not, and why.  

A major challenge in this whole “good vs. bad” food approach is unlearning old information, so that’s where I’m going to start today. Get ready as I unpack some foods you thought were healthy but aren’t.

Foods You Think Are Healthy But Aren’t

1. Skim Milk 

foods you think are healthy

image sourced through Wikipedia by H. Zell

Remember when I mentioned a potential rant coming about skim milk? Behold! Here it is. Skim milk is the first on my hit list, because it’s my biggest rant. Not only is fat-free dairy flavorless and disgusting, it’s the concentrated byproduct leftover when the best part of milk (the CREAM!) is removed. It’s touted as a health food, and it’s simply the opposite — full of sugar, void of nutrients, and not a joy to eat. (And yes, I believe that a food must be a joy to eat to qualify as a health food!)

The fat-soluble vitamins found in whole milk (namely vitamins A and D) need fat to be absorbed into our bodies, and the protein and calcium found in all milk need the vitamins to be absorbed. When the fat is removed, so are the vitamins, which causes us to have to deplete our own stores of vitamins to absorb the protein and calcium in skim milk. On top of that, the process of creating skim milk includes adding milk solids created through a high-heat process that oxidizes the naturally occurring cholesterol in milk, thus creating a food that’s heart hazardous, rather than heart healthy. (source)

Skim milk also doesn’t promote fat loss — in fact, it promotes fat gain. Farmers give pigs skim milk to fatten them up (source 1source 2), and unfortunately, studies show that the same is true of our children. In a huge study of 10,700 children, those who drank 1% or skim milk had higher BMIs (body mass index) than children who drank whole milk (source). 

What to eat instead:

If your digestion can handle dairy, stick with full-fat. Always choose organic dairy products. Opt for non-homogenized if you can find it, and best of all, if your state allows the sale of raw dairy, give that a try.

2. Diet Drinks and Artificial Sweeteners

foods you think are healthy

image sourced from Wikipedia by Vikramjit Kakati

One of the seemingly obvious strategies people use to watch their sugar and caloric intake is to replace sugary drinks and desserts with diet drinks and artificial sweeteners. Due to the mistaken belief that because these choices are calorie-free, they either “don’t count” or they’ll help with weight loss, this strategy is one I constantly have to debunk.

Artificial sweeteners like saccharine and aspartame are not only implicated in serious diseases (source 1, source 2), they also create disruptions in hormonal and metabolic responses in the body as compared to sucrose or glucose. They disrupt our ability to recognize caloric vs noncaloric sweet foods, which can often result in overconsumption and energy dysregulation in the body. They are implicated in an increased risk of Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, heart disease and metabolic syndrome, not a decrease (source).

Make no mistake, too much real sugar is a major culprit in these diseases as well. I’m not at all saying that it’s preferable to drink a regular Coke over a Diet Coke. I’m saying skip the Coke. This is an instance of ditching the fake and the real thing in order to move closer to a healthy lifestyle. 

What to drink instead:

A great alternative to sugary drinks (real or fake) is to add a squeeze of lemon or mint to soda water, or purchase something like a Soda Stream (affiliate link) and make bubbly water with a splash of 100% fruit juice. Which brings me to my next “health food” …

3. Fruit Juice

foods you think are healthyDid you see how I used the word “splash” up there? A full glass of fruit juice is not a healthy choice. I went to a symposium on the rising rates of diabetes in children, and Dr. Robert Lustig was there presenting on the dangers of too much fructose in the diet. He told is a great little story, which I’ll share with you here:

Two kids were called to the front of the classroom to demonstrate the difference between oranges and orange juice. One kid was given 6 oranges to squeeze into an 8 oz glass of juice. He drank it right down and was ready for more. The other kid was told to eat the 6 oranges. He made it through 3 before he threw up. 

That’s a gross story, but it illustrates the difference between a whole food and a juice. The juice is missing the fiber – the filling part that slows down the naturally-occurring sugars in the fruit. Take away the fiber, and you have a fructose bomb. No one eats 6 oranges, but plenty of people drink far more than 8 oz of juice.

Fruit juice is a high glycemic food. It’s dense in calories but does not satisfy hunger. Skip it.

What to drink instead:

If you really want to drink your fruit, make a smoothie that includes no more than one serving of fruit, and add some veggies in there while you’re at it. Otherwise, just stick with water. If you want something bubbly and sweet, see my recommendations for replacing diet soda – just a splash, not a whole glass.

4. Diet Meals and Snacks

foods you think are healthy

image sourced through flickr bt theimpulsivebuy

Those among us who hate to cook but are watching their weight might opt for frozen or packaged diet foods such as Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers products, “low-carb” powdered peanut butter (yuck!), or 100 calorie snack packs (just to name a few). The problem with these foods is multi-fold, but a big one is quality of ingredients. These packaged products are made with cheap, low-quality ingredients sourced from factory farms and actual factories. I like using one of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules (affiliate link) to illustrate this point:

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

Another major issue with these foods is what it takes to make these cheap, processed ingredients taste good. When engineering a diet food — one with low- to no-fat, low- to no-sodium — what are you using to make this product taste good? MSG? Sugar alcohols? High fructose corn syrup? all manner of other unpronounceable ingredients? What’s ungodly chemicals are in these boxes? 

I’ve ranted about products with health claims on the labels before. I shared the front and back label of a product claiming to be healthy, even though the first few ingredients were sugar, sugar, and sugar. The same goes for these diet foods.

What to eat instead:

If you really can’t cook for yourself, consider getting a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and pairing it with a fresh salad. Or try baking a sweet potato and topping it with 1/2 a can of Amy’s Organic Chili(affiliate link). For a snack, try an apple or celery with REAL nut butter (the kind where the ingredients are nuts and salt), or a full-fat greek yogurt with fresh fruit. There are alternatives to boxed meals and snacks that don’t require a lot of fuss. Get creative! 

5. Soy Products

foods you think are healthy

image sourced through Pixababy by 621hjmit

Soy, of pretty-much any kind, is also a “fake health food.” Soy protein isolate is actually the byproduct of other mass-produced soy products and is extremely difficult to digest. It’s also phytoestrogenic and can disrupt the balance of sex hormones in both men and women. Protein powders in the health foods stores with soy protein in the ingredients are absolutely not a healthy choice. 

Tofu is also a processed soy product with the same phytoestrogenic qualities and should not be consumed as a “meat replacement” in the quantities that typical American vegetarians consume. Cultures that include soy in their diets do so in tiny amounts, and it’s almost always fermented — natto and miso in the case of Japan, or tempeh. These are also meant to be consumed in small quantities. The phytates innate in soy beans are antinutrients and prevent the absorption of protein, leach calcium, and can create digestive upset (gas). Additionally, although it’s a controversial topic, it’s worth mentioning that nearly all soy grown in the US is GM (Genetically Modified), which means that it was bred to handle excessive pesticide use and destroys the farmland. Whether or not you believe that GMOs have long-term human health consequences, GMOs are not good for our ecosystem or the health of our soil. They facilitate the use of broad spectrum herbicides like Roundup, which not only kills every living plant present but the GM seeds, it also promotes mutations that lead to herbicide-resistance weeds (think antibiotic-resistant bacteria as a result of too much antibiotic use if that didn’t make sense to you). 

What to eat instead:

There are myriad other protein choices for vegetarians if that’s what you’re looking for. Even broccoli and leafy greens are high in amino acids. Other beans and whole grains are great for a meal, and the choices for soy-free vegan protein powders are plentiful. Here are a few of my favorites (all affiliate links):

6. Whole Wheat Breads and Cereals

foods you think are healthy

image sourced through Creative Commons by Mindmatrix

Wheat just isn’t what it used to be. As agriculture has changed over the last few decades, so too has the wheat grain. Preferentially bred to contain more gluten (protein) for greater yield and greater resistance to pests, today’s wheat is more difficult to digest than its ancestors. Some believe these breeding practices are in part responsible for the rise in gluten sensitivity (source). 

You probably already read my cereal rant, but just in case you missed it, most cereal is garbage. Whether it’s made out of wheat, corn, soy, or rice, whether it’s a flake, an “o”, a charm, or a “pop,” extruded cereals are neurotoxic, high-glycemic, high in sugar, and not part of a balanced breakfast.

As far as “whole wheat” bread, bread is made from flour, whether it’s white or wheat. Flour (especially grain flour, which is carbohydrate-dense) is quickly digested and turned to sugar in the body.

What to eat instead:

If you can skip bread, or treat it like a treat rather than an every-day staple, that’s the way to go. There are some pretty great alternatives out there though. Stone-ground whole-grain breads that don’t start with finely milled flours (like this one), paleo breads (like this one), and even paleo options to wrap up your sandwich ingredients (like this one, which I’ve been using a lot lately) are all great options. (all but first links are affiliate links)

7. Low-fat/Fat-free Salad Dressings

foods you think are healthyStore-bought salad dressings in general are full of cheap refined oils, sugar, and other unpronounceable ingredients. And the low-fat/fat-free varieties aren’t any better. In fact, often the low-fat/fat-free version is higher in sugar (usually in the form of high fructose corn syrup) than its full-fat counterpart. If you’re eating a salad to be healthy, why not dress it with something healthy?

Low-fat foods need to make up the missing flavor somewhere, and salad dressings are no different. Compare labels next time you’re at the grocery store, and then opt to make your own with ingredients you can feel good about.

What to eat instead:

Check out my video to learn a simple formula for a delicious, quick homemade salad dressing. You can get super creative with it, so don’t be shy! Mix up the mustards, blend in 1/2 an avocado, change up the oils, add in some vinegar. What matters is that you are in control of the quality and what goes into your dressing. Don’t sabotage your salad with a garbage dressing. 


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

Organic vs Whole Foods: What’s Healthy?

I’m planning to start an FAQ page (updated!) for all the awesome questions I get from my readers and fans, but in the meantime, they’re fantastic fodder for new posts! As soon as I get time to organize my questions and answers in a way that makes sense, I’ll get that FAQ page started. I know lots of you have skincare and gut questions that I’ve answered individually, but I figure if a few people have those questions, probably a lot more do too. Please keep the questions coming so I can know what else to put on the FAQ page! 

For NOW though, here’s the question… 

What’s the difference between “organic” and “whole foods”?

Does “organic” mean healthy? Are all organic foods considered “whole foods”? What’s the difference? How do I know if my organic food is healthy? These are all great questions. 

whole foods vs organic

Defining “Whole Foods”

Here’s the simplest explanation: Whole foods are those that come out of the ground and onto the plate as-is with little to no processing. But we’re not talking about only raw food, so that’s not where the explanation ends. Whole foods remain whole when cooked; it’s the type of processing beyond heat exposure from cooking that can dramatically change the makeup of the food, and therefore its nutritional value and how we feel when we eat it.
 
When a food is separated into many parts and used as additives or ingredients in packaged foods (think soy lecithin, stearic acid, maltodextrin), it’s no longer a whole food. When a whole food like a seed or grain is ground into a flour or processed into oil, it’s no longer a whole food. Even whole wheat. Whole wheat bread made with wheat flour is not a whole food. Same goes for gluten-free options (rice flour is not a whole food). I discussed this briefly in my cereal rant, which I’ll admit had nothing to do with the recipe that followed, but it had to be said. 

Considering going gluten-free? My eBook walks you through the easiest and most delicious way to do it. Check out Nine Easy Steps to Delicious Gluten Free Living in the Kindle store!

When fat is removed from something that naturally contains it, like dairy, that food ceases to be a whole food. Milk comes out of a cow, goat, or sheep full-fat, which means that skim milk is not a whole food. I’ll surely find a place to rant about skim milk, but there’s not enough room in this post for that. Stay tuned. 

Grey Area

Of course, as with nearly everything in life, there’s a grey area. When it comes to dairy, there’s room to argue about what “counts” as a whole food; some argue that pasteurized, homogenized milk is not a whole food, because those two processes negatively affect the quality of the fat and protein in the milk. Technically fermentation is a process, but even purists tend to agree that full-fat yogurt, kefir, and cheese are a healthy part of a whole foods diet.
 
Nut flours like almond flour are another point of contention. Almond flour is simply ground almonds — nothing is removed, no heat is applied, nothing is changed except the shape of the nut. Some very strict whole food eaters avoid even stone ground nuts and grains, because the grinding is technically a process. For me, it’s a matter of how our bodies take the food in. Processed grain and bean flours tend to hit the blood stream more quickly than their whole food counterparts (which means they should be limited). That change isn’t necessarily so with nut flours.
 
The biggest danger with something like almond flour is over-consumption. It’s tempting to think that a paleo dessert using almond flour is automatically healthy, and it’s ok to eat a lot of it, but the fact is that almonds are calorie-dense and rich in omega 6 fatty acids. This means MODERATION. Overdoing it on almonds (or nuts in general) can result in negative consequences, both on the scale and in the gut.

What to Eat?

A great example of a whole foods meal is a baked sweet potato with roasted veggies and a chicken thigh that isn’t breaded. Technically, oils aren’t whole foods, but most people on a whole foods diet (myself included) allow for cold-pressed, minimally processed oils such as extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado oil. Highly processed seed oils that require high-heat or chemical extractions like canola, safflower, and soybean oils are not part of a whole foods diet. Those who are super strict and don’t include oils get their fats from seeds, nuts, avocados, and fatty fish.Organic vs Whole Foods

Defining “Organic”

While it’s fantastic and preferable for everything I mentioned in the “whole food” explanation to be organic, they don’t have to be, and they’re whole foods just the same. 
 
“Certified Organic” is a certification given to farms and food processors that can prove and certify that certain guidelines were followed in the growing of the foods or raising of the animals. Certain chemical pesticides cannot be used in certified organic farming. Hormones and antibiotics cannot be used in certified organic meats. GMO seeds cannot be used to grow organic produce, nor can GMO grains be fed to certified organic animals.
 
In a perfect world, searching for the USDA Certified Organic seal would be all you needed to accomplish a healthy grocery basket, but the truth is it’s entirely possible to eat organic junk food. There exist organic cookies that use refined organic white flour, organic sugar, and organic milk chocolate chips; and chips fried with organic vegetable oil and organic potatoes. That doesn’t make those cookies and chips healthy or say anything about the way the ingredients were processed. It just makes them full of well-grown ingredients that were processed just like their non-organic counterparts.

Why Eat Organic? 

Great question, and the answer is certainly debatable. I had a great conversation with some family about this very topic a few weeks ago.
An obvious concern is the cost.
Organic is almost always more expensive than conventional, whether we’re talking about whole foods or processed food in boxes and bags.
Another concern is chemical pesticides.
The research seems to be debatable as to whether or not organic produce is more nutrient-dense than its conventional counterparts, but the Environmental Working Group in no uncertain terms shares the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen every year — foods that absorb pesticides to the detriment of the consumer’s health and foods that can be eaten conventionally without consequence, respectively. 
 
whole foods vs organic
 
A third concern is the environment, irrespective of personal health.
This blog is about more than personal health. It’s about wellbeing, and part of that is a holistic view of how we exist and relate to the world around us — how we affect the environment, how our decisions affect the ecosystem. We vote with our dollars and our forks, so the more ethically produced food we consume, the higher demand there will be for farmers and businesses to convert to better practices. 
The last concern I’ll mention is the concern about GMOs.
Organic food producers are not allowed to use GMO seeds or ingredients. I’ve steered pretty clear of this topic for basically the life of this blog, because it’s such a controversial one. But one thing is not debatable. GMO seeds are made to resist pesticides, and just like misuse of antibiotics has created superbacteria, misuse of pesticides will create superpests. GMO seeds negatively affect the land on which they’re planted, because the practices employed by those who use the seeds are not sustainable practices. We can argue all day about whether or not GMO foods are harmful to our personal health, but it’s clear that  they are harmful to our land and the ecosystem. It’s up to you to decide how you feel about that.

The Sweet Spot

Ideally, one seeking a healthy lifestyle would eat whole, organic foods. The two don’t always necessarily come together in the same package, but they are most certainly not mutually exclusive. Sometimes it’s not necessary or financially feasible to buy everything organic, but doing what you can and staying away from the dirty dozen is a good place to start. You might even consider printing that list and keeping it in your wallet for trips to the grocery store.
 
As someone lucky enough to live close to many farmers’ markets, my best recommendation to you is to get to know some local farmers. There are a lot of small farms out there using organic practices who can’t afford the costly USDA certification. You might find that you can get organic quality food grown closer to your home at a lower price if you just get to know some farmers near you!
 
As always, if you have any questions about this or other information you see on this site, I’m just a comment or email away. Always happy to answer your questions or add to the FAQ page!

Pesto-Making 101: The Formula for Greatness

I’ve been putting off sharing a pesto recipe forever, thinking that I’d do it in the form of a video as part of my “Why Make Your Own” video series (of which there are exactly two videos so far! Videos take a long time to put together!) It’s been too long, and I don’t see a video happening any time soon, so I’m just gonna go ahead and share this pesto recipe. Well, it’s more of a formula for many recipes. Pesto is less of an exact science and more of a follow your taste buds type of endeavor. And if I get around to making that video, you’ll be the first to know. 

vegan pesto recipe

The Basics

Traditional pesto is made with basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, lemon juice, and parmesan cheese. You can find it prepared at most grocery stores refrigerated alongside specialty cheeses and other imported items, and it can range in price from $4 to $10 a container. It’s a great addition to pasta dishes, as a substitute for tomato sauce on pizza, and even as a quick sauce for chicken or fish. Unfortunately, some of the versions you’ll find in your grocer’s refrigerator will substitute cheaper commercial oils for the olive oil, use low-quality cheese, or add cream to disguise less-than-fresh ingredients. 

Make Your Own Pesto

Quality is the number one reason to make any food or condiment yourself. In the same way making your own salad dressing reduces your chances of consuming hidden sugars and highly processed commercial oils, making your own pesto ensures that you have total control over the quality of ingredients in the food you eat. 

Another exciting reason to make your own pesto is the creativity it allows with the ingredients you use. You don’t often see arugula pistachio or kale walnut pesto in the grocery stores. The possibilities are endless when you’re making your own, and with a few simple guidelines, you can easily create your very own personalized version of pesto based on what you have in your refrigerator at any given time. It’s also fun to play with the consistency — if you have a great blender like the NutriBullet Rx (affiliate link), you can add a bit more oil, possibly a few tablespoons of water too, and make a saucier pesto that would go great on veggie spaghetti.

vegan pesto recipe

Homemade Pesto Recipe Guidelines:

  • Use high-quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) or avocado oil (or a combination of both) (affiliate links)
  • Use raw, unsalted nuts or seeds — if you can find sprouted or sprout them yourself, even better
  • Use fresh organic herbs or greens (or a combination of both)
  • Never forget the lemon juice and garlic!
  • Use high-quality salt like REAL salt, Himalayan salt, or Celtic sea salt

Recipe Combination Suggestions — the possibilities are ENDLESS!

I like to make my pesto vegan at home so that I can decide with each meal whether or not I want to have dairy. This way if I’m avoiding it or serving someone who’s avoiding it, the pesto is still an option. These are some of my favorite combinations. You might be surprised at what you come up with yourself!

  • Arugula pistachio pesto

  • Carrot top, basil and sunflower seed pesto

  • Kale, basil and walnut pesto

  • Parsley and macadamia nut pesto

  • Cilantro and walnut pesto – try using lime for this one to add a more Mexican “zing” to it — might even toss in a tiny bit of jalapeno, depending on how spicy you like it

Fresh pesto like this will keep in the refrigerator for a decent amount of time — about a week — before you need to freeze it. Acid from the lemon or lime along with the antimicrobial properties of garlic will keep it fresh, but it will stay the nice pretty green color if you top it off with a bit more oil to prevent the herbs from oxidizing. 

vegan pesto recipe

Proportions

One of the mistakes I repeatedly made in my first few runs of making pesto long ago was to use WAY too much garlic. Sure, it tasted great but it had everyone who ate it breathing fire for days. For about a cup of pesto, you want ONE clove of garlic. Start there. You can always add, but you can’t take away. The following proportions should yield about a cup, give or take.

  • 1 1/2 cups greens/herbs
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup nuts or seeds
  • 1/2 cup EVOO
  • juice from 1 large lemon or 1 limes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • OPTIONAL: black pepper or cracked red pepper

So that’s it! Give it a try, and let me know how it goes for you! Making your own condiments — especially pesto — can really be rewarding and fun. Enjoy it! Have fun with the combinations, and just go for it. 


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Stress

As I’m writing this post, for the first time since I started this blog over a year ago, I’m feeling a bit stressed about finishing in time for my regular Tuesday posting schedule. I’ve been working on this series, Why Gut Health Matters, for 6 weeks now, and here in the final stretch, I’m feeling the heat — entirely self-imposed heat, but heat nonetheless. 

And how appropriate to start the post this way when I’m sharing the deep connection between gut health and stress. Research is showing that we’re feeling it more than ever, and starting at younger ages than generations before us. While moderate stress from time to time is normal and healthy, it’s chronic stress, both physical and emotional, that can create serious health consequences. And the feedback loop between the gut and the brain can manifest those consequences in myriad ways. stress and gut health

Butterflies

We know from weeks past that there’s a direct line of communication from the brain to the gut and back to the brain again. We know that the enteric nervous system is capable of functioning on its own — without the aid or instruction of the central nervous system. We know that the feeling of butterflies in the stomach right before a race, speech, or performance is an actual physical phenomenon — stress or nervousness actually affects what’s going on in our gut, and that physical sensation is the manifestation of some of those effects. 

Worrying Yourself Sick

We’ve all heard that phrase — and we can all probably recall an instance in our lives when we’ve felt it for one reason or another. While situational stress can be appeased by a returned phone call or a safe return of a loved one, what’s happening physically in our bodies might take a bit longer to return to normal. And it’s the chronic, cumulative effect of unyielding stress that causes major damage.

As I said in so many words above, stress alters gut function. It inhibits the production of stomach acid (which can cause SIBO), slows down peristalsis (the movement of digested food), which in turn can lengthen transit time and cause constipation. Interestingly, it can also cause overactive bowels and diarrhea as well. And it can actually increase sensitivity to movements in the gut as well — think painful gas or cramping.

At the same time, the hormonal response to stress in the body can begin a cascade of negative consequences in the overall system, including: leaky gut, toxic liver overload, leaky brain, and eventually systemic disease. You really can worry yourself sick. 

Cortisol

image by Maxwell GS on Flickr sourced through Creative Commons

image by Maxwell GS on Flickr sourced through Creative Commons

I don’t want to get too deep into the chemistry of the hormonal stress response, but I do want to highlight a very important hormone involved: cortisol. If you’ve heard of Metabolic Syndrome, you’ve heard of cortisol. If you’ve been concerned about your heart health, you’ve heard of cortisol. And if you have extra weight around your midsection and have seen a doctor about it, you’ve probably heard of cortisol.

Released from the adrenal cortex, cortisol is part of the normal stress response. It’s necessary and has its place in our system as a glucose regulator and anti-inflammatory.  But when stress is chronic, we can experience adrenal fatigue due to an overproduction of cortisol. Surges of cortisol can kill brain cells, increase belly fat, initiate insulin resistance, suppress the immune system, cause muscle cramps, water retention, hypertension, frequent urination, and foggy-headedness — just to name a few.

When we’re extremely stressed for long periods of time, our adrenals can go from fatigued to entirely burnt out — they begin producing inadequate levels of cortisol, leading to a different set of symptoms: low energy, low sex drive, and weight gain. Earlier, I mentioned the brain-gut feedback loop; well there’s one here too between the adrenals and the gut — a sick gut causes sick adrenals, and sick adrenals cause a sick gut. When we aren’t producing enough cortisol, we are allowing inflammation to run rampant in the gut, and we are at greater risks of developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and IBS. 

In other words, we’re looking for that cortisol sweet spot: not too high, not too low. We want to keep our adrenals healthy by mitigating not only the stress in our lives, but also on our bodies. This same cascade of negative effects happens whether you’re on constant deadlines at work, in the middle of a divorce, or constantly eating McDonald’s for dinner. 

Stress and Gut Health

 “Experimental studies show that psychological stress stagnates normal small intestinal transit time, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and compromises the intestinal barrier” (source)

The results are in. Stress inflames the gut. It causes gut dysbiosis, reducing the numbers of beneficial bacteria in the gut (such as Bacteroides) and increasing the number of harmful ones such as Clostridium Dificil (aka: C. Diff, which can cause a very nasty infection if allowed to fester). And as I’ve said in nearly every segment of this series, when gut bacteria is out of balance, the gut lining suffers. When the gut lining leaks, an inflammatory immune response is set off, creating the potential for food allergies, IBS, nutrient malabsorbtion, skin disorders, and ultimately a leaky brain. 

One Bite at a Time

Taming the stress in our every day lives can feel impossible. After all, we can’t control what goes on around us — the deadlines, the traffic, the money crunch, the screaming baby, the laundry, the dishes — it just goes on and on! How to avoid stress when we can’t avoid the stressors? 

It might take commitment, but it’s not a magic trick. As they say, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. I have four overarching tips for reducing and managing stress, with the caveat that I am by no means an expert at any of them. I work consciously on them nearly every day, but I have far from mastered them (except maybe the one that involves playing with Dexter). 

stress and gut health

Elephant Rescue in Chiang Mai, Thailand (2012)

Reduce Physical Stress in Every Way Possible

Physical stress reduces our ability to handle emotional stress, and it has fewer uncontrollable variables. I know from personal experience that my hand injury at its worst dramatically shortened my fuse and made even simple decisions a lot more challenging. But we can control a number of physical stressors on the body. 

  1. We can control what we eat. If we know we have an allergy or sensitivity to certain foods, we can decide to stay away from those foods and replace them with more nourishing alternatives. Avoiding inflammatory foods like sugar and processed flours and oils is another way to ensure that we aren’t adding unnecessary physical stress to our bodies.
  2. We can control how much we move. Prolonged sitting has been shown to be more hazardous to our health than smoking. Getting up and moving around also increases the feel-good hormones in our bodies and helps us get through the day with more pep in our step. Have you ever noticed that after a full day’s work of sitting in front of the computer, you’re wiped out getting in the car to drive home, but on the weekends when you’re out and about, you have so much more energy? Jokes about work aside, there’s a reason for that — sitting is exhausting and physically stressful.
  3. We can listen to our bodies. This is so hard sometimes, but often our bodies know what’s best for us. We just have to learn to listen and respond accordingly. Part of that is setting up a sound ergonomic work station, taking a break when our eyes are tired from the screen, stretching our wrists, shoulders, and necks after computer sessions, and paying attention when we need a little extra rest.

Create a Sleep Conducive Life

In part 3 of this series (your mood), we talked about the importance of consistent sleep to keep the gut   lining sealed. Maintaining a solid sleep routine is also important for lowering cortisol levels and allowing the body to clean up inflammation in the system. Without it, we are at greater risk of developing
 a number of diseases, including cancer, type 2 diabetes, depression, and anxiety. Stress disrupts our sleep, keeps cortisol levels high throughout the night, and in turn prevents the body from doing the restorative work it’s mean to do in those hours of nightly rest.

Even though I’ve mentioned the value of sleep in nearly every segment of this series and have already dedicated two full posts to the topic outside of that (here’s the first and here’s the second), it’s so important I’m mentioning it again. Creating an environment in the bedroom that is conducive to proper, restful sleep and reducing device use late into the evening are two steps you can take now to improve your sleep quality. Working on quantity is a slightly bigger challenge, but you can get there through planning and learning to say no when you need to.

Make Room for Mindfulness

With some false starts over the past year or so, I’ve recently embarked on my own mindfulness journey. It can be a challenge to take time every day, but creating awareness moment to moment is the first step toward a more mindful life. Mindfulness and stress aren’t mutually exclusive, but the former can certainly tamp down the effects of the latter. Scientific studies are proving it

stress and gut health

Cultivate Joy and Pleasure

This is where playing with Dexter comes in! Find something that you love — whether it’s taking care of a pet, growing a garden, sitting in the park with a book, or taking a pottery class. Find something that lights you up and make it a priority in your life. Cultivating pleasure is critical to stress management. In our day-to-day lives, especially for parents and caregivers, it’s easy to forget that your needs need to be a priority. And I’m not talking about survival needs, although I’ve heard many people say “I’m so busy I forgot to eat lunch.” No doubt lunch is important, but what we forget is that joy is important. Whether it’s through creative expression, experiencing nature, or laughing at a comedy show, joy is the stuff of life, and when we’re bogged down, it’s a great way to find some relief.

What’s Next?

Friday will seal the deal for this series! I’m exciting to share a little project I’ve been working on to sum up this series and capture it in a way that will help you tell your friends all about what you’ve learned over the last six weeks. Get excited, and have a great, low-stress, joy-filled week!


Sources for this segment of this series include a 6-credit continuing education seminar presented by Merrily Kuhn, RN, CCRN (r), PhD, ND, PhD and the Institute of Brain Potential (bibliography and references can be viewed here), and information from the following articles, journals, and experts:

http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1757-4749-3-1.pdf 

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2008.0495

http://www.theactivetimes.com/sitting-new-smoking-7-ways-sedentary-lifestyle-killing-you?utm_source=huffington%2Bpost&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=sitting

Chris Kresser: http://chriskresser.com/

Dr. Sara Gottfried: http://www.saragottfriedmd.com/

Jordan and Steve from the SCD Lifestyle: http://scdlifestyle.com/

 

 

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Skin

Ahh acne. We meet again, my nemesis! But this time, I’ve cracked the code, and I’m ready to share it with the world. In this next segment of Why Gut Health Matters, I’m going to address the link between gut health and skin disorders. My personal skin issue has always been acne, but that’s not the only one affected by poor gut health. There’s also rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and many, many more. While those last two have an auto-immune component (which we briefly covered in this segment of the series), all can be traced back to gut health — or lack thereof — even if they diverge in physical expression. 

Myopia in Specialized Medicine

Unfortunately, most dermatologists aren’t trained to ask their patients about their digestion or even consider the possibility of a link between gut health and skin disorders (a connection first scientifically documented in the early 18th century!). I know from personal experience that in my 20 years of battling acne, never once did any physician or aesthetician I saw for my skin troubles ask me about my digestion or my diet. Nor did any of them see a problem with prescribing me round after round of antibiotics along with a Diflucan prescription, knowing that yeast infections would result from the constant antibiotic assault. This was normal — a standard course of dermatological treatment. 

Today, if you walked into a psychiatrist’s office presenting with anxiety, you likely wouldn’t mention your constant gas and bloating or your eczema — nor would your doctor ask. You wouldn’t mention your psoriasis or depression to your GI specialist either. But the fact is, most if not all patients with skin disorders also have digestive disorders and mental health challenges. Specialized medicine has cordoned off our bodies into separate parts, ignoring the very real and very documented relationship between certain conditions. Conventional medicine no longer sees us as a complete system, much to the detriment of the whole-person patient.

gut health and skin disorders

Bugs Bugs and More Bugs

As I’ve mentioned in all of the previous segments of this series (especially the one addressing the gut as gate keeper), the living bacteria in the gut are integral to our overall health, and that includes skin health. When we take round after round of antibiotics, we aren’t just killing the “bad” bacteria — we’re killing nearly all the bacteria, giving fungi like candida a chance to run rampant in the system. Candida overgrowth results in a whole host of symptoms I don’t have time to go into today, but check out this extensive list to find out if they apply to you. I’ll give you a hint: skin problems is on the list.

Not only is gut bacteria crucial to maintaining healthy skin, so is the bacteria living right on the surface of our bodies. Like those found in the gut, the bugs on our skin protect us from the outside world of potential invaders, and when we kill them all off, it’s open season for everything else in the environment. When skin disorders are treated with antibiotics, the problem might seem to temporarily subside, but at best, it’s a band-aid solution. The cumulative effects of antibiotic use is a net negative, with gut dysbiosis as a common consequence.  

Where They Don’t Belong: SIBO and Leaky Gut

SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) occurs when the bugs that belong in our large intestine start migrating up into our small intestine. It can also result when bugs from our food don’t get neutralized by the hydrochloric acid (HCl) in our stomachs — inadequate HCl is a major factor in SIBO.

While a very small number of bacteria naturally (and healthily) live in the small intestine, it’s supposed to be a nearly sterile environment. These microscopic interlopers can cause some major problems, one of which is gas. Lots of gas. Most patients with SIBO feel bloated and gassy after meals, especially meals rich in carbohydrates, because those bugs that don’t belong are breaking down their dinner before it gets where it’s supposed to be going. Other symptoms of SIBO include diarrhea, constipation, malabsorption of nutrients, and fatigue. Want to know another type of patient that often has SIBO? Patients with rosacea. 

You might be asking what causes low stomach acid. A major cause of low stomach acid will be the topic of the last segment in this series: STRESS.

Let’s connect the dots:
Stress => Low Stomach Acid => SIBO => Rosacea

I’ll delve more deeply into how stress affects the gut next week, but this note from a recent paper should paint the picture for you nicely:

“Experimental studies show that psychological stress stagnates normal small intestinal transit time, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and compromises the intestinal barrier.” (source)

… which leads me to …

Leaky Gut, which we’ve discussed extensively throughout this series. Leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability) is both the chicken and the egg when it comes to systemic inflammation in the body. A leaky gut allows partially digested food particles into the system, setting off an inflammatory immune response, and the resulting inflammation causes further leaky gut — a destructive cycle that can lead to autoimmune disease if gone unmitigated. (And as I mentioned at the top of the page, psoriasis and eczema are increasingly being seen and treated as autoimmune disease.) As we talked about in the segment on gut health and mood disorders, a leaky gut => a leaky brain => depression. But what I didn’t mention in that segment was this:

Stress => Leaky gut => ACNE

As many as 40% of acne patients also complain of constipation (or other digestive distress). A growing body of research is showing that acne patients have a larger variety of “bad” bacteria in their stool, a greater sensitivity to “bad bugs” (like e. coli) and a higher level of systemic inflammation resulting from leaky gut. If you’ve been following along with this series, you know we’ve come full circle to Your Gut as Your Gate Keeper. Fix the leaks, fix the skin. 

gut health and skin disorders

Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times.
Photo by Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley, both of USDA, ARS, EMU.
Image released by the Agricultural Research Service, ID K11077-1

Fix it! 

How to fix a leaky gut? How to clear up SIBO? It turns out, the answer is the same: reduce systemic inflammation by healing the gut wall and increasing the good guys. Stokes and Pillsbury, the pioneering researchers who discovered the gut-brain-skin connection in the early 1900’s, suggested probiotics and cod liver oil to do just that. 

Sorry, did you read that whole sentence? IN THE EARLY 1900’S RESEARCHERS WERE RECOMMENDING PROBIOTICS AND COD LIVER OIL FOR SKIN DISORDERS. I’m not one for all caps, but I felt that deserved the emphasis. Imagine me yelling when you read that. WHY don’t conventional medical doctors use this and the subsequent studies supporting this work to inform how they treat their patients?

Probiotics help restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut, thereby booting out the bad guys that create inflammation and toxins that harm the gut wall.

Cod liver oil is not only rich in Omega 3’s with potent anti-inflammatory and healing properties, it’s also rich in vitamin A, an important nutrient for healthy skin (which you know if you ever took Accutane for your acne). 

Enteric-coated peppermint oil, an herbal remedy scientifically proven to relieve symptoms of IBS, is also being explored with promising findings for mitigating SIBO. 

And while the research from Stokes and Pillsbury doesn’t cover this last ancient gut-healing solution, I’m going to cite my own anecdotal evidence and add bone broth to the list of tools to heal your gut. Rich in minerals, collagen (aka gelatin), and cartilage, bone broth is the ultimate gut- and skin-healing superfood. You’ve probably seen cosmetics products that boast collagen as a topical ingredient to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and create healthier looking skin. When ingested in the form of bone broth, collagen does a lot more than that.

  • It promotes a healthy level of stomach acid
  • It aids in digestion of problematic foods like dairy, legumes, meats, and grains
  • It coats the lining of the gut to reduce permeability, reduce inflammation, and fill the leaks
  • It supports a healthy immune system, including white blood cell production
  • It provides amino acids — the building blocks of muscle in our bodies
  • It promotes the absorption of minerals, including those already present in the broth, for skeletal support and bone health (source)

My personal success story with bone broth has reached more readers than anything else I’ve posted in a year of writing this blog. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to about bone broth, encouraging them to try it and celebrating with them when they’ve seen results. In combination with a diet rich in probiotic foods and eliminating the trigger foods that create inflammation (for me that was mainly gluten), bone broth changed my life. I’ve recently experimented with adding this fermented cod liver oil and this enteric-coated peppermint oil into my diet out of curiosity (affiliate link).  (I like to use myself as a guinea pig from time to time.)

gut health and skin disorders

“My worst” didn’t just mean my skin. I was more depressed and heavier than I’d ever been before or since.

What’s Next?

Next week is the last segment of this series on Why Gut Health Matters, where I’ll not only wrap up this discussion but also challenge you to get started in healing your own gut. The end of this series doesn’t have to mean the end of the discussion for you — I’m happy to answer any questions you might have on the topic — just send me a note and we can keep the ball rolling to get your gut health where it needs to be.  


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.


Sources for this segment of the series include a 6-credit continuing education seminar presented by Merrily Kuhn, RN, CCRN (r), PhD, ND, PhD and the Institute of Brain Potential (bibliography and references can be viewed here), and information from the following articles, journals, and experts:

Stokes JH, Pillsbury DH (1930) The effect on the skin of emotional and nervous states: theoretical and practical consideration of a gastrointestinal mechanism. Arch Dermatol Syphilol 1930, 22:962-93

Ketron LW, King JH: Gastrointestinal findings in acne vulgaris. JAMA 1916, 60:671-75 

http://www.consultantnutritionist.com/General-Health-Nutrition/Traditional-Bone-Broth-in-Modern-Health-and-Disease.html

http://chriskresser.com/naturally-get-rid-of-acne-by-fixing-your-gut

http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1757-4749-3-1.pdf

http://wageningenacademic.metapress.com/content/0u3x16807123w358/#.VNq_SrB4qXw

http://healthandstyle.com/health/gut-may-causing-bad-skin/

http://docsdrive.com/pdfs/ansinet/jms/0000/57615-57615.pdf

http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/7/5/410.pdf

http://journals.lww.com/jcge/Abstract/2014/11001/Skin_Microbiome_and_Skin_Disease__The_Example_of.23.aspx

http://www.thecandidadiet.com/candidasymptoms.htm

Kasha Krunch: A Healthy Homemade Cereal [Recipe]

So last week I went on a bit of a rant about cold cereal. I said that basically all cold cereal is garbage. And what I meant by that was that almost everything you can get in a box from the center aisles of the grocery store is … garbage (or TRAY-ISH, as my Texan grandmother likes to say). 

Of course there’s the obvious stuff: the sugar cereals like Lucky Charms, Cocoa Pebbles, or my personal college-era favorite, Reese’s Puffs. But don’t be fooled by the “high fiber,” “heart-healthy” cereals like Chex, Cherios, or Kashi Go Lean either. Sure these cereals are higher in fiber and lower in sugar than kids’ cereals, but those are basically candy. Better-than-candy does not = good. It equals less bad. And honestly, only very slightly so. Cereals that have gone through an extrusion process to turn the grain into an “o,” flake, puff, pebble, pop, whatever shape, contain proteins that are now denatured and potentially neurotoxic.

“… All Part of a Balanced Breakfast”

Remember the cereal commercials from the 80’s and 90’s that ended with “… all part of a balanced breakfast” and then showed you what an “ideal” breakfast looked like? Let’s talk about what’s in that picture. Extruded cereal puffs, milk, 2 pieces of toast with a pad of butter, fruit, and a glass of orange juice. Put a different way, that’s a picture of sugar, sugar, sugar, a little fat, and a glass of sugar. Wow! If I ate that, I’d never make it out of the house! Who said this was a balanced breakfast? I’d venture to say that most people don’t eat toast with their cereal, so let’s take that out. But we still have a whole lotta empty carbs, calories, and sugar with very little nutrient-density to show for it. 

healthy homemade cereal

Check out this super retro picture I found of another childhood favorite. image sourced from thefeedingdoctor.com through Creative Commons

Enter: Kasha Krunch – a Healthy Homemade Cereal

Two years ago, I gave this cereal as Christmas gifts to my friends and family — it was super cute in big mason jars with ribbons and labels. While getting through airport security with it was a bit of a challenge, the end result was my mom begging me to make more for her the next time she came to visit. Needless to say, it’s a winning recipe. It goes great with milk or yogurt — add fresh berries for some extra phytonutrients — but it’s also a perfect trail snack. Just stick it in a baggie and eat it by the handful. 

Kasha Krunch

Kasha (another name for buckwheat groats) is a pseudocereal, which means it’s more of a seed than a grain. It’s gluten-free, higher in protein than cereal grains (like wheat, oats, and rice), and is considered an “ancient grain” having avoided the selective breeding of big agriculture. It’s pretty much the same food as it was a hundred years ago.

I do feel obligated to say that if you’re strictly Paleo or sticking to a low-carb plan, this cereal might not be for you — pseudocereals are a debated topic in the Paleo community, but I think most strict followers don’t eat them. This isn’t a strictly Paleo or low-carb site, but since I do share recipes in those categories regularly, I felt the need to point that out.

Moving on!  Here’s the recipe.

  • http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Kasha1-150x150.jpg)">
    Kasha Krunch
    Yields 6
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    Prep Time
    3 min
    Cook Time
    40 min
    Total Time
    34 min
    http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Kasha1-150x150.jpg)">
    Prep Time
    3 min
    Cook Time
    40 min
    Total Time
    34 min
    Ingredients
    1. 3 cups raw buckwheat groats (Click to buy a CWB fave)
    2. ½ cup raw almond butter (click to buy a CWB fave)
    3. ½ cup chopped raw pecans
    4. ½ cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
    5. 2 tablespoons REAL maple syrup or raw honey (optional)
    6. ½ teaspoon cinnamon
    7. pinch of sea salt
    8. ½ cup unsweetened dried fruit of your choice (optional)
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees
    2. Spread raw buckwheat groats across a large cookie sheet and bake for about 40 minutes, shuffling them around about halfway through, until slightly golden
    3. Mix all other ingredients in a large bowl as best you can
    4. Immediately out of the oven, stir in warm toasted groats into the bowl until everything is evenly distributed (the heat from the groats will soften the nut butter and allow it to coat everything nicely)
    5. Let cool to room temperature
    6. Place in a tightly sealed glass storage container and store in the fridge
    Notes
    1. This recipe is super versatile -- you can switch out almond butter for your favorite nut butter, trade the seeds and nuts for other varieties, and play with the amount of maple syrup you use to vary the sweetness. Enjoy Kasha Krunch with milk, yogurt, or as a dry snack.
    Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/
     

     FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.

 

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Weight

Ok, I feel like I need to preface this post with my distaste for our culture’s tendency to equate weight with beauty. It’s all too easy to get bogged down constantly worrying about our appearance and comparing ourselves to other people. (I’m not immune to this, by the way.) But being healthy and happy is so much more than a number on a scale, and we’re trained — even at insanely young ages, and especially as women — to tie our self-worth to how we look and how much we weigh.

Not only is this culture-wide obsession psychologically damaging, it’s also misguided. Being thin can be a sign of good health, but it’s not always the case. It’s possible to carry some extra weight without any negative health implications, and it’s possible to be “skinny-fat” — skinny on the outside and fat on the inside, damaging your organs with visceral fat. Weight isn’t everything. It’s something, but it’s not everything. 

I could fill an entire post with a rant about our misguided emphasis on weight and how damaging “fat shaming” is to folks who struggle, but that’s not what today’s post is about. We’re still continuing the conversation on gut health, so I’m going to put our weight struggles into perspective and give you some tips to help flatten out that seemingly constant uphill battle.

gut health and weight loss

original image sourced from mojzagrebinfo through Creative Commons

Gut Health and Weight Loss

I recognize that this is a sensitive topic, but it’s important to discuss for that very reason. That number on the scale, the muffin top at your side, your pants or dress size … for better or for worse, these things can dictate how we feel — physically and psychologically — and those feelings have can have tremendous effects on how we walk through the world.

Our weight can limit our ability to do even basic things — play with our children, walk up a hill, climb stairs — and as such, it can have a major effect on our self-esteem. Of course I’m not saying that extra weight affects every person’s self-image or every person in general in the same way. I wouldn’t presume to step into anyone else’s shoes. But I will say from experience that carrying even a little bit of extra weight can sometimes cause dramatic shifts in how I feel about myself, and that it’s always so much easier to put it on than it is to take it back off. 

So today, we’re going to talk about why our bodies hang onto those extra pounds, what’s happening in our guts when we gain and lose weight, and how healing the gut can make maintaining and losing weight easier and more long-lasting. 

Let’s Get Started: Good Bugs

gut health and weight loss

image sourced from OpenClips through Creative Commons

Last week we covered Mood and Gut Health, and I explained how an inflamed gut = an inflamed brain. I talked about the physiological and chemical changes that happen when we have an inflamed gut and how that can lead to mood issues like anxiety and depression.

Are you an anxious eater? Do you “drown your sorrows” in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s when you’re feeling down? Do you have an extra beer or 4 when you’ve had a bad week? Stress (which we’ll get into in another part of this series) has an effect on our gut flora, and the type of gut flora we have affects our mood and our resiliency. But did you know that some gut bacteria can actually make our bodies hold onto fat?

That’s right; if we nurture the wrong types of bacteria in our gut through a poor diet and high-stress lifestyle, they will sabotage our efforts to lose weight by squeezing every last nutrient out of the food we eat and storing it all as fat. It’s also been shown in recent studies that certain gut microbes can dictate our cravings. So maybe it’s not YOU craving that cheesecake at all! It’s the BUGS in your gut telling your brain they want some dinner! Those jerks!

As far as weight gain is concerned, getting the proper mix of bacteria is as important as eating veggies and exercising (and it just so happens that those two things are great for the good bugs!).

We’re Outnumbered!

Did you know we have 10 times more bacterial DNA living in and on our bodies than we do human DNA?

We’re like one giant walking bacteria frat house.

If your house were a 24-hour party, with people coming and going constantly, wouldn’t you want to create an environment that welcomes considerate people who bring delicious appetizers and help you with the dishes instead of jerks who park on your lawn, eat your food, and leave cup rings on your nice wood furniture?? I think so. 

By now it should be clear that our gut bacteria affects our bodies in profound ways. But before I go any further, let me back up and talk about the way our bodies work to store and release fat. 

Gremlins and Leprechauns

Wait, I think I meant to say ghrelin and leptin. Look, I never said I wasn’t gonna be cheesy in explaining this stuff to you. After the unicorns and dragons from the Gate Keeper post, I figured I might as well throw some more mythical creatures into the mix.

Ghrelin and leptin both control appetite. The former makes you hungry while the latter makes you full. More specifically, ghrelin tells your brain to eat and promotes fat storage, while leptin tells your brain you’ve had enough and encourages fat release.

image sourced from Pimkie through Creative Common

image sourced from Pimkie through Creative Common

Ghrelin is released from the stomach and pancreas and is activated by the GOAT enzyme high up in the stomach. If you’ve ever looked into bariatric surgery, you might already know that the restriction in the stomach reduces the production of the GOAT enzyme, which reduces or eliminates ghrelin production, allowing patients to feel full with a dramatically reduced amount of food. 

Unfortunately, our brains evolved to protect us from starvation at a time when food was a lot harder to come by, so if there isn’t an artificial restriction turning off ghrelin while we’re trying to lose weight, those hunger pangs can be pretty brutal. And if the body thinks we’re starving, it will store every ounce of food we eat as fat — just in case. Adding to that, if we’re already obese, our ghrelin levels are higher than those of our lean buddies, causing greater hunger and a harder time resisting temptations. 

Recent findings have also shown that high-fat foods activate the GOAT enzyme, which means that high-fat foods could be making us hungrier and telling our brain to store more of what we’re eating as body fat.

Oh, and one more thing. Sleep deprivation increases ghrelin. Do you find yourself snacking all day long after a terrible night’s sleep? I always thought it was because my body was trying to keep me awake. Now I know it’s that gremlin ghrelin!

It’s not all bad. Ghrelin is also responsible for controlling insulin levels (another hormone that causes weight gain) and stimulating a hormone in the pituitary gland that mobilizes fat tissue and promotes muscle growth. We need ghrelin. It’s not just there to mess with us.

gut health and weight loss

image sourced from SatyrTN through Creative Commons

Leptin is produced in white fat cells and communicates to the brain, “Ok, there’s enough here, get up and move around.” Interestingly, like ghrelin, the more body fat you have, the more leptin you have — counterintuitive isn’t it?

I’ll explain. Have you ever heard the term insulin resistance? It’s a metabolic disorder that leads to type-2 diabetes. Insulin regulates the delivery of glucose into the cells, but when the cell walls no longer properly respond to insulin due to excessive exposure, they resist allowing glucose into the cell. This results in excess glucose in the blood, which then gets stored as fat, in addition to being associated with  a number of health problems.

The same thing happens with leptin resistance in brain cells — the cell walls in neurons become resistant to leptin when there’s too much of it floating around. In fact the two hormones leptin and insulin go hand in hand, both intimately linked to inflammation. If you have insulin resistance, you likely have leptin resistance, and vice versa. 

The effects of leptin resistance are multi-fold.

  1. Leptin is proinflammatory, which means that when there’s too much of it floating around in the body, it can set off that inflammatory cascade that leads to leaky gut and bad bacteria in the gut.
  2. Leptin inhibits serotonin, so if there’s too much leptin, guess what there’s not enough of … (should I link the mood/gut post again? sure, why not?)
  3. Leptin tells your brain to stop eating, but if the neurons in the brain have closed their doors due to leptin resistance, guess what message isn’t getting received? And then we eat and eat and eat, never feeling satisfied. 

What to do? What to do?

This post is about weight loss, not weight gain, right? So how do we set all these bugs and hormones straight? How do we prevent our bodies from sabotaging our efforts to lose body fat?

Chill Out

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that reducing stress is a great place to start. I briefly touched on the negative effects of stress on gut bacteria at the beginning of this post, but reducing stress also helps prevent leptin resistance. And I don’t just mean “OMG deadline!” stress. I mean physical stress caused by things like a Big Mac and fries or a super sized Coke too, which means we need to … 

Skip the Junk

Foods high in inflammatory fats (omega 6, trans-fats, and saturated fats from conventionally raised animals) and processed carbs (from white flour and white sugar) not only cause leaky gut and promote the growth of bad bacteria in the gut, they also raise ghrelin and create leptin resistance.

Fed Up

The Right Stuff

Fill your belly with healthy fats from eggs and raw nuts and fiber-rich foods. I’m not talking about Metamucil or some gross processed saw dusty thing to add to your water. I’m talking about whole fruits (not juice), veggies, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and (occasional) whole grains and legumes. (If you need to lose weight, I’d stick to the first 4 for now.) These fiber-rich foods will prevent or inhibit leptin resistance and make losing weight that much easier. 

Small and Often

To prevent the starvation response, don’t skip breakfast, and eat smaller, low-glycemic meals throughout the day. Everyone is different in this regard — some people find that eating 3 times a day works for them. Some people find they’re much happier eating 4 to 6 times a day. Either way, don’t let any one meal get too huge — it’s not just the content but the size of the meal that triggers ghrelin. 

Get Some Rest

Are my lists in this series starting to seem redundant? Last week we learned that getting a good, consistent sleep pattern going helps promote beneficial bacteria in the gut. This week, I’m telling you that it keeps ghrelin, and therefore hunger, in check during the day. 

Step into those Sneakers

And again with the exercise. Isn’t it more motivating to know that exercise is about so much more than just the calories you burn while you’re doing it? Exercise not only increases good gut flora, but it also prevents leptin resistance by converting white fat to brown fat. (I didn’t have enough room to go into these two types of fat, but check out what WebMD has to say about it for the difference between Fit Fat (brown) and Fatal Fat (white).) Those calories you’re burning barely amount to half of all the great things you’re doing for your health just by breaking a sweat.

gut health and weight loss

image sourced from Jmyreen through Creative Commons

What’s Next?

I just threw a lot of information at you. How do you feel about it? Are you ready to start making some changes? Pick something from this list of 6 that you can start working on today — just ONE, no more — and commit to yourself that you’ll keep it going all week. Just start with this week and then reassess next week. You might find that you’re already noticing a difference and are ready to incorporate something else from this list. Maybe you want to stick to the one thing for another week. Either way, that’s ok! It’s just about getting started and making small changes that will last for the long haul! There are still at least two more Why Gut Health Matters posts coming your way, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’m here to answer any questions you might have. Shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to help. 

Did you miss the first three parts of this series? Check them out here!

Why Gut Health matters: A Series on You

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Gate Keeper

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Mood


Sources for this segment of the series include a 6-credit continuing education seminar presented by Merrily Kuhn, RN, CCRN (r), PhD, ND, PhD and the Institute of Brain Potential (bibliography and references can be viewed here), and information from the following articles, journals, and experts:

http://www.science20.com/news_articles/ghrelin_hunger_hormone_activated_fatty_foods_not_your_empty_stomach

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-truth-about-fat

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bies.201400146/full

Dr. Mark Hyman: http://drhyman.com/

Chris Kresser: http://chriskresser.com/

 

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Mood

What if I told you that the phrase “gut feeling” was less of a metaphor and more of a literal experience? What if I told you that what you eat, how well you absorb and synthesize it, and the effect it has on your gut lining could actually alter your moods and behaviors? Would you think twice before you ate that chili cheese dog that gives you heartburn every single time you eat it? Or that milkshake that leaves you bloated and farting for 3 days? 

gut health and mood disorders

image author Vistawhite, sourced from Wikipedia through Creative Commons

Last week we talked about our gut as “gate keeper,” and how chronic inflammation begets chronic disease. This week, we’re covering gut health and mood. More specifically, how a healthy gut creates a healthy mood(When I say mood, I mean a mood state, not necessarily a fleeting emotion. Negative mood states present as mood disorders such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Positive mood states present as relaxation, resilience, happiness, and balance.) There’s a pretty remarkable feedback loop between the gut and the brain — the gut-brain axis  and it starts with the enteric nervous system. 

Your Other Brain

Have you ever heard the term “gut brain?” More generally, did you know that our nervous system is comprised of multiple systems that reach far beyond the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord)? Indeed, the nervous system is split into two major components: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system then splits into the autonomic and somatic systems, and part of the autonomic system is what we’ll be talking about today: the enteric nervous system.

Embedded in the lining of our gut, the enteric nervous system plays a crucial role in our health and wellbeing, including our emotional health. It has an estimated 100 million neurons — more neurons than our spinal cord — along with its own neurotransmitters and proteins that have the ability to communicate, learn and even remember. It’s entirely autonomous from the central nervous system, governing about 90% of the messages that operate the gut, but the two systems communicate to ensure that our bodies function properly. Because of this unique independence from the brain in our skulls, the enteric nervous system in our bowels is often called our “second brain.”  

Now that I’ve given you an Anatomy and Physiology speed round, what does it all mean? 

It means your gut does a lot more than extract nutrients from your food and poop out the waste. It has a direct line to the brain, and it’s constantly communicating with it. If your gut is inflamed and leaky, chances are your brain is also inflamed and leaky. You’ve probably heard the term blood-brain barrier; it’s the shield that prevents substances in the blood from flowing freely into the brain, including medications, allergens, antigens, and other inflammatory agents such as excess cortisol or insulin. In short, it’s the brain’s “gate keeper.” Does that sound familiar? We have a blood-gut barrier too, and last week we talked about what happens when that barrier is compromised. Well guess what else is compromised when our gut wall is compromised: our brain wall. 

inflamed gut = overactive immune system = inflamed brain = depression

leaky gut = leaky brain 

How do I know if I have Leaky Brain??

I mentioned very briefly at the end of last week’s post that mood disorders are a sure-fire sign of a leaky gut/brain. In fact I said, “Find me a person with anxiety and no digestive problems, and I’ll find you a fire-breathing dragon with tiny purple wings at your local pet store.” (That might be the first time in history that I quoted myself.) Here’s a short list of indicators that you could have a leaky gut/brain:

  • foggy headed-ness
  • poor concentration
  • poor short-term memory
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • irritability (short fuse)
  • hyperactivity (possibly ADHD)gluten-free

In my first eBook, I shared with you that when I eliminated gluten from my diet, I noticed that I felt more clear-headed and less drowsy and foggy. I noticed not only that redness in my acne-prone skin was reduced, but also that my skin was less sensitive in general. I noticed that I had been waking up every morning with a stuffy nose thinking that was normal.

No, it’s not normal. I had a gluten sensitivity, and it was causing a leaky gut, an overactive immune response, and a leaky brain. When I eliminated gluten and healed my gut with bone broth, all of those symptoms I just mentioned dissipated.

Eating foods that inflame your gut will inflame your brain. A chronic assault on the brain by inflammatory cytokines can eventually cause neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease. If you know that you’re allergic to certain foods, and you continue to eat them, you are guaranteeing a disturbance in your brain, whether it’s as mild as poor performance or as serious as a clinical mood disorder or Parkinson’s.

The Pharmacy in Your Gut

Dopamine

There are equal amounts of dopamine in the brain and in the gut. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that signals reward, motivation, love, and lust, but it’s also responsible for fear, apathy, psychosis, addiction, and ADHD. It’s a powerful chemical that needs to be maintained at proper levels in the body in order to keep that second list of characteristics at bay.

Dopamine also plays a role in our level of satiety and sense of reward when we eat, but we’ll talk about that when we cover weight gain in another part of this series.

Serotonin

95% of the serotonin running through our bodies at any given moment is found and made in the gut, and from there, the brain takes over and converts some of that serotonin into melatonin — the hormone that helps us fall asleep and stay asleep. The food we eat supplies our bodies with the fuel (in the form of tryptophan) to create serotonin. When we eat tryptophan-rich food, the small intestine converts it into 5-HTP, which is then converted to serotonin. Problems arise for our mood if one of those two steps is faulty due to … say it with me! … inflammation. If the small intestine is inflamed and the gut is leaky, we cannot properly convert tryptophan into 5-HTP, which means we don’t make enough serotonin.

Not only is serotonin important for our moods, it’s also important for proper gut motility. If you’ve ever taken an SSRI for anxiety or depression, then you might have experienced some of the digestive disturbances that come along with it. 

Melatoninsleep better

This one is actually made in the brain, but its synthesis is entirely dependent on serotonin, most of which is found in the gut. If your brain can’t make melatonin, you won’t get good quality sleep. Poor sleep means that our bodies aren’t able to adequately clear inflammation and damaged tissue as we move through the stages of sleep, which means we wake up in the morning just as inflamed as when we went to bed. And the cycle continues.

Low levels of melatonin are also associated with increased risk of cancer — another chronic disease rooted in inflammation.

How to Make Changes Today

Last week we talked about the role of bacteria in keeping the gut lining intact, and this week we covered mood disorders and neurological issues that could result from leaky gut and leaky brain. Addressing gut health will eventually become part of a medical treatment plan for patients with mood disorders, but in the meantime, here are some things you can do:

Lock the gate! 

Eliminating processed (inflammatory) foods, drinking bone broth, and feeding the good bacteria is a good place to start. Adding more live cultured foods to your diet, like sauerkraut, kefir, kim chee or the wild pickle recipe I shared on Friday, will help keep those good bugs happy and ensure they stick around and reproduce. Not only are healthy gut bacteria crucial in maintaining the gut lining, they are also crucial in making B-Complex. Deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to depression, low energy, and decreased cognition.

gut health and mood disorders

imaged sourced through Creative Commons from pixababy

Get to bed.

Creating a consistent sleep schedule that follows our circadian rhythm (even on weekends!) will help us get back on track. Doing this not only affects our mood but also the type of bacteria living in the gut, which help perpetuate the good work we’re doing to keep our gut linings sealed.

Studies show that using a morning light box treatment (mimicking the sunrise) is as effective as antidepressants on alleviating depression. Talk to your doctor before starting a light box treatment, as there are some potential side effects that need to be discussed professionally.

Thanksgiving year-round! 

No, I don’t mean you should spend more time watching your family pass out on the couch in a food coma; it’s all about that turkey and stuffing (or sweet potatoes, as it were)!sleepymealEating foods rich in tryptophan is another way to ensure that you have adequate supplies to make serotonin. But the trick is to make sure you follow it up with a small portion of carbohydrates, which help deliver the goods to the right place for conversion. Of course, at Thanksgiving, we don’t eat anything in moderation, so do with that what you will…

Here’s a quick list of foods rich in tryptophan:

  • Egg whites (greatest source)
  • Seaweed
  • Soy nuts
  • Cottage cheese
  • Chicken livers
  • Turkey (the most famous source due to our relaxed state after Thanksgiving dinner)
  • Chicken
  • Tofu
  • Milk 

Hit the Pavement

Research is demonstrating a direct connection between exercise and the growth of good bacteria in the gut. By now, I don’t need to repeat why good bacteria help prevent leaky gut/brain and inflammation. 

The endorphins released in exercise also act as a pain reliever and can provide a sense of euphoria for the exerciser — you’ve heard the term “runner’s high.” Not to mention, it just feels good to move, which can increase our self-esteem. 

running shoes

photo taken by Josiah Mackenzie and sourced through Creative Commons

 Regular exercise has been proven to:

  • Reduce stress
  • Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Improve sleep (from WebMD)

What’s Next?

On Friday I’ll be sharing a delicious, grain-free breakfast recipe rich in tryptophan. In the meantime, have a look at my 2-part series on sleep to find out how you can get your sleep on track to help keep your gut health in order and heal a leaky brain. 

Why Your iPhone is Ruining Your Sleep

How to Create a Sleep-Conducive Life

In case you missed the first installment of Why Gut Health Matters, check it out here


Sources for this segment of this series include a 6-credit continuing education seminar presented by Merrily Kuhn, RN, CCRN (r), PhD, ND, PhD and the Institute of Brain Potential (bibliography and references can be viewed here), and information from the following articles, journals, and experts:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01537589

http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Enteric_nervous_system

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/07/what_is_dopamine_love_lust_sex_addiction_gambling_motivation_reward.html

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/vitamin-b12-and-depression/faq-20058077

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16648320

http://psycheducation.org/treatment/bipolar-disorder-light-and-darkness/light-therapies-for-depression/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-bacteria-may-exacerbate-depress/

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/the-truth-about-tryptophan?page=2 

http://gut.bmj.com/content/early/2014/04/29/gutjnl-2013-306541.abstract

Chris Kresser: http://chriskresser.com/

Dr. Sara Gottfried: http://www.saragottfriedmd.com/

Pickles Gone Wild: Wild Fermentation and the Good Bugs

wild picklesI’m excited to share this super simple wild pickles recipe with you! And I’ll say up front that although my recipe calls for green tomatoes, this formula works with cucumbers, peppers, cauliflower, and just about anything else you might be curious to try pickling. The fermentation time will vary based on what you’re pickling and whether or not you cut it up or pickle it whole, but start with this framework and you’ll have yourself some effervescently sour pickled veggies in no time. Eat a few bites at every meal to encourage healthy digestion.

What are Wild Pickles?

wild picklesWhat we’re making here is not the homemade version of what you can find in the grocery store aisles. These pickles are usually sterilized and, for lack of a better word, dead. While the internet is teeming with “refrigerator” pickle recipes that include vinegar as part of the pickling liquid, these are not true pickles in the purest sense of the word. True pickles are done with a wild ferment. They are a live food packed with living bacteria that do the souring instead of all that vinegar. And they’re awesome for your digestion and your wellbeing.

How do the bacteria get into the jar?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Bacteria are in the empty jar in your cabinet right now. And they’re on the cucumbers growing in your garden. and they’re on the dill weed, the jalapeno, in your spice  rack … you get the point. Give the bacteria that live among us the proper environment to turn something good into something great, and they’ll be up for the task. All you need is some salt water, something to pickle, and some spices to make them delicious, and let the wild bacteria do the rest!

What’s the Difference? Why Wild?

On Tuesday in part 1 of my Why Gut Health Matters series, we talked about your gut as your body’s Gate Keeper. We covered quite a bit in that post, but one of the things we touched on was the important role gut bacteria play in the integrity of the gut lining, and therefore our health in general. Ensuring that we have a healthy ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria in the gut is an integral step toward having a healthy gut lining and preventing leaky gut.  

Before we go further though, a little vocabulary speed round is in order.

All of these words refer to the microscopic bugs that live in your intestinal tract, primarily in the colon. I’ll use them interchangeably for the most part:

  • gut bacteria
  • microbiota
  • probiotic (refers to the good ones only)
  • microbiome (refers to the whole ecosystem)

So what else do probiotics do?

  1. Probiotics play a vital role in strengthening our immune system. In fact, anywhere from 65 to 90% of our immune system lives in our gut in the form of epithelial cells (villi), which are fed by … drumroll please … probiotics. These bugs keep us well!
  2. Probiotics protect us from harmful bacteria. They take up space in our bowel that might otherwise be filled with harmful bacteria, which cause disease, create gas and bloating, promote inflammation, make us crave sugar and junk food, and can even negatively affect our mood, resilience, and cognition. They also release substances (including lactic acid) that inhibit the growth of the bad guys, preventing them from taking over and wreaking havoc on our health. 
  3. Probiotics produce bioavailable vitamins from the foods we eat. Without beneficial bacteria in our gut, we would have no access to the B Complex (biotin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, folic acid, and B12). We would also be deficient in vitamin K, because the bugs down there actually synthesize it from our food.
  4. Probiotics reduce cortisol, (a stress hormone) and increase GABA (a relaxing chemical), therefore positively affecting mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and reducing stress. Reducing cortisol also improves insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial for folks at risk of developing type 2 diabetes or other metabolic disorders.

Let’s get to the Pickles

wild picklesThe instructions included in this recipe are for the green cherry tomatoes I pulled from my garden when the weather was cooling down but the vines were still full. They were very fresh when they were pickled. 

I recognize that green cherry tomatoes might not be the easiest thing to find on a whim, so if you make your pickles using larger tomatoes or cucumbers and you plan to slice them up, make sure they’re SUPER FRESH, and start checking them after 24 hours. One tip I’ve read but haven’t tried is to give your cucumbers an ice water bath before starting the process. Leave them in ice water for an hour or so before getting them into the jars to freshen them up and ensure crisp and crunch in the final product. (Adding grape or blackberry leaves will do that too, but why not do both just to make sure? Who wants a mushy pickle? No one.)

If you plan to keep your cucumbers, green tomatoes, or peppers whole, wait to check them until day 6 or 7. It takes the whole veggies a while longer to pickle all the way through than the slices. I’ve seen some recipes recommend that you leave whole pickles to ferment for up to two weeks; but again — check them. No one wants a mushy pickle.  In the meantime, check out this cool video on how to chop a bunch of cherry tomatoes super quickly!

 

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Wild Pickled Green Tomatoes
This recipe works with all sorts of veggies, so be creative!
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Ingredients
  1. One 1500 mL (6 cup) jar
  2. 2 lbs green cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
  3. 2 tbs sea salt
  4. 4 cups water
  5. 1 jalapeno (I used 1/2 the seeds, but how spicy is up to you)
  6. 10 sprigs fresh dill
  7. 5 cloves garlic sliced in half
  8. 1 tbs black pepper corns
  9. 1/2 tbs whole coriander seeds
  10. 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  11. 1 tbs mustard seeds
  12. OPTIONAL: grape leaves or blackberry leaves (this ingredient is as source of tannins, which is intended to promote crispness -- more useful when pickling cucumbers)
Instructions
  1. Slice the green tomatoes in half (for full-sized tomatoes, quarter them instead of halving them)
  2. Pack the jar tightly with all the tomatoes leaving at least two inches of space at the top of the jar
  3. Add all other ingredients on top of tomatoes
  4. Dissolve salt in 2 cups warm water in a separate container
  5. Pour salt water over all ingredients into the jar
  6. Fill the jar with the remaining 4 cups of water leaving no less than 1 inch at the top for gas and ensuring that the veggies are completely submerged in the liquid -- this is important. If you need to put something heavy on top to weigh down the veggies waiting to be pickled, do it.
  7. Seal tightly and leave on the counter at room temperature for 3 to 5 days (check at 24 hours for sliced cucumbers)
  8. You want the tomatoes to be firm but pickled all the way through (not mushy). When they are to your liking, refrigerate them and they will keep indefinitely
Notes
  1. BE CAREFUL when you open the jar for the first time. Gas can build up and create some effervescence as the bacteria do their thing.
Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Gate Keeper

In researching and writing this series, I recognize the challenge I face in cleanly separating the interrelated subtopics I laid out last week. So I’m taking one step back to explain the role of the gut as “Gate Keeper” before jumping into the rest. Giving you this visual aid will help you understand the interconnectivity of everything that happens inside our digestive tract with respect to our health, and it will also impress upon you the importance of keeping the gut lining intact.

Because gut health is the cornerstone of overall wellbeing and vitality, what happens in the gut can beget a cascade of symptoms and ailments throughout the body and mind. All the subtopics I laid out for you last week overlap with each other because the source for all of them is arguably the same: leaky gut and the resulting inflammation. So to start, let me explain what those mean and why they matter.

When What’s Outside Comes Inside

The digestive tract (along with our skin) is our main interface with our environment. It acts as a vital barrier to unwelcome invaders and breaks food down into absorbable nutrients that pass through the gut walls and into the blood stream. It’s essential that what we introduce from the outside world that travels inside the gut does not pass through the gut lining until it’s been properly broken down. This is why I call the gut lining your body’s “Gate Keeper.”

gut permeability leaky gut

free image sourced through Creative Commons

When the Gate Isn’t Locked

The barrier function of the gut is one of the most critical aspects of our health. The gate should remain locked and impenetrable until the food inside has been adequately broken down into parts that the rest of our body recognizes as friendly. When that lock is broken, partially digested food particles can enter the blood stream and set off a cascade of negative physiological reactions; the first of which is inflammation. 

Inflammation is a healthy, normal part of our immune response. When we have a fever, that’s our immune system ramping up the heat to kill off a foreign invader (a cold or flu). When we eat something that wasn’t cooked properly, we expel it rapidly and experience burning pains in the abdomen — that’s our body keeping us safe from a food-born pathogen. When we scrape our ankle, the area around the cut becomes red, inflamed, as the white blood cells come to clean up the mess and bring in the platelets to scab over the opening. This type of inflammation is part of our Adaptive Immune System — it targets specific invaders and wipes them out, and when it’s working properly it keeps us healthy and alive. Indeed, inflammation is meant to protect us, but when it’s chronic — when our immune system is always turned on and we’re constantly fighting, inflammation can cause serious health problems.

How Chronic Inflammation becomes Chronic Disease

The food particles allowed into the blood stream as a result of an inflamed, leaky gut are made up of partially broken down proteins (short amino acid sequences).

What else is made up of short sequences of amino acids? Pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi). These microorganisms actually share some characteristics with partially digested food particles.
So what happens? Our immune system attacks the food — food sensitivities and allergies in the making. Because our immune system creates antibodies that will view this food as a threat going forward, we will now become inflamed when we eat it. 

gut permeability leaky gut

This unicorn is frolicking freely because she just pooped a rainbow with the help of her magical microbes. (free image sourced from imgarcade.com through Creative Commons)

What else is made up of these amino acids? For one, the cells in our own bodies. What about our myelin sheath (the protective coating around the axons of our nerves)? Our joints? Our skin? What if our immune system is so overactive and chronically inflamed that, not only does it start to see the cells of our own bodies as invaders, but the safety levers we have in place to block this auto-immunity are too hot and fatigued to notice? What if our Adaptive Immune System begins to see us as harmful to ourselves?? 

Answer: Autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s, MS, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis, and  Lupus. Find me a person with an autoimmune disease without digestive issues, and I will find you a live unicorn with a rainbow mane.

Having a leaky gut will most definitely create chronic inflammation, and chronic inflammation begets chronic disease.

What Causes a Leaky Gut?

We don’t know the extent to which genetics are involved in creating a greater susceptibility for a leaky gut, but we do know that environmental factors play a huge role, and that the effects are reversible if you catch it and address it early. We also know that children who were born of a C-section and not breast-fed are more vulnerable than those born of vaginal birth and breast-fed (source). The list below represents the most significant reasons your gut can become inflamed:

1. Gut dysbiosis — an overgrowth of bad bacteria and/or fungus in the gut.

There will always be a percentage of “bad” bacteria in the gut, but they are (or should be) kept in check by the probiotic population — the beneficial bacteria that aid in nutrient breakdown and absorption, mood regulation, and immune response. Taking antibiotics kills both the good and the bad bacteria in the gut, and it can take up to 8 weeks to recolonize after a course. It can take just as long to recover from a food-born illness. If you’ve ever experienced a yeast infection after a round of antibiotics it’s because the good bacteria that were keeping the candida at bay were all killed off by your prescription. You can restore your probiotic colony by eating a diet rich in fermented food and low in sugar, choosing organic, and exercising regularly. And of course these are important to do on a regular basis. We’ll dive more deeply into probiotics in the coming weeks. 

gut permeability leaky gut

image source: Gaspirtz through Creative Commons

2. Food Sensitivity or Allergies

Our body begins to see certain foods as pathogens and creates cytokines (antibodies) to protect us from them, setting off an inflammatory response every time they enter the body. This particular one is a bit confusing, because it’s a chicken/egg problem. Did the leaky gut come before the allergy or did the allergy cause the leaky gut? It’s a commonly identified pattern that patients with one food sensitivity will develop others down the line if measures aren’t taken to throw water on the fire. What causes the initial sensitivity could be genetics or an exposure early in life that excited the immune system before it was strong enough to recognize friend from foe. Children who are born of C-section and not breast-fed are more likely to have both food and environmental sensitivities/allergies than those born through the vaginal canal and fed breast milk. We’ll go more in-depth about why that is and how to take steps for better outcomes later in this series.

3. Stress

Were you waiting for this to come up? Stress, whether it’s emotional or physical, causes leaky gut. I’m going to dedicate a whole post to this one, but suffice it to say that the physiological stress response itself weakens our immune system, promotes inflammation, and creates a hostile environment for beneficial bugs in the gut, which brings us back to the first thing on this list.

What does Chronic Inflammation Look Like?

What should we look for to indicate that we might be struggling with a gut problem that has led to chronic inflammation? How can we prevent it from sending us into full-blown auto-immune disease? I had some readers ask questions about bloat and puffiness, distended belly after eating certain foods, foggy-headedness, and general weight gain. I also had a few people ask me about eczema and acne, chronic yeast infections, middle body weight, and IBS. Yes, these are all signs of chronic inflammation and leaky gut.

gut permeability leaky gut

free image from Pixababy through creative commons

But something no one asked about was mood. If you have been diagnosed with a mood disorder like anxiety, depression, bipolar, or OCD, you are experiencing a symptom of leaky gut and chronic inflammation. Find me a person with anxiety and no digestive problems, and I’ll find you a fire-breathing dragon with tiny purple wings at your local pet store. In a future post, I will show you why a leaky gut = a leaky brain, but for now I’ll share that 80% of total serotonin in the body is located in enterochromaffin cells in the gut lining, which means that if we don’t have gut integrity, we are likely short on serotonin. 

What’s Next?

Wondering what you can do about some of these symptoms right now? Check out my kombucha recipe to get started adding fermented foods into your diet, and stay tuned for Friday’s post to learn how to make another probiotic-rich food. I’ll also explain a little bit more about why that matters. In the meantime, I’d love to know what you’d like to learn about next in this series. I’m deciding between stress and mood — the two are obviously intimately linked. Let me know your thoughts and questions below, and I’ll get the final touches on the next installment of Why Gut Health Matters.


Sources for this segment of this series include a 6-credit continuing education seminar presented by Merrily Kuhn, RN, CCRN (r), PhD, ND, PhD and the Institute of Brain Potential (bibliography and references can be viewed here), and information from the following journals and experts:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15911167

http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v13/n10/abs/nrn3346.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3228987/

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016508509003461

http://physiologyonline.physiology.org/content/13/4/189

http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/180/2/99.full

Dr. Tom O’Brian: http://thedr.com/ 

Dr. Mark Hyman: http://drhyman.com/

Chris Kresser: http://chriskresser.com/

Dr. Sara Gottfried: http://www.saragottfriedmd.com/

Jordan and Steve from the SCD Lifestyle: http://scdlifestyle.com/

Why Gut Health Matters: A Series on You

As you probably know, gut health is one of my pet topics. I truly believe that it’s the cornerstone for whole-body and whole-mind health, not just because I had a radical change in my skin after healing my gut, but because volumes of research on this topic have shown that gut health is linked to everything from mood to the immune system; from stress to weight gain; from endocrine disruption to vitamin absorption; and the list goes on. Gut health will determine not only how our bodies function inside our skin, but how we interface with the world around us. In no uncertain terms, it has the power to determine the course of our lives.

why gut health matters - heal your gut

photo sourced through Creative Commons (Pixabay – 214522)

A Series on Gut Health

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to dedicate at least one post per week to this series. I’m going to write until I run out of things to say, and in doing so, I’m going to propose some actions steps for you to take if you suspect that your gut health isn’t quite in order. To that end, I don’t know how many I’ll end up writing, but here’s what I have in mind right now, in no particular order.

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Gate Keeper
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Mood
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Weight
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Skin
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Stress

Under each of these posts should be a subheading that reads: How Inflammation in the Gut Affects Your ________. I’ve spent the last week or so taking a virtual class put together by the Institute for Brain Potential for continuing education credit called Understanding the Gut Brain: Stress, Appetite, Digestion, and Mood. This class, along with hours and hours of research of my own will inform the posts to come.

why gut health matters - heal your gut

free image sourced through Creative Commons

We’ll cover good bugs and bad bugs in the gut (aka: microbiota, gut flora, probiotics) and what they might be doing to your health. And we’ll also cover how to get the good bug to bad bug ratio back to ideal. We’ll talk about how the body becomes inflamed from within and how that affects the brain and our autoimmunity, and we’ll also cover how to throw ice on the flames. We’ll talk about just how much control we have over our own appetites and how physical changes inside our bodies can send our weight skyrocketing — and we’ll talk about ways to get that under control too. Overall, this series is going to draw lines connecting gut health (or the absence of it) to a number of ailments I know some of you are living with every day. 

It’s too often that I hear about people my age and younger suffering with debilitating autoimmune disease, painful cystic acne or skin problems, a laundry list of allergies, mild or severe mood disorders, and digestive distress that keeps them from venturing too far from the bathroom.  I’m certainly not saying that older folks should be suffering from these things any more than those my age and younger, but just as Type 2 Diabetes and fatty liver (both conditions historically referred to as “adult-onset” or reserved for an aging population) are creeping into the lives of younger and younger people, so too are these ailments I’ve listed commonly experienced by the elderly or infirm. 

Your Action Required

Either on Facebook or right here in the Comments Section, I’d like to hear from you which topic you’d like me to cover first. I’m sort of working on all of these at once because they’re so interrelated, but if there’s a burning question you have about one of the subtopics I listed above, please let me know that you’d like me to prioritize that one. It’s my goal to give you as much information as I can to motivate you to take action on behalf of your own health — and your own quality of life. 

For a sneak peek and general overview of some of the topics into which I’m going to deeply dive, check out Your Single Most Important Health Advice – Heal Your Gut. At the bottom of that post, you’ll find some simple tips to get you started in the process of healing your gut. Pick one to try next week, and I’ll be sure to give you good reason to stick with it over the course of this series.

Homemade Gluten-Free Breadcrumbs (Sprouted!)

It can be a major challenge to keep up holiday food traditions if you have dietary restrictions. Most of those nostalgic family recipes include bread, dairy, eggs, flour, sugar, and all sorts of other ingredients that likely fall on some ‘no-no’ lists among us.

The Breadcrumb

A major ingredient this time of year for savory dishes is breadcrumbs. For some reason, the holidays call for casseroles — maybe because we’re feeding the masses — and breadcrumbs just come with the territory. They act as a food extender and ingredient binder, and they create that warm, full, holiday feeling we all crave when the weather cools off.

In my Sicilian-American family, the two major breadcrumb-stuffed-dishes I’ve come to expect every holiday season are green bean casserole and stuffed artichokes. While I wouldn’t go anywhere near a stuffed artichoke as a kid, that green bean casserole had my name written all over it. My mom has been making the same green bean casserole my entire life, and as a very picky eater, this was one of the few dishes that included anything green whatsoever that I would eat — and I LOVED it. It just doesn’t feel like the holidays without it, even though I’ll eat other green foods now. 🙂 

My mom’s green beans are not your typical french cut canned beans smothered in cream of mushroom and a can of fried onions. No ma’am. This is a southern Italian twist on a standard middle-of-America dish. It includes Italian breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan and Romano cheese, seasoned salt, garlic and onion powder, and olive oil. That’s it. Layer cooked or canned whole green beans and everything I just mentioned in a baking dish and bake on 350F for 20-25 minutes. It’s a super simple and always delicious recipe, but it doesn’t quite fit into my gluten-free lifestyle anymore.

There’s just no way to make this dish happen without good Italian breadcrumbs. 

I’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving away from home for almost 10 years now, but that has simply meant that I have been making these green beans myself for about that long. Of course, going home at Christmas means getting to eat them straight from the source, but since transitioning to a gluten-free diet 6 years ago, the whole “mom’s green beans” topic has been a dicey one. I’ve tried gluten-free store-bought breadcrumbs; I’ve tried grinding up gluten-free croutons; I’ve tried making my own with various types of bread and varying levels of success.

 

Perfection + Bonus Nutritionsprouted gluten-free breadcrumbs recipe

This year, I not only perfected my gluten-free breadcrumbs recipe, I added in some bonus nutrition by using sprouted-seed bread.The gluten-free products you see in most grocery stores are typically made with high-glycemic, low-nutrient flours like potato starch, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, and corn starch. These ingredients are typically highly processed, bleached white, and very finely ground into something completely devoid of nutritional value. They are not the stuff of health by any stretch, and most people attempting or maintaining a gluten-free diet are in fact doing it for their health. So why not start with nice, healthy breadcrumbs to top those holiday dishes we’ve all grown to love?

Why Sprouting?

Grindstone Bakery created the wonderful bread I use in this recipe out of sprouted seeds. Quinoa and millet are considered “pseudo-grains” because they’re technically in the seed family. They are sprouted and coarsely ground before being made into this nourishing bread. The act of sprouting seeds, grains, and beans is the act of changing a seed into a small plant.

This is significant for a couple of reasons:

  1. Antinutrients like phytic acid, which prevent the breakdown and absorption of proteins are neutralized
  2. Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are made more bioavailable to our bodies by sprouting
  3. Sprouted seeds, grains, and seeds are alkalizing to the body while their inert counterparts are acid-forming
  4. Sprouting creates a more easily digested protein source by breaking down the proteins into simple amino acids
  5. Enzymes are produced during the sprouting process that aid in overall digestive function

The end result is an actively healthy ingredient to add to your holiday casserole dishes — an ingredient you can feel good about eating, sharing, and enjoying. It might even make for a nice holiday gift if you tie a pretty ribbon around the top of the jar! (For more info on sprouting, check out this post from The Nourishing Gourmet.)

 2014-11-23 16.27.02

Sprouted Gluten-Free Breadcrumbs
Breadcrumbs are traditionally made with stale bread. If you have time for that, great, but you could also be risking moldy bread. This recipe toasts the bread to get it nice and firm before processing. Make as much or as little of this combination as you need. I filled a 12 oz mason jar with this recipe and used slightly less than half of it for one round of green beans. Freeze or refrigerate what you don't use.
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Ingredients
  1. Half a loaf of sprouted grain bread, sliced and then cut in half
  2. 3 tbs fresh rosemary
  3. 2 tbs fresh thyme
  4. 3 tbs fresh oregano
  5. 1/2 tsp salt
Instructions
  1. Toast the bread in the oven at 375 for 10 minutes on each side
  2. Let cool completely on a cooling wrack
  3. In a food processor, process cooled toasted bread, the fresh herbs, and the salt
  4. Store in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge or freezer for up to 3 months
Notes
  1. I used fresh herbs from my garden and pulled off 5 or 6 stalks of each for this recipe. The tbs measurements are estimates, but err on the side of more, not less.
Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/